Making the Move: GAFE

courtesy of www.pixabay.com
courtesy of www.pixabay.com

A lot is happening in the world of technology in education these days, especially with the movement of ‘going to the cloud’. This is an inevitable move that school boards/districts are going to be making in the years to come as it offers a tremendous amount of benefits both on the teaching side of things, but also the administrative/IT/ business side as well.

At NPSCDSB, we’re on the road of making the shift to Going Google. It’s been over a year of presenting research and debates about which direction we were going to take, and it is finally paying off. Many school boards across Ontario (and south of the border as well) were instrumental in making this plan come to reality as there was open sharing of their experiences and expertise with us along our journey. Without this network at all levels (SOs, IT, Curriculum Team), we may not even be considering such a move at this point.

via www.pixabay.com
via www.pixabay.com

In my opinion, I see Google Apps for Education being a game-changer, making everyone’s lives so much easier from productivity and accessibility by students and teachers, to administrative and business benefits (management, cost). It’s more than just converting work files to Google formats for their Docs, Sheets and Slides, or storing and organizing files in Drive; it is taking the creation and collaboration potential and making it easily accessible by all in and out the classroom walls.

As with any type of movement, it’s not going to happen overnight. There will be those who adopt early and those that take some time to truly understand the benefits not only for the students, but for themselves as well.

Screen Shot 2015-01-31 at 8.40.15 AM

In either case, it is important for everyone to see and experience these benefits before casting any doubts on such a move.

Screen Shot 2015-01-31 at 8.40.57 AM

Help sites Google’s Google for Education: Google in your Classroom training site, or other sites such as GAFEhelp.ca are only a couple among dozens of resources out there to help see the potential.

There will undoubtably be those who fear this change, as it is something new and arguably drastic to the way they do things currently. At the end of the day, a solid transition plan is needed so that users all have an opportunity to see and understand what’s happening as a school system.

Here are a few key points to consider when adopting this change:

Life in the Browser

lifeinbrowswer

When moving to Google Apps, one key benefit for not only staff but especially for students is that there is no more need for installed software. Google Apps for Education’s ecosystem is accessible through the internet browser of your choice (of course, it works better with Google Chrome). This removes the need for installing software on computers both in schools and at home, saving school boards/districts and families a lot (I mean, an insane amount) of money.

Converting Made Easy

converting

One of the biggest fears of moving to Google Apps for Education is having to recreate work that is already made in another format (ie: Microsoft Office), or, that the conversion won’t take (ie: the woes of the Wordperfect to Word conversion in the 90s). Google Apps makes it easier than ever to not only use Drive as your storage solution, but it also makes it easy for users to convert files to Google format.

Collaboration Like Never Before

Docs-EditFiles

Descriptive feedback and peer assessment are two examples of how you are able to leverage the power of Google Apps in an educational setting. Students are able to be in a document live with peers, either working on a group project or revising a friends work.

There are many more benefits that I can list, but amazing bloggers such as (for example)

AliceKeelerHome

Alice Keeler post tips and tricks on a regular basis for us to see all the crazy neat things that we can do with these tools. I think the verdict is out that the cloud is our future; it’s now our job as digital leaders to educate those around us on the true potential of making the move.

And if you haven’t noticed, I’m a bit excited. ūüôā

Reflecting and A Review of The Relevant Educator

I finally started reading one of the Corwin¬†Connected Educators Series books this week. I’ve had these books on my desk for a month or two now not making time to read them, which I regret very much. Reading – even the shortest books such as these in the focused series – are not only valuable, but inspiring.

I started with¬†The Relevant Educator by Tom Whitby and Steven W. Anderson. Why did I choose this one? The title jumped out at me that’s for sure, as I wanted to make sure I am relevant. At times I wonder if all of the reading I am doing on Flipboard and Twitter is relevant¬†enough for what I should be reading, as it’s usually a¬†sm√∂rg√•sbord (yes, I¬†looked up this spelling!) of topics, with no real focus. I actually think that’s why I’m always surfing¬†for articles and blogs to read, as I want to¬†be sure I’m keeping up with what’s relevant in education. As I picked this¬†book up, I¬†actually found myself taking a break from social media to take it all in. It was actually¬†kind of nice.

Tom and Steven do a great job of sharing their focused thoughts on what is relevant in an educators world.  They had my attention right away in the first few pages of reading, making some interesting points to ponder:

relevant-keepTechnology skills in the 21st century are not only skills educators need to use, but educators are also charged to reach these same skills to students. p.2

Educators need to overcome their resistance to learning in order to be relevant in our technology-driven society. p.6

As I’m writing this, all I want to do is quote everything that I wrote down (because of course, I had Google Keep close by). I’ll refrain, as I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it yet.

Ok, just one more:

Teachers and administrators who maintain blogs report that they reflect more and focus on changing what doesn’t or hasn’t succeeded for more relevant approaches in their work. p.20

pdWhat really stuck with me after reading this book¬†is that being relevant isn’t easy – nor should it be. Educators are in a profession where life long learning is (or should)¬†pretty much be mandated (although we all know that it is not); otherwise, we are doing a disservice to students by not¬†relevantly¬†preparing them for their future in an always changing world.

There is a problem however; constant cries for professional development opportunities are not only sought out by teachers, but relied upon for some. This is a mindset that needs to change across the board in order to provide a consistent and current educational experience for students.

The focus on being connected and how it empowers learning is what makes this a great and timely read. As they say in their closing pages:

Technology plays and will continue to play an ever-growing role in our lives.

We all need to take ownership of our relevancy. Educators at all levels of a school system should read this book Рa definite recommend.

Your ‘Brightspace’ as a ‘One-Stop-Shop’

my-homeOver the past few years, we (eLCs) have been collaborating and sharing ideas, designing our ‘My Home’ landing pages to be that ‘one-stop-shop’, where students and staff can access and/or link to many external resources form within one area.

As I think back and take a look where ours is and what it could be, there is some serious potential here.

A lot of what you see is a result of a successful, collaborating network of people working across Ontario from Moosonee to Windsor. The fact that we all share ideas and resources with one another constantly via Skype, Hangouts, eCommunity and especially Google Drive is evidence alone that being connected is more powerful now than it ever has been.

With all of the¬†materials that we have collected and made accessible through this network,¬†the options are endless. Every board could have their own personalized look and feel to their own landing¬†pages by accessing shared design ideas (there’s a shared folder for that!) and¬†a variety of tools and integrations to add to their pages.

Homepage   Grade 6 7Am I completely satisfied with my landing page? No; then again, I’m always looking to improve my work constantly.¬†The page¬†that¬†you see here was probably¬†my vision more than a year¬†ago. Sure, I may set goals that get shuffled around and prioritized as needed,¬†but one thing I’ve learned is to at least set those goals. Eventually, when you get to them, it’s one more checkmark¬†off of the endless¬†to-do list!

As a teacher, I wouldn’t want a list of websites to have to send my students to. Simply bookmarking all of the sites needed would become overwhelming for students – let alone the teacher and students having to manage so many login credentials.

Thankfully, integrations through Brightspace such as Learn360¬†and¬†Explore Learning (Gizmos) to name a couple,¬†these integrations are huge features to praise¬†when¬†staff the potential of blending their teaching, and getting technology integrated into their lessons. This simplifies a lot of things, especially since all that they¬†would essentially need is their Brightspace login information and they’re off to the races.

The nice thing about all of this? I think a lot of people have shared this same thought the powers that be, as more and more integrations are ‘in the works’ led by e-Learning Ontario. I’m looking forward to future integrations (piloting one right now!) and what lies ahead for the one-stop-shop¬†model for our landing page (great, I’ll need to change it all over again! ūüôā )

Finding Time to Connect

There are so many ways to connect that I often wonder if I’m making enough of an effort.

Public Domain via pixabay.com
Public Domain via pixabay.com

This month is¬†Ten Minutes of Connecting month by OSSEMOOC, where tips and strategies are being shared on how to make the most out of connecting with¬†Ontario school and system leaders (this connectedness, I’ve come to realize, is not limited to Ontario!). It has been an insightful month of blog posts¬†from Pinterest to Flickr, from blogs to Twitter Chats¬†(even¬†this archived post); I can’t¬†get over how many options there are.

Here’s the thing – I don’t have accounts for many of these collaborating service sites; nor do I want them (right now anyways). There is so much going on with technology in education these days that being an eLC in a system role, I find it difficult with the time that I do have to connect as much as¬†I would like¬†to (don’t get me wrong,¬†this is a good thing – the shift is happening!).

As mentioned in an earlier post, I¬†am wanting to¬†connect¬†more this year, as I feel it’s the best PD out there – period. What better way to get information from timely blog posts, articles, twitter chats, etc… when you want it.

Public Domain via pixabay.com
Public Domain via pixabay.com

This¬†brings me back to the initial post of the month as part of this series:¬†Dedicating Time. The title of the series alone¬†Ten Minutes of Connecting¬†really got me to thinking about how to make the most of connecting. You don’t need to stay up super late or wake up super early (guilty) to connect;¬†ten minutes a day is all that you really do need.

Earlier this month, I participated in my first twitter chat, where I learned a few things in a matter of 15-20 minutes. One thing that I did take away though was not to worry about participating more than I can. Instead, I learned to set attainable goals (ie: blog weekly Рthanks Mark!), which took that unnecessary pressure off that I had put onto myself (silly me).

I have Twitter, Google+ and WordPress as my means for connecting right now, and couldn’t imagine more at this point. When I’m at my desk, I have Tweetdeck open, and I take a peak when I have a minute or two. When I’m on-the-go, I use¬†Flipboard to streamline all of the content that I want in one place at my phone/tablet.

The most subtle tips really do go a long way; this series of posts has helped me better understand the concept of connectedness and to do so as much Рor as little Рas you can. I am getting more information now that I was ever able to by dedicating those ten, twenty or thirty minutes a day to do exactly that Рconnect.

The Fear of Innovation

There are many fears in education right now; many of them coming from the teacher-side of things. They range from:

  • not teaching a lesson as planned;
  • not meeting every student’s needs;
  • not providing a safe environment for students.

Fear also lies in innovation.

via http://www.educate1to1.org/
via http://www.educate1to1.org/

I came across this poster when I visited Educate 1-to-1 this morning and related it back to comments that came up in conversation with a teacher last week.

I had met with a class to support the students and teacher with blended learning strategies Рin particular Google Apps for Education (GAFE). The session went well, however it was the comments in talking with the teacher afterwards that not only surprised me, but also made me think a little.

I meet with many teachers; I would say this takes up 3/4 of my workload. From teachers who are early adopters to teachers who just need a step in the right direction to integrate technology into their classes.

GAFE is new this year for us. It is being well received early on, once teachers are able to see the powers of it, especially at all levels of technology comfort among teachers. This one particular discussion however was interesting; in talking about some of the fears/obstacles that come with going online, the teacher says to me:

Pete, when I tell my¬†colleagues what I’m trying in my class, they say to¬†me: “are¬†you nuts?”

This comment clearly relates to the level of fear and misconceptions that come with not only adopting, but understanding innovations that are unfamiliar. The comment was referring to liability for the most part, and the fear of something happening on their watch in the classroom while students are online, and not wanting to be responsible for it.

Granted, managing a class full of students when they are working with pen and paper is much more easily controlled, as you can see what’s going on. This fear of not being able to control the students while they are working online (ie: are they chatting about work, or play?) is something that I hadn’t considered, but still consider it to be just another reason to fear the inevitable: change.

This is one of my biggest challenges in the role that I’m in: selling¬†the inclination¬†that there are tools online that can supplement student learning with possible benefits.¬†I get it –¬†it’s not something that you can make people feel comfortable with easily – there’s always going to be restraint. I do feel that this restraint however, is fear of innovation, and that it relates to denial as outlined in stages 1, 2 and 3 from the poster above.

My questions for you:

  1. What strategies are successful in making strides with people through the stages of innovation above?
  2. Which stage would you consider the most difficult to overcome? The least?
  3. Are these stages accurate?

Looking forward to your thoughts.