Tuesday, March 31, 2015


Occasionally, technology teaches you painful lessons. Today's lesson is courtesy of Apple iMovie. If you ever offer assistance on an iMovie project, and you work directly on an iMovie library that is shared and synced via a cloud service like Box or Google Drive, make sure you are both using the exact same version of iMovie. And, make sure there is no concurrent editing taking place. And make sure the person who is going to have to upgrade to regain access to his or her newly updated iMovie library is amenable to upgrading as much as their entire OSX installation.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Thwarting Assessment Theft

Send me a copy of my responses? From this assessment? "Why wouldn't I want to do that?" asks every student. Such was the topic of an ongoing conversation with a half dozen high school colleagues over the last month. Here is the long version.

A growing number of teachers are using Google Forms for everything from exit tickets to more formal, objective, summative assessments. An option in Google Forms allows the form to automatically collect a user's name and email address. When a form creator selects said option to automatically collect a user's name, a second option is also turned on. The second option allows the form user - the person completing the form, exit ticket, or test - to check the option "Send me a copy of my responses." It looks like this:

That's where the consternation starts. Can students send themselves a copy of their results and your form's questions? Yes.

What to do?

There are some specific things that you can do to turn off the "Send me a copy of my results" option which I'll address in a moment. In the meantime, I want you to consider that addressing this deficiency by unchecking an option box leaves pretty fertile ground for the creative in your classes to employ any of dozens of ways to digitally zap a copy of the exit ticket or assessment to a faraway destination. Every device can screen capture. Screen captures essentially save the screen as an image. Screen captures are immediate and surreptitious. Monitoring and attempting to stop screen captures would be a fools errand. Only the most sophisticated assessment tools like Peasrson's PARCC can hope to deter the lifting and zapping of content. (Given lucrative contracts, Pearson invested the coin to bolster assessment security and make duplication tools like screen captures impractical.)

So, is your use of online assessment a broken, lost cause? I don't think so. Online assessment continues to grow at an amazing rate. EWG's Cisco Networking Academy used online assessments from the late 90s through its discontinuation in 2013. Consider other blended learning tools like Edgenuity or iReady, both of which are being used in EWG right now. They all have built in, online assessment tools, and none of them are impervious to copying or theft. Like banking and electronic commerce in general, every assessment tool is exploitable. Whether your tool of choice is Kahoot!, Schoology, Socrative, Edmodo, Google Forms, Formative, Quiz Socket, Quizlet, or the dozens of others you might consider, they all can be stolen. Really, any lock you apply is only going to stop the honest among us.

I can not offer a magic keystroke to guarantee the sanctity of your exams, but will suggest some strategies. What this district lacks in formal digital citizenship conversation is something you'll have to address with students through frank discussion, among other strategies. Rearranging desks or chairs during the exam so that you have a clear view of every screen sends the message that you are in vigilant mode. And, close examination of feature sets of various assessment tools will yield interesting options such as question order and answer order randomization. And some, like Socrative, by their single question per page nature make wholesale lifting of an entire assessment much more difficult. Others like Formative will let you watch every assessment being completed in real time. You can literally see every student's screen as the assessment is being completed, which makes it pretty difficult for a student to pull a fast one.

Regarding Google Forms' 'Send me a copy of my responses' option, here are some immediate steps you can take. First, uncheck the option to automatically collect user names and add a question in your assessment that asks a student to type in their name.

Then, make some noise so Google will address the issue and make it possible to collect user names while still preventing users from sending the results of their responses.

Finally, if your assessment is written, online, and leveraging Google Docs, understand that the platform offers amazing collaboration, and opens possibilities for 'unauthorized assessment collaboration'. But what most students don't realize is that the revision history in Docs makes ferreting illicit collaboration a snap. If you suspect nefarious activity and would like help building proof, let me know. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

What does a model digital citizenship school look like?

The Meadowbrook School conducted a digital citizenship webinar yesterday. Presenters delivered a dynamic, enthusiastic session showcasing best practices for implementing a digital citizenship program in a school environment. Their emphasis was on positive uses of Internet resources. The absence of gloom and doom in their presentation was refreshing. Meadowbrook has a substantial Youtube presence, and has a digital citizenship playlist that is a good resource. To get a sense of Meadowbrook's approach to digital citizenship, their safe chatting video is a must watch. If you would like to earn your own CE certificate, you can watch the webinar recording on your own.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

PDF Markup Tool: iAnnotate

iAnnotate is available in the Chrome Web Store.
iAnnotate is a Chrome os extension that lets you edit, markup, and annotate PDF files. It is clearly one of the easiest and fastest tools for annotating a PDF that I've seen in a long time. Its integration with Google drive is seamless, and the app saves back to your drive on exit. Three shortcomings of iAnnotate include a lack of image support, a lack of equation editor support, and the extension does not work on chrome for Mac or PC. iAnnotate works only on iOS (iPad, iPhone), Android, and Chromebook devices . PDF Escape, with its dated, clunkier interface, fills the gaps left by iAnnotate by offering better functionality, and better support for Macs and PCs. I learned about iAnnotate through an OMG! Chrome! post.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

How to email parents through Aspen

During a workshop at Metcalf Wednesday, several teachers asked about the best way to email parents.  Some teachers were under the impression that they had to establish custom email lists through an awkward copy and paste into the school's email system. Not so! Parent and contact information is already entered into Aspen by administration so you can easily email parents directly through Aspen. Emailing parents through Aspen means you don't have to collect information from parents, distribute special codes for a learning management system, or ask parents to take on another username and password. Parents do not even have to login to or use their Aspen account to receive email from you. In a few clicks, you can send information to the contacts for every student in a class. The embedded video provides a brief overview of the process.

UPDATE, 3/12/2015
Colleagues asked how to send email to contacts and teachers of just a few students in the class. The images below should illustrate the process.

Update, 8/2018
Aspen's bulk email system has been blocked by aol, verizon, and yahoo mail systems from time to time as recently as the 2017-2018 academic year. If you're going to use Aspen's bulk emailer, you should enlist the help of parents with yahoo, aol, and verizon email addresses to vet its functionality.Your mileage may vary.

Printing Comments in Google Docs

Recently a colleague asked if it was possible to print a Google Doc and have the comments print, too. The short answer is yes, you can. Printing the comments requires a two step workaround, and until Google builds the option into docs directly, this might be your best and only option. The video below demonstrates the process.