Thursday, May 26, 2016

Create A Google Drive Folder On Your Desktop

Earlier in EWG's MacBook rollout, I wrote about the need to save important documents to Google Drive or another cloud based storage. Remember, files on the desktop and documents folder of your school issued MacBook are likely to suffer a digital oblivion if the device fails, breaks, frisbees from the roof of your truck, or otherwise lets its smoke out. Despite the data loss risk,  I still see a surprising number of people saving files in folders on local devices, including desktop and documents folders. Speaking with a colleague about why he would risk data loss, I learned that the desktop and its folders offers a level of convenience and comfort that burrowing into Finder just can't match. That ease of use issue got me thinking about ways to make Google Drive easier to use and, more importantly, how you can enjoy the security of Google Drive's sync and backup without changing your work habits.

The answer is to create an alias of a Google Drive folder. An alias is just a pointer to the 'real' file or folder. Windows users would liken a Mac alias to a shortcut. Creating an alias takes mere seconds. The video below demonstrates the process. If you would like to create a Google Drive alias on your desktop or would otherwise like to review file storage strategies that reduce data loss potential, contact me. I would be happy to help.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Form Ranger

Occasionally, helping others takes a decidedly nerdy turn. Such was the case recently when Mr. Anthony asked if there is a way to populate a Google Form's answer choices from a spreadsheet range. Taking a deeper dive into the esoteric oddities of a technology is great fun; a mind candy that keeps me smiling.

The answer is yes. Google Forms has a most useful add on called Form Ranger which populates answer choices from a Google Spreadsheet range. Form Ranger really shines if you are planning to create a Google Form with lots of answer choices, especially if the answers are in digital format like a class roster, comma separated value, or some other text document. Form Ranger is easily configured and its use is transparent. If you would like to use Form Ranger, the video below might be enough to get you started, or you may contact me for a demo.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Google Docs Offline

Did you know you and your students can use Google Docs, Spreadsheets, and Slides without a network connection?

Before I ramble too far, let me be clear about my thoughts on EWG's network. EWG's computer network is something special. Really, the bandwidth is phenomenal, and the amount of data that actually moves through the pipes is astounding. I have been in classes at Metcalf where a doubled class resulted in over forty concurrent connections through one room and kids pummeling the bandwidth meter. That's a lot of devices to handle with the efficiency and ease typically enjoyed by users.

I also know firsthand what happens when a network connection drops mid stream. Kids get restless and sometimes angry. Recently, a colleague and I had students rearing to move on a video project only to have the network blink out as they started working. I offer the following video as encouragement to get your students and yourself on board with Google Docs offline. Google Docs offline won't replace network connectivity, and it might not dovetail into the planned activity, but it does offer options for continuing meaningful progress on many projects. In the case of our online video editing session, my colleague and I might have redirected students to refine their projects' scripts which were created a few days earlier in Google Docs. You are likely to encounter many similar uses for Google Docs offline.

Google Docs Offline is super easy to setup. It takes a couple of mouse clicks, and you're device - and the devices of your students if they follow your lead - may hum smoothly throughout the next network interruption. In fact, when Google Docs Offline is setup, you might not even notice when your network connection fails if writing a document, editing a presentation, or considering a spreadsheet. The video below offers directions on enabling Google Docs offline and a glimpse at using Google Docs offline.


Monday, May 2, 2016

Cloudready - First Glance

Over the last four weeks of 20% time, I've been dabbling with Cloudready, a product made by Neverware. Cloudready is a Debian Linux based operating system that installs on older desktops and laptops to create a Chromebook-like experience. I deployed it on some older Dells in several schools in the district, and for a number of reasons, the results have been outstanding.

First, Cloudready lets a machine running unsupported windows xp but with otherwise good hardware enjoy an extended service life. Second, even machines running windows 7 can benefit. Our students no longer have access to active directory (Microsoft) accounts, so even if the windows 7 machines were accessible, students are locked out and unable to use the machines. Third, the machines are much zippier than when running windows. Given the age of the hardware on which test are being run, boot times and login times are all excellent. In the video below, a machine nearing seven years in age is usable from a cold boot in about 60 seconds. That is a major leap in performance over its windows tied to active directory iteration.

Cloudready is not perfect. Updates do not seem to be as quick to arrive as updates for ChromeOS or the Chrome browser. And, flash must be updated manually by clicking an update button in Cloudready settings. Consequently, it is fair to say that Cloudready does not provide the same incredible level of security as a genuine Chromebook or Chromebox. Still, if you are working on education related issues and not F-35 fighters, Cloudready probably offers a level of security that can work well enough for your needs. Bookmarks, extensions, docs, sheets, and drive all seamlessly follow. It certainly offers a level of performance that will please most. If you are invested in the Chrome and Google Drive experience, you will like Cloudready a lot.