Category Archives: Getting It Out There

EdTech Veteran: An Early Adopter Reluctant to Commit to Google Classroom

Classroom LogoProgramming the VCR

It’s tough to say, but I’m middle-aged now. When we are young, we are always the ones to master technology in the family. Take the VCR for example. Back in the day it was always easy for me because while my parents were busy being parents, keeping the house in order, working to pay the bills, spending free time relaxing, maybe reading, I was tinkering with my surroundings. If something wasn’t working out, I tried other ways and overcame each challenge. As I grew older, I always tinkered with the next new thing I was faced with. I grew into each version of personal computer, palm pilot, cell technology, etc. My parents? Not so much. This trend is important in what I’m about to say next.


The rug pulled out from under

I just discovered that the learning management system (LMS) that my school has been using since I arrived eight years ago is about to go away. I built up my technology class curriculum on countless proprietary web pages hosted on a third-party educational platform.  I did it because it was new. It was new to the district, and I was also new to the school. I had nothing to lose, and I went all in. The entire staff was asked to upload their content to the platform for students and parents. Since I ran a computer lab, I put all of the lessons online so students could access immediately the tasks conveniently in a calendar, much like an online class. Soon I was asked to give workshops on how to use the platform.


Before my arrival at my school eight years ago, I spent 11 years creating web content delivered using Frontpage, Publisher, PowerPoint (as a website), shared network folders and so on. Each of my lessons had to be changed with each update and revision of the software. MS Office, for example changed so much that literally every two years I would have to update my tutorials.


In the past 18 years, I’ve explored each new buzz in technology. From Edmodo, to iPads to Google, I’ve invested time and energy into each new thing. It’s no wonder my job seems the most stressful of any educator I know. I’ve been shell shocked by many rugs being pulled out from under me. For example, a few years after NING came out in 2005, I saw classroom potential for social networks. I created one for each class and engaged with students online, each student creating a digital portfolio. I found it useful as an educational platform for engaging students. I gave workshops and even presented at my local state conference. I had decided to let it go once it moved to a paid model. Besides, other platforms were coming online. Edmodo — remember Diigo and Delicious? I was accepted into the beta of Google Wave which was quickly dropped by Google. From the onset of Google, I was all in. I still have the same email since Gmail was introduced. I’ve been a faithful Android user with the very first Motorola Droid, currently loving my GalaxyS5. Making the most of everything Google — from personal calendars, Drive, Maps, Keep — I consider myself, well, skilled in the Google arts.


Frustration with school-based services

When a few of us recommended Google Apps for Ed, we set it up for the high dchool embracing the platform and all its greatness. My students build digital portfolios using Blogger. After about five years, the district took on a second district-wide account. A year later, the district administrators announced that we would suspend the high school accounts and migrate to the district model. After deep research, via trial and error, it was clear that this would greatly impact my already invested curriculum. Google states on its help pages that while you can transfer Blogger blogs and Google sites, the “images will only exist IF the account that made them is NOT deleted!” This is a huge issue for me! With graduated seniors for example, they will not be able to take their digital portfolios with them if the school deletes their Google accounts. Google goes on to say “there is no provision for this at this time.”


Eggs in one basket

Along with Google Forms and YouTube videos (hours upon hours of tutorials) not transferring well, I’m reluctant to invest my energy into the school Google Apps for Education platform. What does it mean if I were to transfer to a new teaching job? Would the school want my curriculum? Sure some things transfer well, but the links do not. So all of the linked documents, YouTube videos and forms? There is a convenience with the Apps for Ed platform, especially with the Google Classroom, but growing into such an environment has me feeling a bit uneasy.


So I’m at a crossroads. My LMS is going away and while I am already settling into our district Apps account, I’m trying out Classroom full throttle. It’s no LMS. In the meantime, I’m also exploring Google Course Builder, but it seems too new and unstable. But I have faith, even knowing it could go either way. Google has been a long-time friend of mine.


So when we look at the big picture and we see veteran teachers reluctant to latch onto new technology, we need to consider their journey before we pass judgement. We’ve seen too many trends to allow ourselves to spend too much time on the newest ones. Like my parents when I was a kid, I now need to choose carefully how I spend my time. Lately I am more reluctant to tinker as I have all these years. Call it shell-shock. Call it wisdom. In any case, I’m sure in time, I will find my new LMS home.


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Google Hangouts App: The Death of SMS?


I’m so excited about the functionality of the new Google Hangouts app. Using a smart phone, PC, iPad, or other tablet, dual platform and video calls work over Verizon 4G LTE, and up to 10 people can videoconference at one time. Finally an opportunity to cut the lines of the overpriced text-messaging service forever. Everyone must embrace this breakthrough so it will be certain death to SMS forever!

I can be at my computer and message my family directly to their phones or iPads. This is revolutionary, in my humble opinion. So where’s the buzz? I wonder when the phone carriers are going to notice a hit on the SMS. I only wish I held onto my unlimited data plan a while back.


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Facebook Home? Hey, we need to talk.

 This morning I woke to a facebook sponsored post for Facebook Home.


It is a video announcement for their new launch today. The video was very interesting. Mark Zuckerberg announces to his staff about the launch of the amazing new look for the mobile device (Android only).

What stuck me by the advertisement was that while Zuck was talking to his staff, one of his employees was surfing is Facebook posts on his phone. The employee was ignoring Zuck or partially listening. It is unclear.

UPDATE: On April 14th this was released 

This closely resembles how I feel society has changed in recent times. Moreover, in the debate about allowing mobile technologies in schools, It raises concerns for educators. For families, it raises concerns for relationships. We think texting and driving is bad. Are we out of touch?


This picture circled the internet this week



Facebooks new announcement commercial highlights what seems to me like a sickness in our society. Here is another look at social media in our lives. This is their “positive” advertisemt. Our mobile devices “put us in touch with the perople we care about. “

 So the next time someone is ignoring you and sliding their finger across the screen, know they are in touch with the people they care about.

Gone are the days where we interact face to face. Gone are the days when we connect as humans. I am by far a negative nelly when it comes to technology if you know me. But this is not a question of what cool gadgets are and are not. Its about people. Facebook is not Home. The next time you are standing in line at the donut shop see how may people are looking down. Then share this blog reflection with someone. Perhaps we can talk.

What, No Google Maps?: A “My Tracks” Android Review

In the news iOS is getting a bad rap for its drop of Google maps. They have their reasons for it I’m sure. I’m still enjoying my accurate turn-by-turn navigation with my Android device. It never ceases to amaze me the progress of Google maps with its integration into Google earth. My favorite and most useful app today, My Tracks, has been a companion of mine for years and has recently had an upgrade which merges its content onto Google earth. Just the other day I was tracking one of my mountain bike rides, and at the end I saw there was a play button. It switched to the Google Earth app and played the track I just did. That was a very exciting discovery.

I enjoy mapping trails that I ride to help me find the best loops. More often than not, I struggle to find maps online that include the carefully crafted biking trails of the local biking groups and bike shops. If I do find them, they do not include information about which loops are ideal and in which direction. So personalizing my maps as I discover them is most adventurous.  I still benefit from exploring new trails and marking up my own set of maps at the same time.

My Tracks can be shared in an instant on Google Maps right after hammering through the trails. Waypoints can be added with ease and the data, which includes speed, distance, max speed, time, average speed  (overall and moving), elevation and grade, are all easily exported to Google Docs and Google Fusion Tables, too. Those maps are then shared with a simple link that any platform can handle. Well, almost any.

Summer Reading: eBooks, Audio Books, etc…

Aah, summertime! Looking for some digital information to consume this summer while on vacation. I have used podcasts and audio books previous summers on my Droid 1. This  is the first summer with an iPad and a Motorola Xoom tablet and I am looking to maybe transition into the iTunes world, perhaps a real “iPod” some day, as well.  Digital reading in the sun may be hard. So this year it might have to be a nice blend of paper, digital books, and audio books. But really I’d like to find out where I can get all of my content in one organized manner including the audio content.

I’m not going to review the different eBook reader devices. There are plenty of review sites for that.  And it all comes down to the almighty dollar.  I’m simply going to reflect on what choices I have at present and where I might get my content.  I have an iPad2 and the Motorola Xoom (Android). I’m largely invested in Google right now. I love the Google apps environment, email, calendar and now app store world that just seem to jive nicely. The high school that I teach at is going to roll out Google Apps for Education accounts for everyone next fall.

What to consider 

I’m going to research over the next few weeks to determine what is right for me. Sure I could go out and buy ONE device that someone will tell me is the best for digital reading. I’m not in the position to do that. I know the iPad, for example, receives bad reviews for visibility while in the sun. This might be a deal-breaker for me. Again I need to find out where to invest my purchasing from content sources so that they might be transferred to other devices in the future.

I’m looking into simplification of my general media management and consumption. With countless apps, Google products, and content stores online, I would like to close out some accounts, delete some apps, and focus on a key set of tools and/or places to get my content. This post is written in hopes to gather responses filled with good suggestions for the best way I can read my stuff.

What I’m comfortable with

C/W Mars Our Western Massachusetts Library system. They have made it easy to get a paper version of any book, CD, or DVD and have it delivered to our local library. They have a digital library, sometimes limited, in which you can download a client on your computer or an app for your device for reading or to listen to audio books. I have not yet tried to read a book using this method. Until now, I’ve waited the few days for delivery of the paper version.

Boston Public Library Our state capital has given us all access to the Boston Public Library’s digital content. I have used this source a few times when I couldn’t find something in C/W Mars. At one point I ran into trouble with the accounts within my Android app. (Amazon) Great stuff. They have some  of the best readers in the industry. I have used the free download copy but have yet to purchase from there.

Web content – Twitter, blogs, social networks and news. I have a few aggregators such as Google reader. But I really need to do some summer cleaning and clear out some unwanted blogs, and narrow down my scope. I’m trying some apps, Pulse and Flipboard. These have been good to me.

What I hope to explore

Barnes and Noble Does the Nook content work on Android or iOS? Is there an app for that? Yes there is. But is the format universal enough that if Barnes & Noble goes broke, will my book be available for future consumption? Is there a resale market? Like with a paper book, can I resell it when I’m done?

Amazon (Kindle app) Perhaps the most attractive option for me. I read that the app looks pretty good on the iPad, I can choose between any of my devices and I’m not locked into Apple with my new library. Further it is the same login for Audible and almost every other purchase I’ve made. I’ve been using their cloud drive music and like it very much. They’ve got Android apps, movie purchases and movie rentals, too. Looks like with this choice, I can choose the platform I want to use for reading. If maybe my iPad is being used by another family member, I could get on the Xoom and pick up where I left off.

KISS – (Keep It Simple Silly)

I’m tired of having so many accounts in so many places; I have too many irons in the fire with accounts all over the place. I’m having trouble keeping up with my credit card info, shipping addresses, passwords, and login names that I just want to wake up, turn on and read. I really want to know how to best choose the content that can be ported from platform to platform. In 5 years, I hope to be able to store my books on a new device with ease.

The decision to write this article and make my process public was inspired by an article I read on elearn mag.

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Outsourcing Interpersonal Relationships

I’ve been observing a change in recent months — or even years. Burn marks are forming on  hands, and the edges of the phones are beginning to form groves. As I watched my daughter’s gymnastics meet, many — almost half of the spectators– were electronically distracted. Perhaps I’ve become a bit out-of-touch (or should I say out-of-iPod-Touch). I’ve always thought of myself as a digital pioneer. I’m an information technology teacher; I’m always looking to use the latest tools. But nothing has been so shiny new as this change I’ve been observing in my students, these spectators, and families. This shiny new has given me a finger-print smeared outlook on interpersonal relationships.

During the gymnastics meet, there was the group of siblings in the corner of the gym: one on a laptop, the others on iPod Touches or iPhones. Honestly, I don’t think they looked up from their screens during the entire meet. Then, a mother typed on her iPad, and then held it up to video-record her daughter. What she didn’t see were the 3 observers in the row behind her that could not view the performance except for the scene on her iPad screen.

Growing up, I remember being present in situations like this where everyone followed along, watching every detail. It was just as important to see the other performers as it was to follow the performance of your own family member. Learning the craft gave birth to an appreciation for the victory in the end.  It may be obvious to some that it is acceptable to be somewhere else while in the presence  of others.

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Words with Family; a new hot App

(Reflecting on Marc Prensky’s Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants)
The digital mind has clearly invaded our society. We need to adapt. We think differently, and will never return to traditional ways of thinking. We read differently now and we are gathering information at rapid rates. Brace yourselves…we will be experiencing much more. As Scott McCloud suggests, industries are changing. We need to prepare kids for those industries. But remember the turn of the industrial age? Remember how factories looked? In a Book I’m thumbing through, Literacy is Not Enough, it compares today’s service jobs to that of the factories of the industrial era. We are performing the same intensity of work but just not getting our hands greasy.  Let’s be attentive to what’s important.
Hybrid learning is the best step to connecting kids digital world to their learning styles. Blended learning should make that connection from the digital world to the real world. My fear is that we will someday lose the physical touch and personal connections, and that we may somehow be overrun by all this digital stuff.  My hope for other hybrid teachers is that you all remember the importance of personal connection. Greet and smile at every student who walks in your room. This should carry over into your personal lives. Remember to turn off “Words with Friends” when there are opportunities for “words with family”. Do these things and you will set good examples for your students.
Hybrid teachers need to be ambassadors for this digital transformation and share what we experience for the greater community. Don’t hold back just because it is new and innovative, doesn’t mean it is right. Think about all of your options and choose the one that maintains a balance. Innovation ≠ Right.
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The Leap of Faith – Android to iOS

I’ve always been a Windows fan. I built my own Workhorse computer with Windows 7 and have had no problems. I edit HD video for my personal enjoyment and tons of SD video for my community television job. I’ve been holding out on the Apple products because of the high pricing, and the obvious popularity contest associated with it. Slowly, my second job in community television has gone to a completely Mac system — not solely out of choice, but because of the donations given to us by a local college.

Who knew that Adobe Premiere, my video editor of choice, did not require as much rendering as did the Final Cut versions I remember on the G4 Macs of yesterday. Using Mac Minis and a slightly older MacBook Pro, I’m not completely sold on Macs yet. Some iMacs made their way into my classroom, too, this past month. Hmm…we’ll see. More on that later

Android and iOS.

I have an outdated Droid 1. While it was a powerhouse in its day, I have nothing but lag problems with it now. Of course any NEW device will trump an old one. The device is running apps designed for dual- and quad-core systems now. So I’m looking to upgrade that soon. Will I choose the Nexus Razor Max, Droid 4 or the iPhone 5?  More on THAT later…

I picked up a Motorola Xoom tablet for my classroom in the fall. I like the tablet experience somewhat, but learning it has been somewhat of a chore. Sure, it’s nice to read some news, watch a few videos and read my Facebook, but I couldn’t run Words With Friends — a real drag. Our school LMS doesn’t fit the screen very well. VHS — an online LMS I use for my professional development — has been difficult, too. It does much of what I want with student research and writing in GoogleDocs. Pairing it with my video projector was a bit difficult. I was able to convert the HDMI video to DVI using a few adapters.  It stripped the audio because the HDMI is an audio line as well, and a DVI connector does not support audio. Hmm. So I thought maybe the device would still play audio. No it does not. Immediately I knew a projector with HDMI inputs is what I needed.

I enjoyed Google’s short run at the developer program, App Inventor. Those simple building blocks made creating apps child’s play. The good news is that they turned it over to real educators at MIT. They know how to teach kids how to make applications with their Scratch program. App Inventor should mesh well with their Scratch program nicely. I can’t wait till the re-release of the App Inventor this spring.

I’ve also been doing more and more research on the options of cheaper and smaller units with 7-inch screens. There is something about 10 inches that is too much for a portable device that is not a laptop. The bottom line: what is practical, affordable and can adapt to the situations you are in?

A vision for fair review

I knew my narrow focus of Android would soon have to be challenged by my own curiosity. I always believed that truth comes from knowing very well what is not true. So I knew that I needed to explore the iOS as well. While the developer program is costly, I do believe I need to get over it. With help from a grant I won through the Massachusetts Computer Using Educators group, or MASSCUE, I’ve been able to get an iPad, an Apple TV, and the developer package. I want to do an in-depth comparison of both platforms from the standpoint of an educator and developer.

Very nicely, the iPad will stream all of its content to the Apple TV and allow the teacher or student to walk around the room. This is a cost savings for schools that have not yet filled all of their classrooms with Smart Boards. Not only would this serve as a Smart Board alternative for one user, but many students would be able to tap the AirPlay button, and demonstrate what is on their screens at any time. Whereas Smart Boards are not real-world tools (students are getting a proprietary simulation that they may never see in real world) the iPad, combined with Apple TV, is a cost-effective, SMART approach to education.

I intend on updating this blog more as this exploration unfolds. My research is to be shared. My experiences with the iPad and Android in education can help schools make choices that are going to provide not only cost savings, but a choice that has few restrictions with platform loyalty.

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PowerPoint Online?

Oh yes, the siren and the cash register noises of yesterday are gone. Not many adults do that anymore. When teaching high school students, I emphasize how completely cheesy it is.

I don’t think PowerPoint or slide share is effective tool for online presentations where you are NOT at a web conference. While PowerPoint can have voiceovers, you have to upload a ZIP file to get all your media in. Google docs is nice with YouTube integration, but where is the presenter online? I believe true effective presentation online, when there is not a web conference is a VIDEO. I’ve explored PowerPoint to web video creators. The free versions that I have tried do not have animations. Office 2010 announced their share feature but admit that animations do not work across platforms. Slide share has no animations.

A well done video under 2:30 is an effective delivery of information. Let’s face it. The best of this course were delivered over video. This weeks PowerPoint slides (slideshare) not so exciting. I enjoyed making a PowerPoint to lead a web conference. The web conference tool (Elluminate) did not convert my animations and rearranged the slide order. HOW frustrating. Screen sharing has delays. Nothing beats real-time video uploaded to YouTube.

Don McMillan: Life After Death by PowerPoint

Magic Wand App for Education

I come to school every day with a fresh start, to find out that my fresh start is now, well, not so fresh. There are constantly new and innovative tools and strategies that overwhelm my senses. Following blogs, tweets, and RSS feeds can be cumbersome if when you look around you, you begin to see your loved ones slip away.

What is innovative? What is essential in teaching and learning with technology? Today? How about tomorrow?

What I’m looking for in change in my job is more time and money for Professional Development opportunities. I feel like my teaching life has me “to the bell” with teaching while pressures surmount whether or not we are using the latest and greatest. Do you have The Ipad2? How are you using it in the classroom?

As an Information Technology teacher, I can appreciate new gadgets, but discovery of these require money and time. My school is NOT handing me the technology to learn so that in a few years time I can then teach. What do I do? Do I purchase one for myself? Take some courses, follow blogs, watch/listen to podcasts, review my RSS reader, try out new tools? All of the above requires time and money. Applying for grants also require time.

Maybe I made some poor life choices to place me in a difficult financial position that I have to work a second job in addition to my teaching one. Maybe rather than use my allotment of PD money for association memberships, yearly conferences, and occasional credit courses, that I use that money to purchase $300 Adobe software, a mobile tablet and spend my precious family time online learning about the lives of others.

What I want for my job? I’d like dedicated time for research and development and the tools needed to be deployed before they are “not so fresh”. Curriculum in my discipline needs time to develop. A bigger salary might be a good start.