An Open Letter to Google about Team Drive

Google has brought many wonderful things to education. Providing Google Docs and Google Drive for free for every student certainly is a great benefit for schools. This saves districts a lot of money that can be used for other things. It certainly empowers students as they don’t have to purchase software to complete assignments. I clearly remember the days of “which file format did you save this in”? I remember looking for a computer that could open a wide variety of formats (that was usually a Mac). (To this day, I still don’t understand why MicroSoft Word couldn’t open MicroSoft Works documents.)

Google has also created the Chromebook environment. Again, creating devices that can be purchased at a couple hundred dollars allowed schools to bring in many, many more devices than was previously possible. This has helped schools tremendously.

Google also allows us to buy reasonably priced management licenses for Chromebooks. The ability to monitor and control devices in schools is wonderful.

Any yet. Google frequently gets things really wrong with schools. As one example, the ability to change the language for the keyboard. Currently, Google allows the user to set this as a persistent device setting. Thus, if a student changes the keyboard language to Arabic, and then logs out, the device will continue to use Arabic for the keyboard. As a system administrator who works with real kids in the real world, I would much rather this be a user setting. If a student wants to set the keyboard to Arabic (or any language) great. As long as it doesn’t impact the next student. Let that first student come back to the Chromebook and fix the language (or learn the language).

Google is very much user centered. This is a real mind shift for a lot of users. No longer does one need the computer on which the file was created, but rather, one needs to be able to provide credentials to access the information. This is a truly big shift for many users in education.

Google also helped create a culture of sharing. Since information no longer was locked down to a specific device, and the working metaphor is a web based metaphor, sharing became possible. More and more in education, teachers and students are collaborating and sharing information.

However, education has a problem. Since files and information is person based, it became a challenge to create, share and save information that was more position or place based than person based. For example, school improvement plans don’t belong to an individual, they belong to the entire school. Trying to keep track of who “owns” which documents and what should happen to those documents when that person left or moved to a new position was impossible.

Educators are a resourceful bunch. We created generic accounts to handle ownership of files. For example, we created a “Curriculum” account to save all of the curriculum documents that we created. However, this meant that everyone who created curriculum had to go back into the document and change the ownership of the document to the “Curriculum” account. This is rife with errors. Teachers are busy and they just forget.

Google just announced Team Drives. Team Drives are more like traditional shared drives in that they aren’t owned by an individual. Rather, these can be collaborated on by many different people. These are essentially owned by the school district and not tied specifically to one person. Great! This will be a great boon to educators and school systems.

There is however, one small issue coming. An this is where Google needs some educator input. As of January 1st, 2018, team drives will be available to every single user. Team Drives are a boon for the staff, school administrators and teachers. However, some real issues could come up with student usage. Google is apparently not going to allow us to control this by OU (Organizational Unit). (OU’s are how we manage just about everything. Access to YouTube is controlled by OU. Teachers get full access, students get restricted access.)

Having students create Team Drives that will persist beyond their school attendance will create a bunch of extra cruft and potential issues. At the very least, this should be a school decision that is carefully thought out. Students can and should share folders and documents. When the student moves on, the information should go with them. Not everything needs to live forever.

So here is my plea to Google. Please let school administrators manage their environment. Let them spend time focusing on how to help students learn, grow and be successful. Allow us to limit the time, energy and focus on dealing with bad decisions by students because those decisions were too easy to make. Let us spend our time and energy helping students. Give us the ability to manage Team Drives like we manage everything else in Google, through OU’s.

You have NOT been hacked. Here’s what you need to do.

girl with hands to face

Lots of people are worried about being hacked. Interestingly, this worry does not seem to extend to avoiding writing passwords on post it notes ;-). After all, Yahoo has been in the news for multiple hacking situations.

So when something goes wrong, some go immediately to “I’ve been hacked”. This frequently is brought up by students as well. Here are a couple of hard earned tips to deal with students who have been “hacked”:

  1. Check to see if they have installed any extensions.
  2. See if they have “shared” their password (even if “only with” one person).

The first one is one of my favorites. We’ve seen this one many, many times. I’ll share a couple. One of the hacks was an extension that would randomly display a video famous person (I’m intentionally not naming the individual so as to help discourage the use of this one). The student would be working along and up would pop an obnoxious video. If the teacher was looking, the teacher could “see” that the student had don’t anything; the video had just “popped” up. What the teacher was missing was what the student had done previously (i.e. installed an extension to do exactly what the teacher is now seeing happen).

Another extension that some of our students found is an extension which would make a computer unusable. This extension would spawn the creation of lots and lots of tabs. When I say “lots and lots”, I really do mean lots and lots. The Chrome browser would be completely taken over.

I’ve heard for others with concerns, complaints and fears. Frequently, the “check to see if I’ve been hacked” line is used (so, far, this has never been the issue).

Please follow good security procedures. Don’t reuse the same password over and over in multiple places. Don’t write your password down on a sticky note and put that on your monitor. Don’t hide your password under your keyboard. (Quick story, I was presenting in a classroom some time ago. I moved the keyboard and saw all the passwords that a student would really want – access to grades, assignments, etc.)

Don’t immediately jump to “I’ve been hacked”. There is usually a reasonable explanation.

Be safe out there.

Moodle and Wiris

We have been using Wiris in our Moodle installation to help teachers and students deal with math and science equations. In a perfect world, everyone would use LaTeX (which is the standard for math notation in writing). (Actually, in a perfect world, math and science notation would be easily integrated into writing and page layout). However, LaTeX is complex and involves a fair bit of a learning curve. Most teachers aren’t going to learn the ins and outs of LaTeX, and certainly, students aren’t going to master LaTeX as they are learning math. Neither one of them should have to do so.

Enter Wiris. Wiris allows the user to use visual buttons and prompts to easily create math and science notations and equations. Wiris essentially adds a visual way to easily create math formulas. It looks like this:

*Note that Wiris uses LaTeX for the actual formatting.

We’ve created a variety of sample math problems for students to practice their math skills. These math problems are presented in a random order. Additionally, the students can check their answers immediately. The goal is not for summative evaluation; rather, the goal is for students to practice and hone their math skills. As part of checking their answer, the students get specific feedback on what is correct or not. The teachers used Wiris to provide some of that specific feedback. That turned into a problem. Some of the questions didn’t use the Wiris editor in the question, just in the feedback. That would cause some programming issues with Moodle.

So, we reached out the Wiris people. We provided feedback. The feedback included screenshots and detailed descriptions of the conditions where we were seeing problems. I’m happy to report the Wiris people have issued an update which fixes the issues that we saw.

Lesson learned? Reach out to the developers of tools that are useful. Provide them with specific, detailed descriptions of the issue. The good developers will be responsive. Who knows, you may even help solve a problem so that the next user never even knows that the problem used to exist. They will just find joy in a tool that works wonderfully well for them.

Image of 3 beakers and an atom to indicate science.

Here Comes Science

I learned a long time ago that I’m a Constructivist. Constructivism is essentially the concept that each learner builds (constructs) his/her own learning (this is, of course, a broad generalization of a deep and complex topic, but will serve here). In teaching in the classroom and in watching students in other teacher’s classrooms, constructivism has been apparent to me. I’ve seen enough “light bulb” moments to be rooted in constructivism. So, the concept of finding that one right strategy to teach all students has always frustrated me. Learning is messy. Learning can be ugly. Learning is non-linear. Learning doesn’t happen on the same day for all learners. Learning doesn’t happen in the same way for all learners.

One of the recent trends that we seen is the identification and public sharing of Content and Language Objectives. First of all, let me say that I don’t believe that there is anything wrong with Content and Language Objectives. These are wonderful things for teachers to know, actively identify and work with on a real level. There are instances where it is wonderfully useful for students to know and identify Content and Language Objectives as well. However, if every class starts with the students choral reading the Content and Language Objectives, well, I’m going to doubt that meaningful learning will happen in all classes.

See, I believe that learning frequently resides in a mystery. Learning lives in a story. Learning lives in discovery. Learning can be different for each student on each day.

Now, here comes Science. The new NGSS guidelines focus on students doing discovery learning. YES! YES! YES! Students doing the work. Students NOT being told what they will learn, but being guided so that they will learn what they need. This is how I believe that more learning should happen. Teachers guiding the students along the path of enlightenment, not being told that at the end of the hour they will be able to….

 

*Image: The original image has been released into the public domain by its author, AllyUnion, at the English Wikipedia project.

Studying

As a principal, I used to meet with students and parents regularly. Frequently, those meetings were held because a student wasn’t doing as well as was possible. The subject of studying would inevitably be discussed. Generally, the student would study by reading and then reading some more. While this may work for some students, much more is generally needed.

Research shows us that students need to do much more to study. There are some really nice posters that communicate this over at The Learning Scientists Poster page.

These posters specify six different strategies:

These are strategies that all students should know and have be able to use. Not all of these strategies will be used all of the time, but students should know them and know how to use them.

I’ve shared this with others. One of my wonderful Tech Coaches, did a write up on how he used Moodle while in the classroom to provide students with retrieval practice. He is an excellent teacher. His write up is titled “Practice is Best”. Do yourself a favor and go read it.

He discusses how Moodle can provide teachers with a wonderful way to help guide students and provide them retrieval practice.

My experiment produced extremely favorable results. Test averages jumped. Anxiety levels on the day of the test seemed to plunge. And the two probably had an effect on each other.

Sometimes, it is necessary to review what we do as teachers. It’s also important to look at how we do. Take a look at the studying strategies. Maybe you’ll want to invest a bit in yourself and learn how Moodle can help your students study more effectively.

  • Bonus hint: what if students created the quizzes (along with why an answer was wrong)?

Medium is losing money, start your own blog

Medium “cuts” 50 jobs

According to Endgadget, Medium is cutting 50 jobs (er, that would be laying off 50 people) because they are spending money faster than it is coming in. Medium was quite the darling not too long ago. Several bloggers had moved their blogging over to get the additional exposure that Medium provided. Medium does have some really, really good content.

However, for me this exemplifies a choice. Either establish your own site, where you have full control and full responsibility, or continually follow the fads and fashions of the web. Following the fads and fashions can lead to easier publicity, fewer responsibilities and less “worrying”. However, it can also put you at the whim of someone else.

This is a choice that we users and content creators of the Internet should be making thoughtfully. There really isn’t a single correct answer. For some, following the fads and fashions is perfectly appropriate. For others, having control and creating what you want is important.

Whichever, you choose, choose thoughtfully.

Times Change

I found this picture in my ramblings about the Internet.

 

This is a picture of a 5 MB drive for IBM in 1956.  I’m not sure how much it costs, but you could lease access to it for $3,200 a month (roughly $28,000 a month factoring in inflation) .

Here’s another picture:

This one is being taken off a plane.

Here is an image of a 4 GB drive that I was given for free:

Image of a pen with a 4 GB flash drive in the cap.

The free 4GB drive is about 4096 MB’s (or about 819 times larger than the 5MB drive above).

Just a thought on how things have changed.

Working on an iPad

As much as I enjoy using my iPad, it still has limited use for me. The iPad remains a terrific media consumption device. I keep up on news and my RSS feeds on it daily. Additionally, I can do some creation on the iPad as well. However, the iPad frequently falls short on many tasks. For example,  I needed to find an email. I searched for about ten minutes on the iPad with no luck. I gave up and went to my Mac. In about thirty seconds, I found the email and had the appropriate information that I needed. (Now granted, I deal with a lot of email. However, not being able to locate a particular email in ten minutes is a problem.)

I’ll keep using my iPad. I will even continue to stretch to see what it can do in terms of creation. However, there are still lots of limitations which suggest to me that full on computers aren’t ready to be replaced by their smaller brethren quite yet.

Biology Materials

I’ve been fortunate to work with some really excellent educators. These fine teachers have developed materials that were piloted with students this last year. The materials are now being made available for free to any teacher who wants to use them.

The first materials available are the Biology modules. These are high quality biology resources that a teacher could use, or adapt for use, in their very own classroom. The materials are all being made available through a Moodle site.

ATEP (Articulated Technological Educational Pathways) Project was the result of a National Science Foundation Grant. The group put together resources for Biology, ICT (Information and Communication Technology), and MMT (Modeling and Manufacturing Technology).

(In case you are interested, my part of the project was to upgrade the “look and feel” of the Moodle site that ATEP was using. I also did some training on using Moodle. That training included developing resources to help instructors use Moodle as well as providing guidance on how to structure material within Moodle. However, the implementation presented for public use and consumption is decidedly “plain vanilla”. This was intentionally done to make sure that users didn’t need to have special themes or plug-ins installed).

Please head over to the ATEP site and check out the resources. All of the courses are available for download and installation into your very own Moodle instance.

Start with the Biology Course. Biology has two modules (A & B). Module A includes the following sections:

  • An Introduction
  • The Design Process
  • What is Biotechnology
  • Biology Review
  • Biomanufacturing: The Story of Insulin
  • The Effects of Insulin
  • Biomanufacturing
  • Protein Purification
  • Solving the Insulin Problem
  • Bioreactor Training
  • Product Redesign and Maximizing Product Production

There are exclusive teacher resources in each of the sections.

You can register for the site with an email. (This is done solely to provide a way to download the materials. Emails are not being collected for use in any other way).

There is a “Download Course” which has links to the files to download so that you can install the courses on your own Moodle site.)

Frayer Model

Well, the wonderful people that I work with have done it again. This time, they’ve rolled out the Frayer Model in Moodle. Once again, the Database activity forms the base for this work.  The students can then enter relevant information (Concept, Definition, Image, Example, and Non-Example) to create a Frayer model.

Here are the fields for the student to complete:

frayer-model

Students enter all of the required fields (those with a * ). Once they do, a Frayer Model will be created for them.

tech-training-patterson-frayer-model-2016-11-09-20-48-57

When the student places a mouse over one of the fields, the information is brought forward.

tech-training-patterson-frayer-model-2016-11-09-20-50-29

 

Since this is a Database activity, the work that students do can be shared with the entire class (or not). If you want all students to share, simply leave Approval set to “No” (in the Entries section). Conversely, if you want each student to only see their own work, set “Approval required” to “Yes” (and don’t approve anything).

 

Here is Mr. Chris Kenniburg explaining the process.