Tuesday, October 27, 2015

On Passwords

Do you know your Apple ID and password for your school Apple account?

Come on. Be honest. How about logging into Pearson Success Net (Reading Street) on the first, second, or third attempt? Could you? Setting up classes in Mathletics (Every Day Math) requires its own sign in. Do you know yours? What happens when you get locked out of an important classroom resource, or cannot apply a critical update? To whom do you turn? How long does it take? What opportunities are delayed or lost? I ask because in my travels throughout the district, I see password and account overload taking a growing chunk out of your valuable time. Your frustration is compounded by the fact that some of the tools you use - especially your Apple ID - are external to EWG, leaving EWG's IT or other support staff unable to assist you. Other tools are managed by people within EWG, but finding the right contact can be a frustrating slog through "That's not my department" email threads. While you are locked out, you or your students are waiting. It has never been more important to fine tune your password acumen. What follows are some suggestions on where to start.

Biometrics can be strong password solutions with fingerprint and facial recognition leading the consumer options, but they are not viable options for students awaiting your assessment activation. And, biometrics probably won't be available on school resources for a while, as much ed based tech still suffers a lagging adoption process.

Some people use the same password for everything. Doing so is total madness. Seriously. Don't use the same password for every site. Consider variants of a common password. More on this thought later.

Some have a master password list in a document or in a physical notepad. As long as your resource is readily accessible, such a strategy can make sure you and your students can access Mathletics or some other resource when the laptop cart is in your room. However, the same convenience of accessibility raises a proportional risk of accessibility by the bad guys and gals of the digital underworld. Still, a master password list for your school resources might be an acceptable risk if you squirrel it away well. A school password list in the hands of a mischievous student would make for a bad week, but its financial reward to a hacker is negligible.

A few colleagues are beginning to use password managers, like PadlockLastPass, Passwords, and others. Password managers range from free, minimalist approaches to subscription models with lots of powerful options. Password managers work, and can make your life easier. But, I have a problem with password managers. Using a password manager to secure and open all of your online IDs still leaves you vulnerable. If your password manager is hacked, so too is the entire digital realm 'protected' by the same. Don't think that password managers cannot be broken. Remember Target, Home Depot, OPM, DOD, and ...

It is easy to suggest that you simply use a different password for every single digital sign on you might have. The reality is, it is much tougher to remember and use 50 plus unique, strong passwords. But there are a few suggestions I can offer here to help you make strong, unique passwords that are reasonably easy to remember.

I like the kid (and adult) friendly password generator dinopass.com. Much like the AOL passwords of the nineties, dinopass suggests easy to remember passwords. Try it. Thumb through dinopass' rolodex of silly, memorable passwords. Latch onto one that you might use as a 'master' password. Add at least one space in the password. In a password sandwich maneuver , modify the password slightly from site to site. Consider using a site specific suffix (apl for Apple, Irdy for i-Ready) to your 'master' password to help protect the integrity of all your passwords as you traverse from site to site. You might have a password scheme that looks like this for various digital identities:

  • ja2zy Skunk35Apl
  • ja2zy Skunk35Aspn
  • ja2zy Skunk35IRDY

 I like this approach and have seen it work well for people who have taken a brief time to implement it. They rarely forget a password and seldom need a site's password recovery options.

Many systems require a mix of upper and lower case letters, as well as numbers and a sprinkling of special characters. That's too bad, because such requirements just add unnecessary complexity. Does it really matter how many $p3c!al characters you use in a password? Nope. Password length trumps complexity. Consider the difference in time to brute force break the password  "iown2dogs" versus "i own 2 dogs". The second version is considered to be 'safe' for centuries. The linked article is a fascinating read.

If password travails are wrecking your school day, or if you would like to work toward some sanity for your school based password system, let me know. I would be happy to work with you. Better still, if you have a solid password strategy that works well, share it with us.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Day Two Takeaways From MassCUE 2015

The best sessions are workshops where ideas are cultivated in the absence of vendors and proprietary cash sinks. Today's highlight was the collaboration lead by Dr. Kristen Swanson, author of Professional Learning in the Digital Age:  The Educator's Guide to User-Generated Learning. Simply fantastic session where participants began to consider the impact of technology on learning with research. I left with a lot to think about. If you ever go to MassCUE, load your schedule with "Featured Speakers".

Other takeaways:

When WiFi breaks, a presenter's session breaks, as does the workshop in which participants are supposed to practice.

I finally learned how and when to discretely leave an in-session workshop that would not be useful to me.

There are hundreds upon hundreds of vendors displaying "education solutions".

More vendors
Even more vendors
The Microsoft Booth.
A Google workshop five minutes later. Standing room only.

I am conferenced out, and eager to rejoin the work taking place in EWG classrooms!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Day one takeaways from MassCUE 2015

  • Students as collaborators.
  • Students as thinkers.
  • Students as creators of content and things.
  • Education is messy.
    • You will make mistakes.
    • And that's okay.
  • Blended learning!
  • You will become increasingly irrelevant if you are not embracing and using technology to reinvent teaching and learning, empower your students, and engage them in purposeful use of the tools with which they are familiar.
Really looking forward to day two!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Exam View Updates

A number of teachers still use the venerable Exam View suite of tools to create assessments for their students. A popular feature of Exam View is to export assessments as web pages so that students can complete the self scoring quizzes online. Google Drive has helped serve Exam View web based assessments for about three years now, but that is about to change. Effective September 1, 2016, Google will reportedly shut down the ability to serve web pages directly from Google drive. While you don't have to worry about that eventuality this moment, you should keep it on your radar. There are probably a dozen great alternatives to help you continue serving your Exam View web pages, but I struggled to find worthy contenders free of monetary cost. Consequently, I began examining the possibility of using my own Macbook as a device on which to host and serve Exam View assessments. What follows is a video that muddles through the basics of hosting Exam View assessments on your Macbook. It's not at all difficult, and it works well. If you have questions, or would like to try it on your own Macbook, contact me.

Turn Off Google Classroom Notifications

The sheer volume of email from Google Classroom notifications can be annoying and overwhelming. You could create a rule to divert the notifications to a Gmail label or configure a rule to delete the notifications from your inbox. A better way is to simply turn the notifications off. Here's how:

  • Click the settings grill in Google Classroom.
  • Scroll all the way to the bottom.
  • Click settings.
  • Uncheck 'Send email notifications'.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Is It Google, Or Is It My Device?

A question I am frequently asked is, "Is it Google, the Internet, or my computer"? The Apps Status Dashboard is a good resource to help answer the question. At the Apps Status Dashboard, you will find current and historical information on ailments various Google Apps may be suffering or might have endured. As nerd mind candy, the Apps Status Dashboard is neat bonus.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

EWG Help Desk Is Easier To Use & More Functional

EWG IT rolled out a new help desk and trouble ticket system this year called
Zendesk. Zendesk is a big improvement over what had been in place during the previous few years. The fact that it uses your school email credentials makes it easier to login to Zendesk; no additional username and password to remember! Its reporting features and cleaner, leaner interface make for a better overall experience.

As awesome as Zendesk's interface and feature set is, users still like to send trouble tickets by email directly to one of the IT people. There are many reasons for sending help requests via email, including users' relative comfort with email and email being a one stop location for much of their school based communication. But sending a tech help request via email directly to one of the IT people can circumvent the usefulness of Zendesk and add another step for IT staff.

A few days ago, I stumbled on to a super cool feature of Zendesk that many users are going to like. If you send email directly to help@ewg.k12... (complete address intentionally omitted to thwart spam bots) your email will automatically be added to Zendesk where it will directly enter the service queue. Additionally, if you CC people - perhaps a colleague for whom the tech issue is also relevant - your email will automatically include them in the conversation and forthcoming solution. It's a pretty powerful win that can help all involved parties participate in the loop and stay informed.

Next time you have a tech issue, try it. Send an email to help@ewg.k12....

Friday, October 2, 2015

Laptop Insurance

Traveling throughout the district, I have encountered a sizable number of teachers who did not know that fairly priced insurance was available for their school issued Macbook. Consequently, I am alerting you to the fact that the district has partnered with Worth Ave Group to provide coverage for school issued Macbooks. Why? Well, certain creative, destructive actions such as driving over, dropping, poring coffee into, or swimming with your Macbook are not covered by the standard Apple warranty. Theft isn't covered, either. The Macbook is a pricey unit to repair or replace on your own. Unfortunately, some of our colleagues have experienced those expenses. If you are so inclined, you may purchase the insurance from https://my.worthavegroup.com/ewgrsdri. A year of full, no deductible coverage runs about $70.00 and covers you when the student borrowing your laptop clumsily drops it on a hard tile floor. ;-)

Insurance Application Screenshot

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Listen Up Exam View Users!

For a few years now, Google has let you serve web pages from your Google Drive. Using Google Drive as a web server has been an excellent way to serve Exam View tests as  a web page to students. Google Drive served the web page, students completed the assessment, and Exam View scored and reported the results. Beautiful and elegant? Not particularly. Highly functional? You bet.

Google recently announced that it will be deprecating the ability to serve web pages from Google Drive, and that web page serving through drive will cease after August 31, 2016.  The demise of the Google Drive web server means big changes for Exam View users who post their tests online via Google Drive. Simply put, you won't be able to serve your exam view tests online as web pages with Google Drive after this academic year.

Some of the Exam View test banks and the Exam View programs in use in our District are nearing fifteen years in age. Fifteen years in computing time is several epochs! We've got 11 months to come up with an alternative way to host online Exam View tests. Personally, I'm not interested in creating yet another work around to drag into the future a program that should have long ago have been updated.

Let's resolve:

  • No more virtual boxes or other kludges to cobble Exam View success. 
Some alternatives to investigate:
  • Exam View Cloud (Now called TurningPoint Cloud) : Is it real and can it work?
  • Can Exam View test banks be adapted to 
    • Google Forms / Flubaroo?
    • Socrative?
    • Edmodo?
    • Serve the exams directly from your Macbook's web server?
    • Host the Exam View web pages on a paid service like Drop Box?
    • Something else?
Of course, if you use Exam View to *print* exams, deprecation of the Google Drive web server is not an issue for you. But, if you are serving Exam View pages for online tests, now is the time to budget for or otherwise agitate for Exam View's successor. Eleven months to go.

UPDATE 10/1/2015:
I was able to serve an Exam View web based test from wikispaces.com for free, and without advertisements!

Additionally, I was able to start the built in web server on my Macbook and serve Exam View tests to several student testers. This method was very easy to implement.

Whoop! Maybe 16+ years and new life for old Exam View?