Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Google Account Security Checkup

Over the course of a school year, you might grant permission for a number of apps and web based resources to access your Google account. Doing so is convenient because it reduces the need to create and memorize login credentials for every service and tool you might try. Granting apps permission to use your Google credentials also creates a richer, more robust application ecosystem. Apps like WeVideo, Pixlr, and dozens of others really work well when they can open and save files directly with your Google Drive.

Still, it is important to be mindful of the apps to which you granted permissions and periodically review the permissions. Did you stop using an app? Revoke its permissions. Did a company close operations and take your favorite app into a digital oblivion? Revoke the app's permissions. Did your favorite app fall out of favor, or is it something you just don't use anymore? Revoke its permissions.

Revoking app permissions is part of a general Google security checkup. The security checkup is quickly and easily done. You should perform it on your school account, and especially on any personal or Google accounts you have. The holiday break is a great time to run the security check and it takes just a few minutes. The video below demonstrates one way to launch and complete the Google Account Security Checkup.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Managing Your One To One Classroom

Kids are watching videos in my class! Kids are streaming music, texting, or doing other stuff on their laptops in my class. They're cheating on the online tests! Their phones are always out! I can't stand it anymore! I want a tool that lets me view their screens and lock them down! I am going to buy a jammer to block cell phone signals in my classroom (drawing unwanted FCC attention as a byproduct)! I have heard the above loudly and clearly from several high school teachers and understand the concerns. After a few years in a computer and technology rich education environment, you might think I have an easy button solution. I don't. But, I will share some thoughts, hoping they are received in the collegial vein they are offered.
Mobile Futures
Image: NYC Media Lab

I have used Lan School (and students have written about how to disable tools like Lan School), and similar screen monitoring tools. When used for collaboration, management tools like Lan School are excellent at projecting student screens or helping a student remotely. But used in an Orwellian capacity, they fail, and are even more abysmal when used to meet punitive measures. They are about as well received by students as an overbearing district content filter or a computer use monitoring policy would be received by you, a classroom teacher. Lan School and similar tools are not a replacement for clear, concise, and consistently applied classroom management strategies. Further, screen monitoring might help you enforce the life and career skills accountability and productivity, but screen monitoring removes a student's ability to authentically practice accountability and productivity as outlined by Screen monitoring will give you one more thing to login to, one more thing to monitor, and one more thing to divert your own attention from the real action; face to face, one on one interaction with kids. At best, screen monitoring software is a sandbag on the levy of life. Students still have unfettered access to the world's knowledge and entertainment base from their personal devices and absent effective classroom management strategies will, like water, overrun your sandbag. Considering a nerdy perspective, Lan School would be one more performance sapping software on devices, and it would potentially generate performance degrading network traffic.

One key to tech classroom management is promulgating firm, clear, consistent expectations. If students shouldn't be on their laptops, the laptops should be closed. If students have no reason to be using a cell phone, the phone should be out of sight. Some teachers effectively employ phone jails or collection boxes students voluntarily use. You are the boss, the setter of tones and paces in your room. Model your expectations. Practice your expectations. Reinforce your expectation again and again. When students need to be called out or parents need to be called, be a proactive, consistent communicator. Live by your rules and make them an intrinsic part of your learning environment. Beth Brocato offers this iPad checklist as a great way to begin the conversation about your classroom expectations.

There are steps that educators can take immediately to help manage the high tech classroom. I offer this slightly dated classroom management article as a conversation starter, where Author Mike Hasley opines,
Let the kids know when and when not to have their laptops out for use. If you are doing a non-laptop activity, no kids should be using laptops.

The article is vintage 2007, around the birthday of the smartphone, so does not mention smart phones at all. Yet the new gadgets are in your classroom adding to your list of concerns. Maybe we can sequel the article with modern best practices that reflect classroom technology as it stands today. What are your best practices to effectively manage classroom technology?

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Changes Headed Your Way

When Carin Corcoran said, "I want to use Google Classroom with my students." I did a double take. I've seen fourth and even third graders use Google Classroom effectively, but never imagined introducing any Learning Management System to second graders. Carin and I had several good conversations about learning objectives first, then looked at how Google Classroom (or any other LMS) might be leveraged to help students meet those objectives. 1989 was my last 'formal' classroom experience with second graders, and I really wondered about her students' developmental readiness to latch onto the fairly esoteric concepts of digital document distribution and submission. I had not been so unnerved in a classroom in quite some time.
Second graders completing a word bank
project through Google Classroom

Due in large part to Carin's excellent instruction, her calm, unflappable demeanor, and enthusiasm for the project, I am happy to report that the LMS was a solid contributor to teaching and learning that morning. Carin's and her students' success got me thinking about technology's impact on the face of teaching and learning across our district, and what exposure to and use of technology for teaching and learning at the lower grade levels means for junior and senior high learning environments.

Tech being 'taught' at the junior and senior high will, in short order, no longer need to be introduced at the middle and upper levels. Students in elementary grades right now are already

  • Using learning management systems like Google Classroom, Dojo,  and Reading Street, among others to communicate with their teachers and peers, and receive and submit digital content, and review feedback. You will not have to teach students the mechanics of an LMS like Google Classroom, Edmodo, Schoology, or 2020's next big thing. They will arrive with that background in place and the expectation that teachers will use it.
  • Sharing and Collaboration. Students at the elementary school level are already sharing documents and presentations with peers for various collaborative endeavors. You will not have to explain sharing. Rather, you might consider the ramifications of sharing, with whom sharing is appropriate, and digital footprints.
  • Slide shows and presentations. Students at the elementary schools choose presentation platforms. Frequent choices are Prezi and Google Slides. Middle and high school teachers will no longer have to instruct in the use of presentation tools, but instead will have the luxury of helping students dive more deeply into subject content, or master the nuances of awesome presentation tactics.
  • Printing. With a good LMSs in place, there are fewer reasons to print. There is little student printing taking place at the elementary schools.
  • Formative assessment is alive and well at lower levels. More formal 'quiz' based tools abound, and tools like Dojo provide nearly continuos, real time feedback. Younger students are living within this digital learning realm and, I suspect, will expect similar tools by which to gauge their performance in middle and high school.
  • Technology is getting and staying out of users' way. Our district's IT department keeps a robust, highly resilient network in smooth operation. While reliance on technology makes connectivity issues that much more painful, outages are rare and brief. Seriously. Our district's bandwidth is ample and amazing. Having plan B is still important, but is less critical than at any time in the past.
  • Fourth graders in Mrs. Lavoie's class recently created surveys using Google Forms to collect data from their piers. You are less likely to be teaching the mechanics of survey building at the middle and high school, but will enjoy the opportunity to help students shape stronger questions for the purpose of supporting or refuting a hypothesis.