Monthly Archives: September 2014

Who owns the data?

The original concept of the web was to connect documents. Obviously, the web has grown and expanded. Now, there are many, many different places to put “your documents”. Now your “documents” are no frequently longer web pages or documents that you write, but rather things that you post on other’s web sites.

Personal Examples

Lots of people now post their “documents” to places like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, InstaGram, Tumblr, etc. These sites all make it really easy to post information. They all vary in how easy it is to get your data out of their system. They also control where your data lives. Generally, the trade off is the ease of use to post (and network effect of those there) in exchange for your data living in their ecosystem.

Professional Examples

Similar to the personal examples above, there are many professional examples as well. Many people are using some the of the sites above in a professional manner. There are also sites like BlackBoard, Edmodo, Haiku and more. These sites vary from some free access to some very expensive options. Beyond the cost (because usually the cost is born by the school district, not the individual teacher) is the idea of who owns the data. Here the data is the very hard work that a teacher has put into developing that site. Getting that data out can be difficult.

Why does this matter?

I know a teacher who recently switched districts. This is a technology proficient teacher who had created a wide range of classes, activities, resources, etc digitally. However, the district that this teacher was in, had contracted their LMS out. That means that the teacher could not take her data with her. She had some terrific lessons that she had spent time developing and could really use now. However, her data is locked up somewhere else. She can no longer get to it.

There is also a movement called the IndieWeb. The basic concept is that you write a text post, post a picture, post video or some other type of data and then it is connected to whichever other destinations that you want it posted. For example, you could take a picture and post that picture to Instagram, Facebook. This means that even if one of those sites goes away, you still have your picture. Think about how many pictures exist on Facebook only. Maybe that’s fine. But it should be a choice. Here the idea is that you own the data, you post the original and “copies” are distributed around to other sites.

Now the same thing really can be done right now. One can set up a web site, purchase a domain name, install a couple of plug-ins and away you go. This is what I’ve chosen to do via this site. However, it does take some work. Not everyone is going to do that.

It is far easier to sign up for a service like any of those above. Next, hope that there are people there (and especially the right people). Be thoughtful though.

Professionally

This is why I’ve started and use this site. This is one reason that I’m a big believer in Moodle. With this site, I’ve also installed Moodle. I own the data. I can use it however that I want. I’m not dependent upon others. That also means that I need to maintain the site. *It’s really not that hard to maintain.

No matter what you choose, at least make the choice thoughtfully. Do you want to own the data? Do you care if the data goes away? Just how important is the data?

Cheers.

Moodle & Google Classroom

Introducing Classroom for Google Apps for Education 2014-09-07 13-59-08 2014-09-07 13-59-11

Google Classroom is now available for Google Apps for Education users. Please note that you must be a Google Apps customer to use Classroom. Google Classroom comes with the tag line More teaching, Less tech-ing. One of the major points of Classroom is the move to paperless. The bullet points include:

  • Easy to set up
  • Saves time
  • Improves organization
  • Enhances communication
  • Affordable and secure

In the real world, how does this play out? I’ve only had a limited experience with Classroom so far, but here are my thoughts.

Enrollment

Originally, anyone in the district could sign in as a teacher. There was absolutely no way to control this. Whenever a user went to Classroom, the user was asked if they were a Student or Teacher. If they clicked the Teacher button, they were automatically given teacher privileges. This means that anyone could create a class and enroll students. Furthermore, the actual setting was for anyone verified or pending. Thus, once the district administrator went in, students could be rejected. However, if the administrator never checked, the students would always have access. More importantly, the potential for frustration, miscommunication and misunderstanding is huge. Google did pretty quickly add a setting into the administrative counsel to adjust the setting to verified only. This means that users can request to be a teacher, but an administrator must approve them before they are ready to use Classroom. This is largely because teachers are essentially just members of a special Group. This group can now be pre-populated by uploading a csv file. However, this is extra work. We already have all of our teachers in an OU (organizational unit) within Google. It’s frustrating that we can’t just use that.

Appearance

Google Classroom is simple and appealing in looks. There is a large header graphic and then a two column layout. The left hand column is narrower and holds information (Upcoming assignments, Class code). The right hand column contains the main feed (box to update status and a listing of previous posts). The posts come in two flavors:

  • Announcements
  • Assignments

This makes it very easy to, well, make and announcement or add an assignment. The feed looks very similar to Facebook or Google+. It is simple to read.

Use

From a teacher perspective, the assignment feed is very powerful. There is one button to click Assignment to create a new assignment. Then fill in a couple of fields (Title, Description, Due), click on an icon to upload an assignment, to add one from Drive, from YouTube, or a link. If the teacher picks a document that is in Google Drive, they can choose how to distribute it to the students:

  • Students can view file
  • Students can edit file
  • Make a copy for each student

This makes it really easy to create a template document and distribute to students. Essentially, Google Classroom creates a shared folder (called Classroom) in the teacher’s Drive folder. Each class that the teacher creates is a folder within the Classroom folder. Then each assignment becomes a folder within the class folder. Each students’ assignment is a file within this folder. This means that if the teacher is familiar with Google Drive, this will be familiar. However, I can easily see this getting out of hand quickly. We’ll need to monitor this.

Classroom and Moodle

The process of enrolling teachers and students is a pretty much a wash. Moodle is easier for us (district administrators) to get teachers enrolled. It also requires no additional attention by us. New teachers are automatically assigned the proper permissions when they are hired and put into an OU. For students, the process is very similar.

In terms of appearance, Classroom wins. It is very pleasing to eye. There are some discoverability issues, as in “What do I click?, but mostly it is very quick to learn and very not confusing. It looks like a 21st century application. Moodle is making strides, but still lags behind. Moodle does present all of the options that you have though.

In terms of use, well, this will need a few more posts. Suffice it to say that Classroom is very easy to use in terms of recreating the worksheet model. That is, if you consider a teacher’s job to be handing out worksheets, Classroom does this really, really well. It the major concern is to move to a paperless system, Classroom is a great choice. This is not to say that great things can’t be done. They can. However, I’m concerned that this become substitution only. Moodle has more powerful options, more opportunities for changing the way of teaching.

My thoughts

This is not an either/or for us at this point. We’ll offer both to teachers and hope that they take advantage of both. Classroom seems very limited right now. However, teachers also need to get used to using online tools. The learning curve for Classroom is lower than Moodle. It is my hope that Classroom will lead to teachers wanting more power and options and control. Then Moodle will be a great choice.