Sunday, August 21, 2016

"Opening" a Microsoft File in Google Drive

One of the best things about Google Drive is the ability to create various kinds of files in an online environment.  We should not forget, however, that Google Drive is also very convenient cloud-based storage (especially Google Apps for Education, which has nearly unlimited space).

Usually, first time Google Drive / GAFE teachers take advantage of this storage aspect first by uploading tons of their old files, particularly Microsoft ones. At face value, this is not a bad idea.  Once uploaded, so long as you are able to connect to the Internet, you are able to view, print or download them, even via an app on your smartphone.  The problem is how that leads to one of the most common misconceptions of Google users: the perceived ability to edit a Microsoft file inside of your Google Drive.

In short, you cannot edit a Microsoft Word (or any other MS file) inside of Google Drive.  Only a MS program can do that.  There is no way to connect Word or any other MS program directly to your Google Drive / Google Apps for Education.

When you click on a Microsoft document in your Google Drive, you will get an interface like this:


Note that unlike a typical Google document, you see this "viewer" window when you click on a MS file.
The blacked out left and right margin let you know you are not in a typical Google file interface.  Instead, this viewer window gives you several options, including sharing, downloading, and printing the file.  (Note also that the right side X gets you out of this viewer function.  If you choose the browser's back arrow button, you will actually go back one level in your Drive.)

The trouble begins when you choose the drop down "Open With" option:

You should always see a "Google equivalent" program first, followed by other possible apps that can open the file.

For example, suppose you click on a MS Word file.  If you "Open with Google Docs," you are not editing the original MS file, as many people mistakenly believe. What you are actually doing is essentially asking Google Drive to make a clone version of the MS file in the appropriate Google app; in this example, create a Google Doc version based on the Word file.  The original Word file is and will always be the same as when you uploaded it.  But now you have a "translated" Google Doc version that preserves much of the same formatting.  This new Google Doc could be what you use from that point forward to share and collaborate with colleagues.  However, every time you think you are “opening” the initial Word file online, you are actually making yet another Google Doc clone, and this could continue ad infinitum causing a lot of confusion.

So should you not upload your MS files into your Drive?   If you never did, you would waste the wonderful online storage space that Google gives you.  Instead, I recommend putting all of your old MS files into a separate archive folder away from your brand new Google Docs, Slides, etc.  If there is ever a time you need to do something beside viewing one of the MS files, you can make a Google version ONCE, then move the new Google file out of the archive folder to a new spot in your Drive so you don’t create confusion.  And of course, from this point forward . . . when you want to make a new document, presentation, or spreadsheet . . . start clean and begin with a fresh Google file!

One last point of clarification.  By default, your uploaded MS files will stay in their original format.  However, in your Drive settings (the gear icon on the right side below your profile icon), you can checkmark a box where uploaded MS files will automatically be converted into their Google equivalents.  While this may be handy if you want to mass convert much of what you're uploading, I recommend the default setting where this is turned off.  That way, you can decide which (if any) of your MS file should be converted, and for the sake of archiving, your uploads will remain in their original state, especially if you want to download them "as is" later.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Organizing your Class: Schoology versus Google Drive

As our school year began, Glenda Price from East Middle School asked me a question.  Which is better to organize and distribute materials to students: Schoology or Google Drive?

I don't want to create a false dilemma here.  You can and should likely use both tools in your classroom.  It's really more of a question of determining your purpose and being intentional in your instructional choices.

That said, there are advantages and disadvantages for both tools.  This blog entry will break down how each tool could be used and the pros/cons.

(Note that although Google Classroom is a tool available for Google Apps for Education users, I am simplifying the discussion by omitting it here, mainly because the use of the enterprise edition of Schoology is what our district supports and encourages.)


THE GOOGLE OPTION:
If all students create Google folders and then share with all of their teachers, they will be likely have a very full email inbox with “shared with me” requests.  That said, there are several advantages: the students are the actual owners of their own class folders, teachers can organize these student folders as they like (by dragging and dropping them from "Shared with Me" to a preferred space in their Drive), and the teacher can save time from actually creating individual student folders.

Another option would be for students to create shared links with editing rights to their folders, and give teachers those links through a Google Form.  (Ask for their name, collect email addresses, and have a short answer question where they could paste in the URL.)  That way, a teacher has a Google Sheet with all the hyperlinks one click away. They could have a Form and Sheet for each class.  Bonus:  no “shared with me” notifications AND no dragging and dropping of folders.

You could have teachers create Folders (one per student), then share them with students.  That would be easier to MANAGE from the teacher side (teachers are obviously organizing as they create them), but it’s very time consuming….that’s a lot of folders to make!


THE SCHOOLOGY OPTION:
Don’t forget how aspects of Schoology can make sharing and submission of work easier.  Do I really need shared Google folders I have to constantly check, or do I only need their Google Doc (or Slides or whatever) one assignment at a time?  If so, use Schoology Assignments.  Again, have students create a share link to the file, paste it in the “Create” tab when submitting the assignment, and voila — you can access each of them easily, and again, without all of the “Shared with Me’ notifications.

Distribute any Google documents using Schoology.  Paste the link in an Update, Assignment, or as part of a Schoology folder. If you need to distribute a “template” for them to edit and make their own, create a shared URL and use the copy trick…change the end of the link (everything after the last forward slash) to “copy.”  When they click the link, they automatically have to make their own copy.

Last but not least, don't forget that as part of your Materials in Schoology, you can "Add Media Album."   This is the only way to create a place in your Course where -- if enabled in the advanced settings -- you can have both students and teachers contribute media to a shared space.  For more directions and information, visit this Schoology support page.

Do you have other ways to electronically share or distribute material?  Post your thoughts in the Comments below.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Welcome to the 2016-2017 School Year!


It's hard to believe, but today our Shelby County students and teachers begin a new school year!  And whether you are an educator just starting, already started, or start next week, I wish you the best and most productive and joyous 36 weeks ahead.

Did you have a good summer?  Did you travel and rejuvenate yourself?  On the personal side, my family and I visited friends in Ontario, Canada, not far from Toronto and Niagara Falls.  Among our stops was the Waterloo Region Museum.  Although the museum itself had interesting exhibits, it was its Doon Heritage Village that truly was a memorable experience.  Strolling through a replica of a 1914 Waterloo town, complete with curators in period costumes who share what life was like a century ago, made me realize the power of immersive educational experiences in real time and in real spaces.



That's not to be too dismissive of the virtual educational possibilities of Pokemon Go, Google Expeditions or the new VR Nearpod "field trips," but authentic role playing is hard to beat!

On the professional side, I was fortunate to once again be a part of the planning and organizing of EdCampKY in July.  We had three firsts:

  • We held it at an elementary school.
  • Shelby County was the host -- or more specifically, Southside Elementary.
  • We had a theme: Star Wars!
The EdCampKY went wonderfully, as always because of the attendees.  Special thanks to the 501st Legion, who put in an appearance that helped raise money for charity and gave me the opportunity to take a picture with a stormtrooper!  (One item can now be crossed off my bucket list.)



Last but not least...it is very exciting to see how nearby districts are launching their own Chromebook and GAFE initiatives.  In the last few weeks, I was fortunate and flattered to be asked to facilitate some start of school PD with Scott and Trimble Counties.  We at Shelby consider it opportunities to become learning partners with other districts and grow together in the digital conversion of classrooms to come.

So wherever you are in your edtech journey, remember: take risks, fail forward with purpose, and dare to transform your teaching this year!


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Quizalize

The last month of this school year has been a blur of busy-ness. As we prepare to complete our 1:1 initiative in August for our K-5 students, our first school year of Chromebooks for middle and high school students has just completed. It has changed what learning means for Shelby County.  Also in the busy-ness mix: in the last few weeks I have presented at Fayette County's Innovations for Learning and KDE's Persistence to Graduation Summit.  This was my second year at IFL (what a great regional and FREE annual conference!) and my first for PtG; I hope to return to both next year.

For my last blog entry of the 2015-2016 school year, I want to highlight a new formative assessment tool -- Quizalize.  To me, it is the next natural evolution of the gamified online tools such as Kahoot and Quizizz, which builds on their strengths and finds new ways of being useful for educators.

How does it work?  First, register your free teacher account.  (There are some premium features available; more on that below.)    You will land on a page with several options at the top:

Note the URL public link (on the right), making it easy to share your Quizalize profile online.
"Start Here" is definitely recommended as your first stop.  Here you can access a printable guide, watch a short overview video, and play a demo quiz; you can also make a quiz as well as search Quizalize's "marketplace" for quizzes shared publicly by others.  (Some of these public quizzes are free, and some cost.)


The other top buttons on your landing page are fairly straightforward.  Under "Your Quizzes" you can see quizzes you have already made or create new ones.  One helpful aspect is that you can organize quizzes into "collections," making it easier to navigate through them.  You can view or create classes under "Your Classes."  This is also where you can assign a quiz to a class, or see data from quizzes your students have taken.  "Marketplace" takes you to the same searchable database mentioned above.  By clicking your name, you can edit your profile and settings.

Creating a quiz is easy; simply create your questions and then assign the quiz to a class.  One of the more powerful aspects of Quizalize is the ability to tag questions with objectives or topics, which will greatly enhance its reporting features.  Also, Quizalize quizzes can easily be taken asynchronously.   You can assign them as homework with a start/end date of completion.  (Of course, you could ask students to take it simultaneously during class as well.)  Unlike Kahoot, students can take the quiz without a projector displaying questions and answer choices; all of the necessary information is right on their own screen.  When assigning a quiz, you have several options such as scrambling the order of questions so students side by side will have a different experience.   The teacher is given a unique access code to the quiz; this code and the site quiz.al are all the information a student needs to take it.

Creating a class is also easy.  You give it a name, and decide whether you will make students have to create an email/password to sign in.  Unfortunately, for those that want to upload a roster, you do not have that as an option.  However, the tradeoff is an easy interface for students to access and take your quizzes (similar to Kahoot and Quizizz, a student can take a quiz without registration). With the code and quiz.al site, a student can jump into a quiz within seconds.   One of the interesting features of Quizalize is that a list of student names from previous takers will show up; students should look for their name first and click on it, but they can type it if their name is not shown.   I recommend making this clear in your instructions to students, in order to make data for the same student consistent over time.

One of my favorite aspects of Quizalize is the visually clear way student answer data is presented, both as whole class and on an individual basis.  Student performance is broken down as "strong," "almost there," and "needs help." If you use the subtopics tagging feature, you can also quickly see overall areas of struggle and proficiency.  Here is where the premium aspect of Quizalize adds value; if a teacher wants to pay $69 a year, he/she would have access to a spreadsheet view of performance as well as the ability to export the data.

Here is a video I made that shows an overview of Quizalize's assessment analysis features:



One last thing to mention is that Quizalize has partnered with Zzish, which allows the ability to assign multiple activities from other online platforms.   When you log in as a teacher, you can "Add Activity" from sites such as Kahoot and Socrative.  However, although a student can see these outside assignments once they log in to Quizalize, it is not a direct link or embedded activity.   For example, you could copy the Kahoot game PIN and put that in the activity description for the student to see for their "assignment," but the student would still have to log into Kahoot from a new tab to play the Kahoot game.

How could you use it?  As bellringers or exit slips, Quizalize can give you quick, vital information on student performance. With the quiz.al link and a code, quizzes could easily be imbedded in Schoology Updates or non-submission Assignments.  Coupled with a content-related video or text reading, Quizalize could be used for more engaging homework or as part of a flipped activity.  Last but not least, Quizalize could be another digital tool for gamifying your classroom.

Downsides? Fans of Quizizz will miss the lack of funny memes for wrong answers in Quizalize.  Both Quizizz and Kahoot have a rich reporting structure available for free, whereas you need a premium account in Quizalize to export similar Excel spreadsheets.  Lastly, although Quizalize has a leaderboard of sorts when running live games, Quizizz and Kahoot may be more effective in feeding the competitive nature of students.   However, its ease of use, coupled with the power of "subtopics" and quick visual representation of results, make Quizalize a compelling alternative.

Are you a user of Quizalize?  Talk about it in the Comments below.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

TweenTribune

In my high school English classroom teachers years, true differentiation was always an elusive goal.  I never disagreed with its need, but always found it difficult to do with consistency, depth, and fidelity.  This was especially true with reading materials.  Like most, I faced students who ranged a huge range of low to high reading levels.   However, I highly valued having students be able to have discourse over the same text.  Often, especially with non-fiction text, I would be lucky to find a "on grade," "above grade," and "high grade" version of the same topic without making it obvious the disparity between the "kiddie version" and the others.

But now we have tech tools that can narrow the gap.  What if students could all read the exact same article, yet the Lexile level be automatically shifted up or down?   Newsela was the first and only site I knew that did this well, but another online resource has recently surfaced: TweenTribune, backed by the Smithsonian.

How does it work?   You can browse and search non-fiction articles in various subjects, or click on a band of reading levels determined by grade level (K-4, 5-6, etc.; this is one advantage over Newsela, which doesn't have grade level bands of articles).  Once you click on an article of interest, you can quickly adjust the Lexile reading level of the article by clicking on a higher or lower number.  Each Lexile version of an article has an unique URL, which makes copying and sharing the URL at a certain reading level very easy.

Note under the title that the current Lexile reading level number is in gold. Some options, such as taking a quiz or leaving a comment, are available if you are logged into your account.  Registration is free, and student usernames and passwords must be generated by a teacher who creates a class.
Another positive compared to Newsela:  while Newsela only lets you see five articles before making you register (for free), you can access all the articles of TweenTribune and share their multi-level URLs without teachers or students ever creating an account.

One thing that is interesting as you click across the grade levels is that the name of the site actually changes even as the URL still starts "TweenTribune.com."   K-4 is TT Junior, and 9-12 is TeenTribune.

There are a collection of separate Spanish articles under its own category, but the Lexile level cannot be adjusted, nor do the English articles have a "Spanish button" to convert them.

If you are interested in taking a comprehension quiz or leaving a comment on the article, you have to be logged in.  Teachers can register for free, create classes and student usernames/passwords, and assign certain articles to their classes.  (Note that a student cannot create their own sign in -- they have to get that from a teacher.)  If students take a quiz, teachers can access those results.

The teacher interface to create classrooms and student accounts is straight forward and simple.

How could you use it?   You can create authentic and engaging pair, group, or whole class discussions by having students read the same article differentiated to their needs.   In discussion, it would be nearly impossible for one student to know what Lexile level the other student read, making the equity seamless and invisible.  With an LMS, sharing URLs to specific reading levels of an article would be easy; for example, in Schoology, you could even create differentiated Assignments to different student groups, each with a different TweenTribune Lexile reading level of the same text.

Downsides?  I would like a way that you could have the various Lexile levels of a specific article be translated to Spanish with one button push.  That would make differentiation extend easily to ELL student needs.

I'm thankful that the Smithsonian is helping educators differentiate with ease...and for free!

Do you use Newsela or TweenTribune?  Discuss it in the Comments below.




Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Using the Camera of a Chromebook

A teacher today at East Middle began an interesting discussion with me.  She has students that are more comfortable with handwritten notes.  What would be an easy way to capture them and save them to their Google Drive?  We first briefly began with an "old school" way of doing so, and likely the best way for resolution and image quality -- find a desktop computer, use a scanner to scan the notes, then take the resulting file and get it into their Google Drive via email, a thumb drive, etc.  However, this would not only be time and resource consuming, but is a great example of letting "perfect be the enemy of good."  Because of our 1:1 Chromebooks for middle and high school, a student has a more than adequate way of capturing these notes right at their fingertips.  It also encourages blended learning - a mix of the analog and the digital.

In order to take a picture with the Chromebook, go to the magnifying glass icon in lower left, click “All Apps,” and find Camera.  (If you want, you can drag and pin the icon to the bottom tray for a short cut in the future.)

Take your picture with the webcam. You can add filters if you like, set a timer, or take multishots in a row.  You might want to turn the mirroring off, especially if taking a picture of text.

If you want to find and use the picture afterward, access the gallery by going to Camera and click on the stacked photo icon on the right.  Choose the picture you want to use, then “Save to Disk” option in lower right.  Name it and put it in your Drive.




When you want to take a snapshot while in the middle of a Google Doc, go to Insert > Image > Take a Snapshot.  The first time you do this, you will need to give permissions for the Chromebook to access your webcam and built in microphone.  The snapshot can now be taken and instantly inserted.  (Note: this can be done not only on a Chromebook, but any laptop/desktop computer with a webcam.)

There are other ways the Chromebook's camera could be utilized.  Here's some examples:

  • Younger students who are pre-literate could still capture and share their work, such as drawings.
  • Math students of all ages can "show their work" as both proof of their effort as well as a window into their critical thinking, so that it may be assessed by their teacher.
  • Students can preserve proof of analog projects (such as a diorama) for digital portfolios.
  • On non-traditional instructional days or homework, students could be asked to take a selfie along with a code word (given by the teacher at the appropriate time) written on a piece of paper.  This will serve as a "check in" that students followed directions and were truly present for their work.
  • Thanks to websites like QR Code Generator, you can scan QR codes without using a phone or installing a program.

How are you using the Chromebook's camera?   Tell us in the Comments below.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Edtech Share Fair 2016

Last Wednesday, we had our second annual Edtech Share Fair.  In terms of sheer numbers, we were successful: nearly double the presenters and attendees.  We also had a large contingent of people outside of our district visit; educators from six different districts got tickets, and we even had a U of L professor bring his entire class of students!

Ashley Sutter from our local newspaper the Sentinel News did a story on the Share Fair, which you can read here.

Last but not least, I did a Storify which contains a select sample of the tweets using hashtag #SCsharefair:


Special thanks to all of our presenters and helpers, as well as all those that attended!