Saturday, June 16, 2012

Summer Staff Training Here We Come

Summer time brings about thoughts of grilling out, time on the lake, and sleeping in for most.  However, for technology staff like me it also means the busiest time of the year.  We have roughly a thousand devices to re-image and configure over the next two and a half months, new software to implement, four summer programs to support, and if that wasn’t enough there is always the summer training for staff.  In our district we specifically ask our teachers and staff what type of training they are looking for and then go out and try to schedule what we can.  This summer I am particularly looking forward to a week of training, creation, and specifically integration of our iOS devices throughout the district.  Everyone will be coming together from Kindergarten through second grade, middle school teachers, special education, and even a few high school teachers to plan, dream, and really figure out how we can take our successful 1:1 iOS Program and make it even more effective.  Stay tuned for more information on this week in early August.

However, for staff that do not have iOS devices we also will be running a variety of training sessions throughout the summer.  We have done this a number of times before and have even used Google Forms for them to register.  Then to confirm their registration and send reminders we send out text messages to the staff.  Our principal had the idea roughly a year and a half ago to begin communicating with staff during the summer in a way that would be appropriate and easy for them – text messages.  They wouldn’t have to login it to their school email account and the messages would be kept short.  So far this process has worked out really well and we look forward to communicating with our families via text message more this fall.  Staff can never get enough training though so we are consistently reaching out and trying to find methods and ways for them to learn things on their schedule.

One way of solving this problem is through video tutorials.  As a school district we invested in a large video tutorial library through a third party a year ago, but then we decided after our one year review that not enough of our staff watched the videos to justify the cost we were paying.  Yes, we maybe could have done a better job implementing them into our environment, but we were also up against a staff that is stretched thin already and asking them to watch video tutorials in their free time seemed a bit silly.  So instead we are moving to create an in-house video tutorial library of important things staff need to know.  For instance: how to check your email, how to submit your grades, where the purchase requests can be found, and who to call when you have a technology problem.  All of these videos will be housed in the Videos app as part of our Google Apps for Education Suite.  The majority of them will be private and not viewable to the public, but all our staff will be able to access them with a click of a button.  It will be nice, slick, and a lot cheaper than our third party solution.  Probably the best part about this solution is that the content we create can be directed specifically for our staff.

However, every once in a while an opportunity to assist with staff development comes up and it is just to good to pass up on.  Such was the case when Tyler Hellemann (@MrHellmann), a cohort member from my UNI Masters Degree Program, sent me a message asking if I wanted to help him create a Google Form video.  Of course I agreed and we set off creating a collaborative document with an outline and parts of the script.  We decided early on that we wanted to complete the presentation together, but then after looking around and trying a variety of different tools we decided it would be easier to just film it separately and then put the two pieces together.  So that’s exactly what we did.  He used Screencast-o-Matic to capture the audio and video on his end, exported it, and then sent it to me.  I used Jing Pro to capture my audio and video, exported it, and then dropped both pieces into iMovie.  After a little tinkering we came up with this video:

Clearly this video isn’t going to win us an Oscar or Emmy anytime soon, but the content about how to use a Google Form hopefully got across.  We thought it did and that’s why we will be using this video during our summer and fall technology trainings at our respective schools.

Please enjoy this time of year – whether you are imaging computers, training staff, or hanging out on the lake – because summer is here!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Creative Commons 101

In class recently we have been discussing Creative Commons (CC) and licensing the work we create.  Personally, I heard about CC back in Colorado at a technology conference and was a little confused.  There appeared to be a number of rules and stipulations all around the copyright issue, but then there were also many exceptions to that rule.  Honestly, I absorbed the information and let it sit on the shelf for the past four years – until now.

Creative Commons is a big deal.  We all create things, post things online, and want to be credited for our work if others use it.  In a perfect world we would always be contacted if someone wanted to use our work AND we would always contact the author of a work we would want to use.  Let's be realistic though, this does not always happen.  Therefore, in an effort to help us learn the basics of copyright and Creative Commons our professors put together this great enhanced podcast.  If you still have questions after this podcast, another great resource I found for educators  is also a post on The EduBlogger called "The Educator's Guide to Copyright, Fair Use, and Creative Commons."

After reading all the resources and doing some own personal reflection, I figured it was my time to get into the Creative Commons arena.  I write, create, and publish stuff online and I might as well keep my copyright, but allow people to copy and distribute my work – provided they give me credit.  I can do this easily with a Creative Commons license.  Then I was thinking, what would be the easiest and quickest way to try this out?  How about getting a CC license for my blog?  And that is exactly what I did.  You can see the posting over on the right side of the screen and the license from CC as to how people can use my content as well.

In the spirit of the Distributed Learning Community I went ahead and created this video of how you can create a CC license for your blog:

These same general steps apply with an image, text, or other media format.

Do you have a CC license for your blog?  Why not?  I hope that you look into the information on CC and get a few licenses.  It just makes sense in today's world!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Why Do All the Good, Free Tools End?

It seems as though another good Web 2.0 tool has bit the dust, metaphorically speaking of course.  CoveritLive has gone to a paid per click model.  Bummer, right?  If you are not familiar with this tool here is the basic description.

I was personally introduced to this tool back in the winter of 2009 during student teaching in CO.  Back then it was a bit underdeveloped, but the functionality was still flat out amazing.  The ability it had then (and still has today) is to create an interactive chat and embed it into your blog.  The educational application for me was to use this tool in class discussions.  In addition this tool had a moderation pane that allows the comments to be approved prior to them being posted.  This tool worked really well for classroom discussions, but it had a variety of other features that worked in an educational setting (quick forms, links, and stats).

Unfortunately, like many Web 2.0 tools, this has gone to a paid version.  It did have a paid option in the past, but for education it was strictly free.  For those that wanted to receive more options there were of course paid options.  However, now there is only one free option.  Here is their new language around the new cost options: "Our pricing is defined by the number of clicks - that is, people actually clicking into the live events on your website or mobile app - you accumulate over a billing period."  The number of clicks for a free account is 25 per month.  This is a bit of an impossible threshold for an average teacher.  When I am teaching a novel and want to have discussions about it using this tool I generally have two or three discussions a week and each of my 25 students is accessing and clicking on the CoverItLive link.  And I only teach one class!  Imagine if you taught five sections with an average number of students at 25 and had two discussions a week for four weeks.  That equals out to roughly 1,000 clicks per month.  Under the new pricing that teacher or school district would have to purchase the "Lite" account for $49 per month.  Granted I would still strongly make a case for purchasing this, but the frustration remains – it was free and now it is paid.  What's up with that?

Finally, in their nice email explaining all this to their customers they did state that for education or other non-profits to contact their Customer Support Representatives for other pricing options.  I, naturally, went ahead and contacted them earlier this week.  I have yet to hear back from them, but when I do, I will be sure to update this post.

Until then I will begin the conversation with my teachers and figure out who is using this tool and count the monthly number of "clicks" we might have.  Yet another good, free tool that has gone paid.  Bummer.

Have you used CoveritLive before?  Did you enjoy using it in your classroom or educational setting?  Why do all these free tools start to be paid?  Will you look into the paid version(s) of CoveritLive?