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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.

Update 7/27/17: It's here!  Below is a video I made where I demo how it works. I also provided a link to the instructions on Schoology's help center.   Note that you must install the Google Drive Assignments app in Schoology before this will work.  (Shelby staff, I have already installed this for our domain; any teacher with admin rights to a Course can use this.)