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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.)

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!

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 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!