Tuesday, January 12, 2016

I'm not a fan of Apple... but Assistive tech

I have a colleague of mine that firmly believes I am anti-Apple. It may appear so but it's not really the case. It is true that I believe the devices can be restrictive... and it's true I believe that any hardware that makes content for learning should be accessible on more than just Apple products (It's too bad Steve Jobs never truly believed in the concept of universality via html5... but I digress) but boy did Apple ever get it right as it pertains to Assistive Technology.

I believe that we should learn how to use the tech we have REALLY well before purchasing more. So when I was looking for good speech to text and text to speech tools I eventually settled on the iPad with Siri enabled functionality. Why? Because kids owned them and schools had class sets of them. I did not need to encourage more purchasing.

So to enable speech to text on the iPad all one needs to do is to access the keyboard settings and enable dictation. In addition, adding a keyboard in another language, like French, easily enables speech to text in French. And it works well :) And I forgot predictive text...

The text to speech settings are easily enabled under the General settings under speech.  Here you can control things like reading speed, voice gender and reading portions or entire screens. It too works really well.

For students who need assistance with scribing or having text read to them, the iPad with these settings will reduce the need for another person to provision assistance... meaning we make the student much more independent.  As well the skill set we teach here for academic work transfers to social media and networking, something they may not have accessed previously.

The iPad is mobile,  meaning students with needs may not need pulling out during testing but rather could stay in the class with the rest of their classmates.  Sometimes,  being like everyone else is a good thing :)

So, although I think iBooks functionality should prevail completely across all devices,  I believe that the iPad is the device of choice for Assistive Technology needs for students. Now if we could only get a device to easily read math text and symbols properly... that would be something awesome indeed!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Google Classroom - My thoughts!

Well 2016 is here! One of my New Years Resolutions was to resurrect my blogging. So here's to 2016 :)

I have been involved with technology integration and online/digital teaching since I started my career. In my time I have used many systems and the one I am learning now is Google Classroom.

Well, what exactly is it? Basically Google Classroom easily connects a teacher using Google Apps with students who use them. Some people call that a learning management system (lms), a content distrubution system and other things. For me I call it the tool that finally allows a teacher to adapt to the blended classroom and do it with an ease to which  surpasses any lms I have used in the past.

The feature I like the best is the ability to create a class and add students. All it takes is a click to create a classroom a code for students to join. It does not get simpler than that. Our team has been exploring it's use for professional learning communities and the feedback is overwhelmingly positive. Ease of use wins every time.

It also contains only 3 tabs (Stream, Students/Classmates and About) and all its functionality is enhanced by integrating other Google Apps within those 3 tabs. For example assignments can be Google Docs with revision history for tracking while Google Forms can be added to the Stream for Formative Assessment. Simple but extremely powerful.

The teacher can also provision permissions individually within Google Classroom. For example one student can be restricted for posting while others can be given full functionality. No more does a permission have to removed from all because of the behaviour of the one, or the few.

I will conclude by saying this: if you are a school who wishes to look at blended learning or a school district considering a lms, have a strong look at Google Classroom. You may be surprised... and it's all free... if you are a Google Apps For Education entity.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Technology Implementation, why it sometimes fails, and some suggestions for success.

For a teaching professional that is fortunate enough to have the summer away from work, it is a time for rest... and more importantly... reflection. For me, I do rest, I do reflect, I do some work... and I also read. Sometimes what you read causes you to reflect... and this article posted to Twitter by one of my former colleagues and one of the people I would call a mentor... is one for reflection.


The article obviously has a mathematics slant to it but it can apply to any implementation, for any course, and at any grade level. Take the time to read the article carefully, it outlines a path to success for implementation and it clearly outlines why it fails. In this blog I am going to attempt to outline things from the perspective of technology implementation.

1) Before you start implementation: Teacher Input

This is where failure can occur before implementation even starts. If teachers are your end users then they need to be brought into the selection and discussion before implementation even starts. This year, for the first time in this province, a junior high student at home was taught by his English teacher while simultaneously teaching students in her face to face classroom. The teacher had concerns... and rightly so. This was going to eventually fall on her shoulders. In many implementations the first step would have been to show the teacher the tool to be used and start the training. Instead we took the approach that our first contact would be to sit with the teacher involved, pitch the idea... and then listen to her concerns. What she identified as concerns eventually led us to conduct a privacy audit and the development of the necessary documentation to be signed so communication/awareness/consent was complete. When the time eventually came for the showing of the tools to teach virtually, we showed the teacher options and let her choose what she thought was the best one, which incidentally was our preference too. 

When choosing a technology, if you involve teachers in the selection process you then have advocates to draw upon when you expand upon implementation. Advocates on the ground are extremely important as they will help with the narrative that will be heard by teachers as implementation occurs. In the absence of any narrative that comes from knowledgable people, many narratives will still be communicated, causing confusion and misinformation. Involving teachers in the selection process will also allow potential issues, concerns, and problems come to the surface before they become real issues, concerns and problems. 

2) During Implementation: Initial Inservicing and Being Available

If you hand a teacher a piece of technology and that's it... then that, unfortunately, will most likely be it! The software will most likely not be installed and the hardware placed back on the shelf or in a storage closet. Teachers are busy people. Some love the challenge of figuring things out on their own, while others may not have that extra time to do that. So initial inservicing is an absolute must. The train the trainer model can work... but it's failure sometimes comes from 1) Not allocating the same time for teachers to be trained as the trainer had and 2) Not allocating the time for the trainer to prepare for their training sessions. If those potential pitfalls are avoided, initial inservicing with the train the teacher model can be very effective. 

I remember years ago when I first started teaching in Labrador and encountered the TI graphing calculator technology. When students ended up in menus I could not get them out of, I'd simply pop the batteries from their calculators. But, after a week of intense training from TI, I knew the technology very well. Unfortunately I did not get the same amount of time to present to others. As a result, their proficiency level never reached the level it could have.

Now the biggest failure in technology integration, in my opinion, comes next. It's in the follow up or follow through. Wherever possible, follow up inservicing should take place. For some, once is enough, for others, they will need to see it more than once. When traveling to Nova Scotia over the years as they implemented the TI-Nspire, I noticed that there were participants in what was essentially the same session. It was in one of those sessions that a participant came to me and said "I finally get it". It may take multiple sessions to achieve clarity; that has to be taken into any implementation. Also keep in mind that new teachers enter our system, oftentimes not being exposed to these technologies during their teacher training. Follow up inservicing can cover off this successfully.

In addition, people who are proficient in the technology need to be available for support to teachers after the initial implementation has taken place. I remember that when I was in Labrador I received many calls at home from teachers needing help on the integration of the TI-83. I took the calls because I knew that to answer the questions as they came up, whenever they came up, alleviated frustration and would result in successful implementation. There were even times when I took my handheld calculator to sports tournaments I was helping supervise because I knew that I would get questions. I was glad actually because it let me know that teachers felt I was approachable to get answers to questions they had. 

As a part of initial implementation there has to be a person or people for those that are learning to contact for assistance. That person or people need to be approachable, sympathetic, patient and extremely knowledgeable in the technology. Teachers have to feel like their questions are valid ones, and not to feel belittled for asking them.

3) Post Implementation - Learning Community

After the technology has been purchased and implementation is done, whether wide spread use of the technology occurs will depend upon the formation of a learning community where ideas, questions and resources and can be shared. When looking at this concept I look back on joining the ESDNL Smartboard conference in First Class. It had numerous members who shared links, resources and answered questions related to troubleshooting, etc... ideally what one would want a learning community to be. When new teachers join these learning communities, they have immediate access to resources and expertise, a valuable asset for any new teacher and for a district wishing to support them.

From a provincial perspective we have the ability to create these learning communities for just about any implementation we do. All teachers are under the new province wide instance of First Class now which will make the asynchronous component of learning communities so simple to set up. Further to that every teacher in the province now has a Microsoft Lync 2013 account. With it any teacher, wherever they are in the province, can contact synchronously with any other teacher. Video, audio, application sharing features are all included in Lync 2013 and accessible using mobile technologies too. 

For fall 2014, my role will involve helping teachers with increased use of First Class and Microsoft Lync 2013 for the creation and expansion of such learning communities. Of course, the above three points are always a part of anything I do. Ignoring them can result in teacher frustration and lack of use. In short, failure.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

To my former DE Colleagues: My Recommendations

Well it's been a busy year! With a new position comes new knowledge and with new knowledge comes a refined perspective on my former role as a distance education teacher. One of my former colleagues asked me what I would do, or change, if I went back to my position. Some of these I would like to pass on. 

Upon reflection, I believe that my former position within distance learning was insulating me from the changes that were and are occurring within the classroom. Since video use was limited, and with students reluctant to use audio, text was the only feedback we often received. What's at the other end of that Internet connection is far more complex than we can truly experience through it via text. I was resigned with text as the medium for communication, and, in hindsight, I should never have been. In a project I was working on this year, I helped facilitate the bringing of a student at home back into his classroom (virtually). When his present (and former) classmates seen him, his expression and theirs solidified for me the need for more than just text in k12 distance education. My recommendation would be to get students talking more (with video), even if its only with smaller groups  or individual students. 

A stat that I was given recently given involved the use of mobile technologies. 60+ percent of 12 year olds use mobile devices. Those students will be in high school very soon and that has implications on how distance education students access content and information. In short, the content has to be mobile friendly. With that in mind it would be my recommendation that links to recorded classes that do not play on mobile devices no longer be added to any course. Instead, those classes should be produced as mp4 files for downloading on any device and accessible when wifi is not available.

In terms of the recorded classes I always placed my links and files within an area that allowed me to track student access. I leaned that, despite their requesting them, students did not, as a rule, watch recorded classes, even if they missed class. The reasons why became more obvious to me when I read the following research: http://pgbovine.net/publications/edX-MOOC-video-production-and-engagement_LAS-2014.pdf . In short, when an entire class is posted for student viewing, it is not accessed because (one of the reasons anyway) it simply is too long. My recommendation is that distance education teachers review their class and edit it into smaller videos. Its viewing may see greater uptake in immediate use as well as future video content within courses.

BYOD and HTML5 are two abbreviations that all distance education teachers should be extremely familiar with. Knowing both and keeping them in mind will ensure that any content that you post and any links to interactive objects that you place into your courses will be accessible by any student anywhere and on any device. My recommendation to my former colleagues would be to ditch the old flash content, if it exists and rebuild links and content to be viewable on any device.

When teaching via distance, one of the things that I always pressed for was allowing parents direct access to student grades and overall progress. Despite LMS use and tools with some grade book functionality being implemented, there is still no direct path between student progress and parents. I know a former colleague of ours was adamant that distance education purchase and implement PowerSchool. He was right. In fact with PowerSchool, such communication with parents is happening now throughout the province with non distance education students. It is being implemented provincially and it contains an awesome amount of data just ready for analysis. My recommendation to my former colleagues is to get a PowerSchool account and start learning how to use it for grades and parent communication. You will be glad you did.

Evaluation policies... I remember when I first heard of retests, alternate assessments, formative assessments, etc... thinking that, from a provincial distance education perspective, it was not manageable. That was until we, before I left distance education, stumbled upon the true power and functionality of Examview. With some code, a good question can quickly become 200 good questions. When uploaded into a learning management system (LMS) like Desire2Learn (D2L), it allows a distance education teacher to automate more assessment for students while allowing instant feedback for them to use in their learning. When certain processes are automated, it allows more time for other things, like lesson planning, etc... Second chances and formative assessment are pillars of the new evaluation policies and Examview makes their implementation much easier.

One of the things that I really never liked provincially in the past was that, despite having a relatively small teacher population, we never really communicated provincially as teachers. I am pleased to say that with all teachers in the province having a Lync account, the ability for real time provincial teacher communication and collaboration has been made easier. As of this point in time, all teachers in the province are also under one asynchronous communication/collaboration system, namely First Class. Conferences, discussions, etc... are now accessible to any teacher in the province and allow teachers from Makkovik to Francois to Mt. Pearl to collaborate and share. My final recommendation to my former colleagues is this... Use your nlesd.ca account and be a part of the provincial collective. You have numerous resources and skills to share and equally important, there are loads of teachers in our province doing and sharing some incredibly cool things you can access too. 

Until my next blog post everyone :)

Monday, April 21, 2014

Professional Learning via Video - tools and ideas

Well it's been way too long since I have blogged. Life is no less busy since starting my new position with the school district. There have been many things to learn and many projects we are working on. With Easter break, now is as good a time as any to chat about one of them. 

The project in one word: video! This year I have been involved with the implementation of Microsoft Lync. For those of you that may be unaware of what Lync is, essentially it is a videoconferencing tool. Unlike Polycom technologies I have used in the past, Lync allows for the sharing of desktop and applications with ease while allowing for the easy recording of a videoconferencing session. That allows us to offer online synchronous professional learning to anyone throughout our province and record it for asynchronous, on demand professional learning. 

Furthermore Lync can create a Meet Now videoconferencing session where a presenter can present and record desktop and applications without others logged in. This allows Lync to become a tool that teachers can use to record flipped lessons, videos for student support, and the list goes on. 

In short, Microsoft Lync will be a major tool that increases our use of video for professional learning, both synchronous and asynchronous. 

But there's a big piece missing... and that's what happens in the classroom. The easiest way to model good teaching practice is to provide a means for teachers to watch it... again video is the solution. BUT...

The first "but" comes from recording authentic classroom practice. The first time you bring a video camera with a cameraman into a classroom you have behaviour in that room which becomes more artificial or staged. What gets recorded may not be "real" or "typical" classroom interaction. This issue then leads into the second and most important issue or "but" for the classroom teacher... Workload. 

Teachers are already very busy people. To ask them to learn how to record their own video while teaching simultaneously can be overwhelming if not handled properly. Further to that, having them edit recorded videos so that they are comfortable with sharing those videos complicates the issue even more. The question becomes this: If we want teachers to record classroom practices and allow them to do it themselves and without having a major addition to workload, how do we do it? The answer, I believe, involves using iOS devices with a newer technology called Swivl (http://www.swivl.com/). 

Many teachers have exposure and proficiency with using iPhones and iPads. Many have recorded video with these devices and even have edited video with apps like iMovie. So the basics of video recording and editing are already there in our schools. Furthermore the iOS technologies already exist in our schools meaning some of the hardware needed to record classroom practice already exists in schools. Drawing upon existing expertise and previously purchased technologies seems like the most logical path forward.

The invisible cameraman that needs to hold the iPad/iPhone for recording is where the Swivl unit comes in. It is a remote controlled base which holds the iOS technology and "follows" the teacher with the use of a marker/Bluetooth mic that communicates wirelessly with the base. With a 360 degree rotation and 25 degree vertical tilt, it should be able to record the teacher, regardless of classroom position. In short, with the iOS device (with iMovie) and a Swivl base (with the Swivl app) , a teacher can record high quality video with audio without others in their classroom and edit with ease. 

We have ordered a Swivl and will start testing after Easter. We would not dream of implementing this concept of recording classroom practice via video without testing first. However, having downloaded the free Swivl app, recording video with both my iPhone and iPad, and editing with the iMovie app, initial testing is very encouraging. 

So there you have it! My long overdue blog post and just one of the projects that our team is moving forward on. As you read my blog posts in future there will be an overriding theme throughout them all... implementation through minimizing or reduction of impact on teacher workload. Why? To anyone involved in education today, the answer is obvious!

PS I have to revise my blog title. Any suggestions? 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Innovation and Education... pitfalls and avoiding them... from a teacher perspective

Holidays are always a time to relax. They are also a time for reflection. On this Canadian Thanksgiving I reflect upon my work meetings from the past week as well as many other things. My thoughts are constantly being brought back to innovation as it pertains to education. As I reflect back I realize there are many pitfalls that can derail it in education, many of which can be avoided or, at least, mitigated.

It has been my experience that deviation from the status quo in education is not always the acceptable norm. Disruption and change in any grade level and any subject area are not always viewed in a positive light. It is one of the impediments to innovation in education. 

As a result of the above, administration can also very reluctant to change. Some are very weary when it comes to risk and would prefer to keep things the same. When they approve change, they may also bear the wrath of those who do not buy in as well as the wrath if things do not work as anticipated. This can and will make administrators nervous.

There are also those in education that believe that nothing should proceed without consensus. Consensus is a great administration tool. It shows any workforce that administration will not proceed with ideas unless and until the group agrees, the group has input. But what happens if the group cannot agree? Cannot come to a consensus? Then what?

Innovation is disruptive. Innovation is not always popular and innovation can be risky. It goes contrary to most everything upon which the culture of education seems to be so reliant. So, from a teacher perspective, how can we avoid the pitfalls that derail or prevent innovation in education.

Consideration 1: Present a working model of your idea

Administrators need to be sure that you can take any innovative ideas that you have and put them into practice. The world is full of good ideas and good intentions. It's their execution that makes the difference. Be sure that when you present your innovative ideas to your administration that you can say "this is what I will be doing and this is how I will be doing it" and not "this is what I can do" or "this is what I think I can do". Be confident and prepared in what you will be doing. 

 Consideration 2: Be prepared to revise or abandon your idea

Even if your administrator likes your idea they need or know that if it is not working you have the professionalism to admit it, revise it or, totally abandon it. After all, it's not like you can run a simulation model when it comes to the education of children. Keep in mind new ideas experience bumps during implementation but you will need to distinguish between that and when an idea is genuinely not working.

Consideration 3: Keep your inner circle small

As I have stated earlier, the culture of education is not one that embraces change readily. Bringing your ideas to your entire group of colleagues can be quite discouraging. It can be the catalyst by which your idea never sees the light of day. However you need colleagues to bounce ideas off, and more importantly ones that will give you constructive criticism and not just negativity. Find those colleagues and include them in on your idea. Update them frequently on your progress. This also includes updating your administration.

Consideration 4: Inform students and obtain student feedback often

Since your idea will have a direct impact on your students they need to know why you are changing things up in their class. They will buy in to your idea if they understand why. Be sure that you get their opinions frequently as you implement your idea. They can let you know what needs to be revised, what works and what does not. Communication with your students is key. 

Consideration 5: Innovation is more than technology purchase

In today's fiscal reality, many administrators know that monies are not there to purchase hardware and software for everyone. Moreover innovation is simply not the purchase of tablets or software. Rather is is what the technologies will support that is the innovation, not the technology in and of itself. For example a math teacher that wishes to increase the amount of formative assessment in their classroom may decide to use TI-Nspire Navigator quick polls and questions but the increase in formative assessment is the innovation or idea and not the equipment. Innovative ideas may be implemented using existing technologies and may not always require new purchases. Administrators are looking to ensure you have looked at all options to implement your idea, and so they should.

Consideration 6: Include Administration in the presentation to colleagues

There will come a time eventually when you will need to take your idea, after you have implemented it in your classroom, and present it to your colleagues. If you wish to have your idea implemented throughout your department, school, or district, you will need your administration next to you and involved in the presentation. Your colleagues will need to know that administration is supportive and their inclusion will help with that. It also lets your colleagues know that your administration has been involved throughout the process because they can speak on it. 

I'm sure there are those who read this that will disagree and there will be those that could add even more considerations. In a future blog post I will write about what administration can do to facilitate innovation in education but for now it's time to go back to celebrating Thanksgiving :)

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Twitter and Notability... A good combination for online learning.

It's been a while since I have blogged. The years never get any less busy that's for sure! Then again I bring that upon myself because to be a responsive and innovative educator means trying new things... but I love it.

If you have been reading my blog you will know that I have been using Twitter with my students. One of the reasons I did that was to allow them a means of easily submitting questions via mobile and avoiding our LMS... quick and easy.

Students are starting to take pictures of their questions and send them to me via Twitter. But with 140 characters, how does a teacher answer those questions? The answer was with a picture in return. 

There were two problems that I had to overcome: 1) Writing on a picture and 2) The best way to write on a picture. 

For the first problem I used the Notability App. It allowed me to load a picture and write on it. That allowed me to add annotations to their questions. The Notability app also allows for text to be highlighted for resizing... and for the phone screen real estate it means reduction in handwritten annotation to fit the screen... very helpful. Notability also has the option to share via Twitter which further simplifies things.

The second problem comes from my dislike for writing with my finger. For me, it does not feel natural. I had a stylus for my iPad but it felt too big. The solution for me was a Targus stylus. It is thin like a pen and slides on the screen like a pen or pencil slides on paper. It feels more natural. 

So with my problems resolved I have started using Notability and Twitter to answer student questions. What does it look like? Kind of like this :)