Sunday, July 18, 2021

Virtual Reality Classrooms: An Interview with Matthew Hodge

Several years ago, I read Ernest Cline's novel Ready Player One.  The book was endlessly entertaining on several levels, but as an educator, I was particularly intrigued by Cline's description of virtual reality school.  It may be a dystopia circa 2045, but these classrooms still set my edtech heart aflame:
Although there are certainly aspects of augmented and virtual reality that are used in present-day education -- 360 degree YouTube videos and Google VR National Parks experiences are but two examples -- a true immersive classroom experience like Cline described still seemed faraway science-fiction.

Flash-forward to this year.  In the middle of the pandemic, most vendors had to resort to webinars and other teleconferencing options to share or discuss their wares.  However, I received an invite to a unique opportunity from Tierney.   It required downloading a software from Virbela, then joining a virtual campus ran by Douglas Stewart.   On the "island" was an expo hall where Tierney held their showcase:
I was even more intrigued when I found out that Douglas Stewart had allotted some space for teachers to hold classes on the campus.  After a talk with Daylon Reifsteck (Emerging Technology Specialist at Douglas Stewart), I was introduced to one such teacher: Matthew Hodge, from the Center for Advanced Research and Technology (CART), located in Clovis, California.  So I decided to do a first for Edtech Elixirs and screencasted a 38 minute video interview while our avatars met on the Douglas Stewart Edu Campus!  "Hodge," as he prefers to be called, discusses his path to teaching, what CART is, the successes and challenges of his virtual reality classroom, why teacher lounges should have track lighting and live music, and the prediction for the future of both his own upcoming classes and education itself. 

Special thanks to Daylon for the introduction, and of course Hodge for the illuminating conversation!  

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Putting Edtech in Pedagogical Context, and the Chromebook App Hub

After a long, arduous and challenging school year, I hope you are finding ways to relax and recharge!  Before I slip off myself to my own vacation, I wanted to slip in one more Edtech Elixirs entry before the work of next school year begins.

As I look back on my first days as an edtech cheerleader (as a classroom teacher, and then as a digital learning coach), one of my biggest regrets was being too caught up in sharing the latest fancy, flashy tool.   God help me, I actually enjoyed attending, or even sometimes presenting, those auctioneer-style "60 Sites in 60 Minutes" marathon conference sessions.  I was eager to capture ooo's and ahhh's from teachers by introducing a just-discovered app.  As a new staff member who wanted to prove my usefulness to a district, I was glad to at least get an audience engaged by showing them something novel and new.   Don't get me wrong -- I always knew that you should never use edtech for edtech's sake.  But before edtech has a chance to transform your teaching, you have to agree to use it first, right?

One of my earliest edtech successes in Shelby County involved Kahoot.  As part of my traveling roadshow presentations to faculty -- probably titled something like "10 Digital Ways to Assess!" or something equally cringeworthy -- I shared Kahoot, and boy, did it make an impact.  Every single time after I had a schoolful of staff demo Kahoot, I would get stopped in the hallway the next day.  A teacher would be nearly giddy.  "My students loved Kahoot!" the teacher would rave.   "They were so engaged and excited! Thank you for sharing!" And I would smile, and pat myself on the back, and practically levitate.  

I regret to inform you, reader, that it took a good year or two for my self-congratulations to turn into disquiet.   Teachers and students were beginning to use edtech, so the first hurdle was cleared, yes.  But eventually, I had to take a hard look at whether the usage was superficial.  (Of course, this is an age-old problem with teaching.  To paraphrase Precious Boyle from the title of her excellent October 2020 article, don't mistake engagement for learning.)

So one day, when a brand new convert to Kahoot came bounding out of her classroom thanking me for introducing the tool, I stopped my "you're welcome's" long enough to ask a few questions.  "Hey, have you had a chance to analyze the data Kahoot gives you about how each student performed, and how fast they answered?  Or noticed any other assessment metrics that proved the students . . . you know . . . learned the content any better?"

"No.  I mean, not yet," she said, blinking at me, and probably wondering why I was being dense at understanding her victory. "The students -- they had fun!"

I'm not against fun.  Like a charismatic mold growing on the tree of education, I consider myself a fun guy.   And a fun classroom is better than a dreary one.  Also to be clear: getting someone passionate about edtech is not a bad thing, and if there was a failure to understand a more transformative use of a tool, the failure is on me as a coach and not the coachee.  But it was at that moment I pledged to get better at teaching teachers the pedagogy of transformative blended learning.   I took a deeper dive into frameworks like SAMR and never looked back.  I made sure when sharing a detailed exploration of a digital tool in this blog to at least ask "How could you use it?" as a way of really saying "Why bother in the first place?"  That's not to say I've arrived as an expert or gotten it perfect, but I definitely am better at recognizing that edtech without clear instructional context has no value.

With all of that in mind, I was especially pleased to come across a relatively new website, the Chromebook App Hub.


The first thing you will notice about the site is (perhaps not surprisingly, given that Google is behind it) how easy it is to search.  There are multiple filters to narrow down an app to various categories (like "Assessment & Feedback" or "Math" or "Storytelling"...or checkmark several that apply), as well as age range, purchasing options, languages and more.   The amount of apps catalogued are prodigious;  I can almost guarantee that even a cursory search will likely come up with several tools that will be new to you.  Clicking on an app will provide further info, such as the developer and helpful resources to get you started using it.  However, in the spirit of today's blog entry, all of that is the least impressive thing about Chromebook App Hub.  What really struck me was the Ideas section of the site, which contains teacher "Sparks" -- real lessons and practical ways to utilize the various apps to positively impact learning.  These Ideas also have filters so you can search by subject, age range, and learning goals. Even better, you can submit your own Spark.

And now we come full circle back to my promise to better contextualize edtech.  About a year ago, our staff developer Tracy Huelsman launched the first draft of our seven SCPS Competency-Based Core Design Principles (based on language from the Aurora Institute and 2REV).  When looking through the lenses of agency, performance assessment, feedback cycle, anytime/anywhere, move when ready, equity, and clarity of mastery, where might some of our suggested edtech fit?  On our district page where such edtech suggestions are kept, I have now noted which competency-based principles apply, linked to a Google Doc with more detail and resources.  Let's take Kahoot as an example.  It connects with performance assessment ("timely data generated from Kahoot can drive instructional choices") and equity, based on a recently launched translation feature.

Like all things, my attempt to make edtech tools merely one part of a more meaningful blended learning experience is a journey and a work in progress.  So wherever you and I may take our well-deserved rest this summer, let's just pledge together to not rest on our laurels!

Friday, May 7, 2021

Chromebooks now come with a Screen Capture tool!

 A few months ago, Google announced a lengthy roll call of upcoming changes and upgrades across its tools and platforms, which I summarized here.  One that really caught my attention: starting with Chrome version 90, the Chrome OS for Chromebooks will now include a built-in screen capture and recording tool called (wait for it) Screen Capture!

We've been deploying this latest version of Chrome to our students' Chromebooks for a few weeks now, and recently I was able to go to classrooms and see it in action.  I'm happy to report that Screen Capture seems stable and works as advertised.   (For Google's official support article on the tool, click here.)

Students with Chromebooks can access this new tool one of two ways: 

  • The keyboard shortcut Control + Shift + "Switcher" (the "box line line" icon key above the number 6)
  • The "Quick Settings" button in the lower right corner of the screen, where you will find the new Screen Capture button in the tray.

Either choice will then open up your Screen Capture toolbar at the bottom of your Chromebook.  (The default is image mode, although you can toggle over to video if you like.)   You are now a button push away from capturing the entire screen, lassoing a portion, or capturing an open window/tab; you can also just hit Enter to make the highlighted choice happen.  One clever feature is that captured images are automatically put into your clipboard, making it very easy to immediately paste them into a document. 

The Screen Capture toolbar.  Screenshot from John R. Sowash's website Chromebook Classroom.
  Read here for some tips and other details about the tool!

Note that if you are in video mode, you can click the settings (gear icon) to turn on or off your microphone as part of the screencast recording.  However, two caveats: the only audio you can capture is from your mic (no computer generated audio can be recorded), and trying to record a video of a video that is playing or streaming will tax the Chromebook's processor and produce iffy results at best.  Some examples of when the screen recorder might be most effective:

  • narrating through a Slide presentation
  • discussing your research on a topic while flipping through tabs of various website resources
  • explaining your latest revisions on a Doc
  • showing a teacher how something is not working in order to troubleshoot a tech problem

By default, the saved images and recordings are put into your Chromebook's Download folder, at which point you could either upload it to your Drive or delete it after its purpose has been served.  (This also implies that you can do screen capturing and recording without being online!)  I find this feature helpful, because it allows you to be more disposable with screen captures and not necessarily clutter up your Drive's storage space; do you really need that image for perpetuity once you've inserted it into your Slide presentation?  On the other hand, your Chromebook's hard drive storage is much more limited than a typical laptop, so students may need to be reminded to clean out their downloads periodically.

With such a useful tool now built-in and free, should you stop using other add-on screencasting Chrome extensions?  Not necessarily.  To take one example, Screencastify offers additional features like "telestrating" annotation during recording, as well as some limited editing,   However, the free version of Screencastify is also limited to five minute videos!  It is therefore hard to beat Screen Capture, especially for its convenience, simplicity and speed of use.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Explain Everything (Web Version)

Explain Everything is a tried-and-true digital whiteboarding tool that has been around for many years, although in full disclosure mode,  I have been more familiar with a similarly functioning iOS app ShowMe (one I've mentioned several times on this blog).   Both of these have mainly been known as tablet apps.  However, I discovered that Explain Everything now has a browser-based version, and even if the phrase "game changer" is way overused, I think it applies here -- especially if you're looking for a useful presentation tool while facilitating a concurrent or virtual classroom.

How does it work?

Firstly, you will want to make an account.  Free is an option (but see "Downsides" below for more on the paid options); you can use Google or create an account through any email.  This will enable you to save and revisit "Projects" as well as collaborate with others.  When you first use the site, you need to allow it to access your microphone.

Explain Everything can be used presentationally or collaboratively. Its robust features that differentiate it from other types of whiteboard tools start becoming apparent from the minute you launch it -- you can choose a blank canvas, but several useful project templates are also available like storyboard, timeline and Venn diagram.

This is an example of the Explain Everything template "Meeting."

Your annotation and presentation tools are along the left side.  They include the usual suspects such as a Hand (selector), Draw, Highlighter, Eraser, Shapes, Text, Add Media, and a laser pointer.   You can zoom in and out of your Project in the bottom left.

Another innovation for Explain Everything is how collaboration can occur.  In the upper right, once you are signed in, you will see an Invite Code for your Project.  This can be shared so that others can instantly join you, from either entering the code at the main Explain Everything site or as an option when someone first launches the browser app.  

If you click on this invite button, you can see other options.  You can share a URL to your Project, change your access permissions (for example, anyone with the link can only view), or change the Scenario from the default of "open collaboration" (everyone works together freely) to "presentation" or "interactive broadcast" if you plan to screenshare your Project.  Using your microphone can allow your collaborators / viewers to hear you as you whiteboard.  

Lastly, there is a screen capture tool that allows you to record, or screencast, whatever is within an adjustable frame, which can also include you narrating from your microphone.  Creating a screencast will also open up some video editing features, but there are limits in exporting video with a free account. (Note that when "Adding Media," one of the options includes using your webcam to take a picture; you can also insert existing audio.)

For a short overview of how the internal screencasting and clip editing can work, watch the following video (2:04):

How could you use it?

Explain Everything creates an immersive interactive space to collaborate and ideate with colleagues.  Students may do the same, especially with working through a compare/contrast of two concepts, making a storyboard plan before recording a film, or capturing prototype ideas during design thinking.  

You could also use the tool presentationally to an audience.  This audience could be experiencing your Project live via screensharing during a teleconference meeting, or asynchronously by watching a screencast recording. 

Lastly, and obviously, Explain Everything is perfect for a concise explanation of a concept or process, in a way more engaging than simply narrating as you click through static slides.  Explaining math processes in particular would be a natural for such a tool.

You might consider getting around the limitations of video exporting by screencast recording with another tool (like Screencastify or Screencast-o-matic), but the trade off would be the inability to use Explain Everything's internal editing, or potentially sharing videos on its own cloud service.


The free version of Explain Everything only allows up to 3 projects, 1 slide per project, and 1 minute of exported video.  Because of these limitations, you will likely want to consider getting a paid version of the tool.  Current pricing is reasonable, however; for $24.99 a year, you can have unlimited projects, slides, and recordings, as well as 1 GB of cloud space. Also, if you use Chrome, make sure hardware acceleration is on or else you will have to use another browser.

Explain Everything was already (and remains) a highly useful tablet app, but this new browser-based version means theoretically that any laptop or Chromebook can now use it too.   Consider it as an alternative to Google Jamboard or Padlet the next time you want to collaborate in a small group, or as a new way of presenting your ideas to an audience.

Do you use Explain Everything? Do you have a different favorite digital whiteboard tool?  Share in Comments below!

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Learning with Google: Announcements for 2021

Earlier today, Google held their global online livestream "Learning with Google."  Over the course of ninety minutes, they rolled out a roadmap of upcoming changes and upgrades to the Google platform happening between now and the end of the year.  It was a bit of an information blitz and I felt exhausted afterward trying to take notes and keep up.   If there was ever such a deluge of new Google announcements released in one afternoon, I can't remember it. 

As a way of digesting some of the highlights of their announcements, I thought I'd blog!   Let me say a disclaimer from the top: as much as I am trying to be accurate, I could have made an inaccurate note or the timetable might change.  So make sure you check directly with Google (like using the link to the Google Education blog entry above) to verify pricing and other details.

A Change of Name and Four Options

First, a question to make you feel your age:  did you know that Google Suite apps are over a decade old?  Hard to believe Docs and Drive started back in 2008.  As these tools grew from Google Apps for Education to G Suite for Education, many wondered if our free ride would end.   And it hasn't least, not quite.

The good news: Google says they are committed to a free option for education.  However, besides a name change to Google Workspace for Education (to better align with their actual Workspace business offering), it will now offer THREE premium paid tiers: Google Workspace for Education Standard, Teaching and Learning Upgrade, and Google Workspace for Education Plus.

What are the differences?

  • Google Workspace for Education Fundamentals is basically the current free version of G Suite for Education. 
  • Google Workspace for Education Standard will be available for $3 per student per year (and you have to purchase for all students in your domain all at once). It offers a bit extra over Fundamentals, but mainly on the admin side of the fence: enhanced security features, some log exporting, and easier data migration.
  • Teaching and Learning Upgrade will be available for $4 per license, per adult, per month.  (Assuming you want the upgrade all year, that means $48.00 per staff member.) This granular distinction is important, in case you possibly only want certain staff to have this upgrade and only for a certain number of months.  Teaching and Learning includes originality reports for student work, a soon to launch Classroom Add Ons feature (see the below section for more details), and many of the previously announced Google Meet features like breakout rooms, recordings that do not expire after 30 days, and room polling.  As you decide which staff may need the upgrade, consider the people who will most likely be leading will need it.  For example, a staff member with the T & L upgrade who creates a Google Meet can have breakout rooms AND a non-upgraded staff or student attending such a Meet would still be able to interact in those breakout rooms; however, if a non-upgraded staff member creates a Meet, breakout rooms are not an option.   (One assumes features like Classroom Add Ons work in a similar way; it is a question of whether the creator of the Classroom has the upgrade or not.)
  • Google Workspace for Education Plus -- formerly Google Enterprise for Education -- is the Cadillac version, available in April for $5 per student per year (and you have to purchase for all students in your domain all at once). It includes all the features of Education Standard AND Teaching and Learning Upgrade.  You also get some bonus features such as an interior Google search (allowing you to look up public Docs across your domain), livestream capability to 100K users, and a synching of Google Classroom rosters to your SIS (Student Information System, such as Infinite Campus).  As you budget and consider your options, definitely compare your total cost of upgrading all staff to Teaching and Learning versus the cost of upgrading your domain to Plus -- you may find that with just a little more expense, Plus provides maximum benefit.

From this point forward, when you hear a new Google feature launch, verify which tier it will apply to.  It may not be yours!  For more details on your options:

Google Classroom, Forms, Docs,  and Jamboard Upgrades

Fun fact: since February of 2020, Google Classroom has gone from 40 million users to 150 million worldwide!

Here are some other highlights rolling out by the end of the year:

  • Google will launch a Classroom Add Ons "store."  This creates an opportunity to put certain outside tools inside of your Classroom Assignments -- students can access and complete them without leaving the tab, and then their scores/grades will go straight to the Classroom's gradebook.  Announced partners available at launch will include Nearpod and Kahoot.  Available with Teaching and Learning Upgrade or with Plus.
  • There will be a "Student Engagement Tracking" to analyze student usage.  When did they last log in? What was the last thing they submitted?
  • For admin, deeper and more detailed analytics of Classroom usage across the domain.  Available with Standards or with Plus.
  • The mobile app version of Classroom will be able to work offline and will be more effective with intermittent Internet/cellular connection.  Additionally, a student using the Classroom app will have an easier time, and more options, for submitting pictures (such as taking a pic of a "paper and pencil" assignment).
  • Rich Text Formatting is coming.  You can finally bold, italic, underline text! Add bulleted lists!
  • Forms:  The angels must be singing, because Forms will begin saving your work in the background as you type and select.  No more lost information from accidentally leaving the page, closing the tab, or losing your Internet connection.  And if any of those things happen, you will be able to return to the Form and pick up where you left off.  (Data is remembered for 30 days or until the Form is submitted, whichever happens first.)  That includes Form Quizzes!
  • Docs:  The Citations feature is improving with some smart suggestions. For those with Education Plus, Google is adding an "Approval" feature under File; you would be able to submit your Doc to selected members of your team to "sign off" on your work.
  • Jamboard: you will finally be able to track changes and see edits made by your students!
  • For more details and other coming Classroom features, read this Google blog entry.

A preview of "Student Engagement Tracking" in Google Classroom coming later this year.

Google Meet

What would so many of us do without Meet during pandemic teaching?  Therefore, and not surprisingly, Google spent some significant time talking about the future of Meet.

Google first tipped their hand to the start of premium tiers with Meet features that were exclusive for those that paid for Enterprise, such as beloved breakout rooms.  In fairness to Google, however, not all of its upgrades cost money, and some of the future ones will be for (free) Fundamentals unless otherwise noted.

  • At the end of the meeting, teachers will have the option to end the Meet for all participants, including those in breakout rooms.  That means no more students possibly staying on to chat without you.
  • In the next few weeks, you will be able to mute all participants, and choose whether students can unmute themselves.
  • Starting in August, there will be several improvements for Meets that are integrated into a Google Classroom:
    • students will not be able to join the Meet until a teacher starts it
    • only students and teachers of that Classroom can join that Meet
    • all teachers of that Classroom will have moderator controls
  • In Google Calendar, breakout room participants can be determined in advance while creating a calendar event.  Available with Teaching and Learning Upgrade and with Plus.
  • Besides hand raising, students will also be able to react with emojis -- and in a wonderful nod to diversity, can change the skin tone of the emojis to better reflect themselves.
  • Meet will also be better optimized to work with lower strength WiFi.
  • For more details and other coming Meet features, read this Google blog entry.


Admittedly, I was a bit surprised to hear newsworthy updates for Chromebooks and its Chrome OS, but they included:

  • Starting with Chrome 89 (launching March 9), the OS for Chromebooks will include a built in screen recording tool!  This may replace your current screen recording apps like Screencastify that need to be separately installed and may have limited recording times.
  • Google Meet will be optimized for Chromebooks and Chrome, which will especially be welcome when multitasking or for Chromebooks near their end of life.  This may become important as more anecdotes and news stories come out about Chromebooks struggling with other teleconferencing platforms that could also be shortening their life cycle.
  • More Chromebooks will be offered with dual cameras, allowing students to better take pictures or record videos beyond selfies.

Accessibility and the Future of Assistive Technology

While "Accessibility" has always been part of Chrome settings that follow you across devices, Google announced some upcoming features such as multiple options for changing your cursor color.  (For more on Google and accessibility, check out this link.)  The livestream ended with an interesting discussion on the future of Google as assistive technology.  Consider "assistive" as any way to augment or make your life easier; for example, Chrome remembering your password or autofilling your shipping address.  Artificial Intelligence, however, is making the possibilities even more intriguing.  AI may become your next classroom Instructional Assistant!  (And yes, I'm trademarking the acronym AIIA.).  Google shared how districts are utilizing Google Cloud Success Services to create a chat virtual assistant, and in one example, it was able to solve 92% of user inquiries on its own.  Other examples include typing an equation into the Google search button and getting a step by step explanation of the solution (something you can do now with the mobile Google Lens app), or typing "[kind of problem] practice problems" to get virtual self-tutoring. 

An example of searching "linear equations practice problems." Note that you not only get those practice problems, but an overview, examples and more!

Between the product announcements, the livestream shared some inspirational pandemic teaching stories from across the world. Diana Parra, Professor of Information and Technology in Medellin, Columbia, said: "My challenge at the moment as a teacher, is to take the technical things we know, and amidst a crisis, to make them human."  May we all do our best to take the digital tools at our disposal to make our teaching not about the Internet or Google Apps or the device but the human student at the other side of our screen.  Our teaching may not be in person, but we can still try to make it personal.  

If you're interested in watching the archived livestream, here is the video (1 hour 37 minutes): 

What is an upcoming Google feature that makes you excited?  Share in the Comments below!

Edit 2/19/21: The archived video of the livestream is now published, and I added it to the blog entry.  Also, I made a small edit about the Forms update - an incomplete Form is only saved for 30 days or until it is submitted, whichever comes first.

Edt 2/23/21: After watching a presentation today by AmplifiedIT, a few more clarifications and corrections: The new Doc Approval feature is only available for Education Plus, Chrome 89 is launching March 9, and I explained what could potentially happen when T & L upgraded staff interact with non-upgraded staff.

Edit 4/28/21:  I was made aware that the Teaching and Learning upgrade license is based on a MONTHLY fee, not annually like Standard and Plus.  I updated the information above to reflect this, as well as included a useful Google resource that compares the editions side by side.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Our newest vodcast series "Shelby Speaks: The Concurrency of Our Classrooms"

Happy New Year 2021!  

Back in May of last year, I shared in Edtech Elixirs that Shelby County launched a vodcast series on YouTube titled "Shelby Speaks: Looking Forward."  The videos consisted of interviews with our district educators which focused on answering two main questions:  what new things are you trying during this non-traditional instruction (NTI)/emergency distance learning, and how might that transform your teaching or classroom in your future?

In November 2020, I discussed our support for teachers attempting a concurrent/hybrid model of teaching (i.e. teaching students at home and in person at the same time).  One of the important pieces of this support was creating a Concurrent Classroom Dashboard Doc, which contains resources, tips and strategies; as part of those resources, we were blessed with Shelby educators who created self-made videos to share what they were doing that was helping them be more effective.  Via screencasts, recorded teleconferences, or cellphone filming, our staff discussed everything from hardware configurations to online discussion strategies to virtual classroom management to basic blended learning best practices.  In several cases, educators that shared their reflections in "Shelby Speaks: Looking Forward" returned to discuss how their experience last spring led to continued growth and success this fall.  

We soon realized that was a lot of valuable footage which could be helpful beyond our own district needs.  What could we do with those videos? And how could we further celebrate their work beyond the Dashboard Doc?

The answer to those questions -- and the bringing together of both threads above -- lead us to our newest vodcast series "Shelby Speaks: The Concurrency of Our Classrooms."   The videos are on our Shelby County Public Schools YouTube channel, and the Playlist for the series is here.   When all editing is finished, we plan on publishing a total of thirteen episodes.

As an excellent example to showcase the series, here's episode 3 with Kelly Hudson.  Ms. Hudsonan eighth grade ELA teacher at East Middle, emphasizes the importance of consistency and norms in a concurrent classroom.  She also shares her digital organizational structures to ensure that learning is the constant, regardless of where the students are located, or whether it is a synchronous or asynchronous environment:

We definitely are grateful to Kelly and our other Shelby educators who took the time to make the original videos. Special thanks to our district PR Coordinator Cyndi Skellie for editing the footage and publishing our newest series!

We hope you find these educator insights helpful in these challenging times.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Google Earth for Web

The earth expanding right hand and left hand,
The picture alive, every part in its best light,
The music falling in where it is wanted, and stopping where it is not wanted,
The cheerful voice of the public road, the gay fresh sentiment of the road.

                                  -- Walt Whitman, "Song of the Open Road

We are in a season that in pre-pandemic times usually meant unfettered and uncompromised traveling and geographic relocation.   In the midst of COVID, doing such movement and visiting of others safely is challenging, which leaves me a bit gloomy.  It is likely that such a melancholic mindset has inspired me to think of Walt Whitman (a balm to the overcast soul if there ever was one!), as well as digital tools that allow at least a virtual facsimile of travel.

Google has a long history of such geographic, useful digital tools.   Of course, Google Maps has long been a mainstay of their Suite, with upgrades along the way like Street View.  Google Earth started as an impressive downloadable program, but originally took a sizable hard drive footprint and considerable computer processing power.  Yet both of these began as consumer, and not creator, tools.  That changed with Tour Builder, which allows you to utilize the Google Map data and create narrative presentational "stories" you could share with others. Unfortunately, Google recently announced that Tour Builder will be shuttered in July 2021.   The good news?  Google Earth for Web -- a browser-based version of Google Earth that works without a download, which means you can use it on a Chromebook! -- now has similar creator tools.

How does it work?

Google Earth for Web (hereafter "GEfW" for short) allows you to make a guided map journey that you can present to, or share with,  others.  In some ways, it is like an interactive geographic timeline, in that you can take any place on Google Earth as one of your "stops" and add contextual text, videos and pictures.  A key advantage that GEfW has over Tour Builder is that it is now seamlessly integrated into your personal Google Drive. Your projects save inside a "Google Earth" folder (created the first time you save a GEfW project), which makes finding and sharing them very easy. 

In this tutorial video (2:06), you learn how to start a Google Earth project and a quick overview of its tools:

This video (2:59) goes more into depth about the creation tools of GEfW:

When you decide to present a finished project, the navigation feels very similar to Google Slides.  In fact, inserting a slide is a media option for GEfW, allowing you to have an introduction and conclusion, as well as possible transition slides throughout.   

Speaking of a similar feel to other Google products, you will find the sharing tool of Google Earth for Web just like any other Google Doc.  You can simply create and share a link for "view only" rights, but you can also invite contributors to collaborate with you on editing the project.

How could you use it?

A Google Earth for Web presentation would certainly be more dynamic than a typical direct instruction "click through the slides" experience.  But the ability to empower students to tell their stories in new ways is really where GEfW can elevate learning.  This video (2:12) gives some great examples of how your students could integrate GEfW into their next passion project or PBL:


When opening up a previous project, or even just opening up Google Earth for Web, be prepared for a little lagginess as the media loads in your browser.   Your mileage may vary depending on your Internet connection and the performance ability of your device.  Considering how graphic-intensive the application is, this is not a surprise.  When presenting or editing a GEfW project, I highly recommend shutting down unused programs and minimizing your open browser tabs.

Enjoy creating unique stories utilizing the vast Google Earth data!  And if the current holiday season and the pandemic is making you as melancholic as it is me, remember Whitman's wise words:

The earth never tires,
The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first, Nature is rude and incomprehensible at first,
Be not discouraged, keep on, there are divine things well envelop’d,
I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell.