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!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Google Certification Academy - Expanding and Growing!

Google Certification Academy
For the past two years I have been developing the Google Certification Academy (GCA), a program designed to help educators become Google Education Trainers (GETs). Becoming a Google Education Trainer has been one of the most beneficial and helpful experiences of my life professional life and I would love to provide others with the same opportunity.

The need for the GCA emerged as I was answering many questions from educators who were confused by the process, steps, timeline, and details of the program. It is a fairly complex program and having someone to guide and advise you throughout is a helpful option.

The GCA grew from a single event in northern Michigan in 2013 to over 20 events around the Midwest in 2014. Over 400 educators have attended the GCA and many of them have taken the necessary steps to become Google Education Trainers.

A few comments from past participants: 
“Beyond my expectations! I am doing the opening day PD for my district staff training and have been assigned the Gmail portion so I am more than feeling I can do this!” 
I appreciated the "advanced" pace of the class. SO MUCH information that I can take into my classroom and back to my district right now. 
I LOVED THIS LEARNING!!!! So many ideas, resources, connections. I loved playing too!
The GCA is expanding and growing in 2015 with additional locations and instructors being added to make this opportunity available for more educators.

The Google Certification Academy provides support to all participants before, during and after their certification:

  • 2 Days of intense, advance, and practical instruction. 
  • Access to a large (400+), active community of educators seeking certification. 
  • Practice questions for all required exams. 
  • A large list of study materials, tips, and exam taking tricks! 
  • Lifetime access to monthly product updates to help you stay up to date!
  • Coming soon: access to our online GCA course for on-demand study help
To find out if there is a Google Certification Academy near you visit

Don't see an option that will work for you? Host the GCA at your school! There is NO COST to host the GCA and host schools receive FREE registrations! Find out more here

Becoming a Google Education Trainer has been a very helpful and valuable experience for me. I'm excited to help others have the same experience. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Using Google Drive without Google Apps

I think Google Apps for Education is a great tool; especially Google Drive. There are a myriad of ways that Drive can be used to engage students.

While Drive is great, not every school is a Google Apps for Education school, which makes using Google Drive and other Google services a bit more challenging for a classroom teacher. I know; this was my situation for three years.

Here are four possible situations:
  1. Students have no email access
  2. Students have non-gmail access (provided by the school or via a personal account- Yahoo, AOL, Outlook, etc)
  3. Student have personal Gmail accounts
  4. Students have Google Apps for Education account provided by their school.
Google Drive CAN be used in each of these situations although your features and options will differ. Check out the infographic below for an overview of what will and will not be available:

Using Drive without email
Click to view the original
Ultimately, it is best if your school adopts Google Apps for Education so that you can take full advantage of the rich collaboration and creation tools that are provided. In the meantime, you can still use Google Drive with your students to some extent. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Data Security for Teachers: Know Your Data!

The first step in protecting your data and privacy is to know what data has been collected and is know about you. Most **good** data companies will give you full access to the data and information they have collected about you; that you are storing with them.

Google does a nice job of giving you access to the data it has gathered about you and that you have connected to your Gmail or Google Apps account.

To view your Google data, click on your profile picture in the top right corner of a Google service (Gmail works well) and select "account."

There is a wealth of information here, including all of the personal information that is connected to your account. Here you can change your display name, contact information, profile picture and more.

In the "security" tab you can change your password and view account permissions. I highly recommend that you take a few minutes to go through the "secure your account" section which will:

  • Display your account recovery email address and phone number. 
  • Display your login activity by location to ensure that only you are accessing your account. 
  • Display apps and devices that are connected to your account. It is a good idea to remove any devices or services you are no longer using. 
Once you have completed this security audit, I recommend that you click on the "data tools" tab and select "view account data". This page displays all of the data associated with your Google account by product. You can see how many emails you've sent, appointments are on your calendar, etc. Sign up for a monthly summary of this data by clicking the check box at the top of the screen. Each monthly, quickly review the email to ensure that no unauthorized devices or services are accessing your account and that there is no suspicious activity going on. 

The final step is to periodically (monthly) create a backup of your Google account data. Just find the "download your data" box and create a new archive (note: this is the Google Takeout service). You can leave it on the web, or download a copy to your computer (it may be large depending on how much you use your Google Account! My backup was 20gb!)

Once you know the data, devices, and services that are connected to your account, you can monitor, clean up, and manage that data to minimize the risk of unwanted intrusion or misuse of your information.