Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Why I Love the Chromebook

I love Chromebooks. It's not because I'm a Google Certified Teacher / Trainer or because I don't like Microsoft, or [only] because they are cheap, or because they do something different than my Android, iPhone, iPad, Macbook, Windows computer.

I love the Chromebook because, in my opinion, it exemplifies everything that I love about technology and the potential for technology to impact education.

1. Simplicity

I have spent hour planning the perfect lesson; slide presentations, multimedia, practice problems and more. These are NOT the lesson that my students remember. My best lessons occur when I tell a story about my past or a real-life event or surprise them with a non-traditional style of instruction. For teachers, simple lessons can have the biggest impact. Tell a story. Let students explore. Let them teach each other.

Many teachers avoid technology because of the complexity of it all: Battery life, WiFi strength, bandwidth, storage capacity, logins, passwords, and more. Chromebooks are simple. Turn them on and you are ready to learn. Nothing to download, update, install, or save.

Technology should make us more productive and better able to communicate, create, and connect with others. If it doesn't, we should question whether we would be better off using a pencil and a sheet of paper.

2. Flexibility

Classrooms that are built around rules, procedures, and laws cause stress. Does my name have to be in the top right or left corner? Is it blue pen for first draft and black for second draft? The classroom that has clear boundaries in which students are encouraged to explore is the classroom I want to be in.

Chromebooks offer astounding flexibility as they mold and change with surprising ease. I love the fact that you can pull any Chromebook out of a cart, log in to your account and the device immediately becomes your own. The farther away we can move from technologies that are platform, OS, or device specific, the better.

Technology should create NEW learning opportunities, not limit what we can accomplish in the classroom.

3. Accessibility

Teacher access is a critical component to student engagement and learning. Have you ever been in a class that was so big you were just a face in the crowd? Have you ever had a teacher that was unapproachable or who had limited availability? Research indicates that the connection between the teacher and student is critical if learning is going to occur.

Just like every student should be able to connect personally with their teacher, students should be able to connect personally with technology; they must have access. Technology that is only accessible at school, or in a specific class, or on a specific device makes learning difficult. Chromebooks are inexpensive and run on the web which means are affordable and accessible.

We also have the responsibility to keep our student safe from harm and preserve their innocence. Chromebooks can do just that with safety and security capabilities that are best in class. When coupled with other innovative tools, we can even prevent cyber bulling and self harm.

Technology should also be available to all learners, not just traditional learners. There are many stories that highlight how Chromebooks are opening up new opportunities for students with diverse learning needs.

Technology should increase student access and opportunities regardless of the economic status or learning style, and technology should be used to keep our students safe and accountable.

4. Iterative Innovation

Can you imagine what would happen if administrators refused to let teachers modify their lesson plans or syllabus after the start of the school year? Teaching is an iterative process. Try something, revise, and repeat! Teachers don't wait until next school year to modify their teaching style or lesson plans, they update as often and as quickly as necessary.

The design of traditional software and devices makes them difficult to update. Find the perfect iOS app mid-year? Good luck trying to push it out to your entire fleet of iPads for class tomorrow!

Google pushes out a new version of ChromeOS every six weeks. Apps, Extensions, bookmarks, and more can be pushed out to ChromeOS devices instantly. Teachers can use Google Classroom or Google Play for education to send content directly to student devices without bugging the IT department for help.

Technology acts like a magnifying glass - it makes a good teacher even better and opens up additional learning pathways.

I want my classroom to be Simple, Flexible, Accessible and Innovative. That's the kind of classroom I would want my kids in as well. Perhaps that class would also use Chromebooks.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Understanding Google Vault for Education


As of January 2015, Google Vault (formerly Postini) was made available to all Google Apps for Education customers. Formerly a paid service, Vault is now FREE for Educational institutions.

Google Vault is a e-discovery and archiving tool designed to help you retain district data. For public institutions, state and federal regulations require the retention of information for set period of time that varies by state. Vault will make you compliant with these regulations. Vault currently fully supports Gmail and Hangouts with partial support of Google Drive data.

During the 2015 Indiana Google Education summit I led a breakout session focused on the appropriate setup of Vault as well as using Google Vault to comply with Freedom of Information requests (FOIA), internal investigations (i.e. cyber bulling) or recovery of lost data.

The presentation below was captured using a Swivl camera. It's a long session, but you can skip to the parts that pertain to you by selecting any of the slides- the video will automatically jump to that point in the recording.

I have also embedded the original slide deck as well.



Thursday, April 2, 2015

Google Classroom Tips, Tricks, and Hacks

Google Classroom Tips Tricks and Workaround | John R. Sowash | ElectricEducator.com
Since its release at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, Google Classroom has demonstrated tremendous potential to help teachers and students communicate, collaborate, and create together. Classroom has significantly simplified the document creation, sharing, and feedback cycle present in most classrooms.

While Google Classroom is a great tool, there are a few areas that need refinement: multiple teacher access, group projects, peer editing, differentiated projects, content organization and searching, parent access, and more.

Flip through the presentation below to consider how you can resolve the issues above while continuing to use Google Classroom. As new features are announced and options are added I will update the presentation with new workaround solutions.

If you have developed your own workaround for these, or any other issues, please leave a comment and share your solution!

New to Google Classroom? Check out my post on setting up Google Classroom or 5 Google Classroom mistakes to avoid!

Monday, January 26, 2015

#FETC 2015 Recap

I had the opportunity to attend the Future of Educational Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando Florida this past week. FETC is one of the largest EdTech conferences in the country with over 10,000 attendees from around the world.

FETC is a HUGE conference with lots of big names and big ideas. Here are my top take-aways from the 2015 conference:

1. The maker movement is growing
I can't tell you how many sessions there were  on 3D Printing, makerspaces, tinkering, hacking, etc. The 2015 Keynotes included the COO of Makerbot, designers of one of the top 3D printers in schools today.
The vendor hall was filled with products and companies supporting and connected with the maker movement.

2. The future of technology links the digital and the physical
I sat in a great session from Brad Waid and Drew Minock (Two  Guys and Some iPads) that showcased the latest in Augmented Reality (AR). The blending of the digital and physical world is very cool and powerful for classrooms, especially those like science that study the physical world. 3D printing, programming physical objects and makerspaces connect our devices and everyday physical objects.

Unlike consumer shows like CES, there wasn't a whole lot of buzz about wearables in the classroom (just one session on Google Glass - may it rest in peace). Google Glass, smart watches, etc aren't being touted as the next educational frontier. Teachers and students don't need more devices to connect and configure, but they are interested in linking the physical classroom (papers, books, objects, lab-ware, etc) to the devices they do have.

3. Cool Product of the Show - Swivl
I walked through the entire vendor hall at FETC and two products captured my attention:

Swivl - Think Roomba for your iOS device! Swivl is a rotating "robot" that follows you while capturing video and audio. Swivl can also sync your slide presentation with video. The final product is a picture-in-picture video with your slides and you! Swivl has great application for the flipped classroom and for anyone who creates a lot of training videos and podcasts.

Air Squirrels Mirroring - First, you have to love the name! Who wouldn't want with a company called "Air Squirrels?" Air Squirrels is the creator of the reflector app that mirrors your iPad to your computer. They also just launched "Air Parrot" which can mirror your Chromebook to your Apple TV (no audio support yet), Chromecast, or Reflector App. This is a great product for anyone needing to creating training videos and instructional guides on the use of Chromebooks.

4. Educators Can Influence Companies
I had an opportunity to talk with members of several large tech companies about their involvement in education and how certain practices and strategies might NOT be wise for them to continue. I was grateful at the willingness of these companies to hear "our" recommendations and their sensitivity to our needs.

Educators should partner and connect with tech companies to help shape their products, services, and marketing strategies. We need them; they need us.

5. Gaming in the classroom
The "gameification" of the classroom is still a widely discussed topic, but classroom gaming still hasn't founds its place. Gaming still feels like an "add-on" to existing classroom practices rather than something deeply integrated into the curriculum and instructional strategies.

I'm not sure I see a future where "school is a game" ever coming to pass. Rather, I see some of the core elements of gaming (problem/task based challenges, "multi-player" learning, badges, and "leveling") making their way into existing practice. This idea was buried in the short concluding keynote of Lucien Vattel, CEO of GameDesk.

As we move into conference season, I would love to hear the trends that you observe as you attend conference near you. Do you agree with these trends? Are there additional trends that you see gaining momentum?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Big Screen vs. Small Screens

I get regular solicitations from EdTech companies wanting me to feature their product or service on my blog. I'm honored that they have identified me as someone with influence and trust who can help them promote their product. Several years ago I made the decision not to accept paid content insertions; I believe my independence is worth far more than I could make by accepting payment for a post.

That being said, the conversations that I have with these companies can be helpful and open my eyes to new trends in educational technology. That's what happened this past week when I talked with InFocus.

InFocus is a well known, respected company the manufactures many different pieces of hardware, mainly focused on projection and display. One of their new products is the JTouch - a large 65" touchscreen display specifically designed for the classroom. It looks nice, and has a pretty good price as well ($1,999 for schools).

I politely declined payment for writing a post about their product and offered some suggestions about how to market and promote the JTouch to teachers. I also had to ask one poignant question:
Why should educators invest in a teacher-focused device rather than putting technology into the hands of students? 
Their response [my paraphrase]
Every classrooms need a display device. The JTouch gets students up and interacting rather than just sitting behind their screen and the JTouch is a lot less expensive than other interactive whiteboard or interactive projector products on the market.
Nothing wrong with the response but it got me thinking: InFocus is NOT competing exclusively against other "large screen" products, they are competing against EVERY product with a screen.

If you have $3000 to spend in your classroom, would you rather have 1 BIG screen or:
  • 6 iPad Air 2 ($479 Edu pricing)
  • 10 Acer C720 Chromebooks ($279) 
  • 11 Nexus 7 Tablets ($259)
The question of large vs. small screens goes well beyond price. Much of what you can do with an interactive display can be replicated on small screen devices: 
In addition, small screens can be used for small group work, writing essays, making multimedia projects, research, and more. 

Is the "large screen" era dead; or at least limited to special applications (media centers, trade-shows, lecture halls, etc)? Would you rather have a large screen or small screens in your classroom? 

Oh, if you are interested, you can learn more about the JTouch here

Thursday, January 8, 2015

EdTech Events Calendar

There are a LOT of EdTech events. From EdCamps to state technology conferences to Google summits, there is always something going on! As a full time technology consultant, I attend a lot of events around the country. The EdTech community is awesome; caring, sharing, and fun!

Getting connected to this group can take some time. To help you get started, I created and am now maintaining a calendar of EdTech events in the United States. I know there are other listings of events and opportunities; but here is another resource that you can use to learn more about using Technology in the classroom AND to give back to the community by sharing your knowledge and experience as a presenter.

If you would like to have easy access to the embedded calendar below, simply click on the "+Google Calendar" button in the bottom right corner to add it to your Google Calendar.

I am happy to add your event or opportunity. Send me a Tweet (@jrsowash) or email (jrsowash[at]sowashventures[dot]com) with the details and I will list it!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Graphic Organizers with Google Drawing


Google Drawing is the forgotten stepchild of Google Drive. It doesn't have a MS Office / iWork equivalent and most people aren't quite sure what to do with it.

Drawing is a simple shape tool in which you can create and annotate simply graphics and illustrations. It's great for organizational charts, mind maps, flow charts, infographics, and graphic organizers.

I recently presented a half-day workshop on Google Drive to a group of elementary teachers in Dexter, Michigan. I always like to provide the groups that I work with practical ideas for incorporating these tools into their grade level rooms, so I put together a collection of a half-dozen traditional graphic organizers for elementary students:

Main Events Quilt
Main Idea Umbrella
Prediction Chart
Problem / Solution Chart
Story Comparison Chart
Story Elements Butterfly Chart

I am sharing these template with you for FREE! Simply click on one of the links and make a copy of my original (File -> Make Copy). Please note that you will need a Google Drive account (and must be signed in) before you can make your own copy.

If you have created a graphic organizer in  Google Drawing and would be willing to share, please leave a comment on this post!