My #GAFESummit Experience: Next Steps as an eLC

Google Summit Ottawa;customLogo

1260 people;

sold out in hours;

for good reason.

I tried to complete this follow-up post earlier this week about my experience at the GAFE Summit last weekend, but I just couldn’t find the time. Although it was a weekend of work and travel, it was an opportunity that I am thankful I did not pass up.

Thank you once again Tom Carroll.

In my first post from the weekend, I continued my recent trend of discussions regarding barriers to technology in the classroom, focusing more on adopting new, current and trending technologies by all levels within K-12 systems. After a few days to think back on the bigger picture and everything that I learned, I rethink how I am going to approach this school year in my next steps.

One of the highlights of the weekend was on Sunday morning during a session by Mark Carbone and Andrew Bieronski about their journey with Google Apps on the Ground at WRDSB. One of the amazing features of this session was that they were livestreaming it (yes, you can access the recording now until the end of the month here); by doing so, I was able to email a group of colleagues back home (admin, IT ,teachers) making them aware of this opportunity. The even more amazing part (wait for it): six of them participated from their sofas back in North Bay!

I received the following message immediately following the session from our superintendent:

Thanks Peter for providing this link and opportunity! I was able to join in for most of the session (with my morning coffee!)…wow, anytime anywhere learning!

social_12The other experience that I reflected on both during and after it happened was a conversation through Twitter. The power of a hashtag allows attendees to have conversations with others at the conference, even though they are not even in the same sessions as you. My experience of this started by a tweet of my own, which then caused a great conversation with @innovation2Learn (you will have to view the tweet here to see the conversation thread):

If I wouldn’t have tweeted this out, I wouldn’t have not only taken my thoughts to the next level, but learned from @innovation2Learn (sorry, I don’t know you’re name! 🙂 ).

I also attended two sessions by Julie Millan this weekend – one of them being Creating Pathways to Success: Using Google Apps to Support Portfolio Development. A highlight from this presentation was learning how seamless using Google Apps could be as a portfolio tool for students. This was a timely session to attend, given the new implementation of the All About Me for K-6. We are currently determining how to fulfill this requirement.

Google Apps may now be a front runner.

A recurring theme that I can’t seem to get enough lately at a personal level is Digital Citizenship. This is a hot topic right now, not only because of it’s importance but due to its lack of presence in some classrooms. Gone should be the days of device lockdown, where students are told they need to keep their devices in their lockers. It seems that there should be more than enough programs to choose from out there, but I continue to struggle with this as I cannot clearly determine a provincial ‘standard’ to follow.

mediasmart-logoJulie Millan also shared, which, for some reason, I was oblivious to. I wasn’t able to attend her last workshop Live Out Loud: Creating a Digital Legacy, but here in the lies the value of presenters sharing their resources online. I knew about it – couldn’t attend, but here I am referencing her materials. This is the benefit of being a connected educator (October is Connected Educator Month).

I sent a few emails this week, and lo and behold I found out that this resource is not only provided by the Ministry of Education for grades 4-8 in Ontario, but that they are also working towards an integration within the provincial vLE.

Optimism – check.

Having had the opportunity to not only attend such conferences but to have conversations face-to-face with people – that I may know (through Twitter) or may not know at all – always seems to provide me the much needed research to help me move forward. As an unofficial educational ‘consultant‘ of sorts (it comes with the territory), I have taken on many initiatives over the past few years in helping administrators and IT determine what technology and programs are best suited for our students and teachers these days. This has been both a productive and bumpy road at the same time for various reasons; nonetheless, I can’t get enough of it.

My role has provided me with the contacts and opportunity to see and hear first-hand the successes that other school boards are having with emerging educational technologies. It is natural to think ‘why can’t we have that?’ In due course, I hope to put our system on the map of being at the forefront with the kinds of tools, practices and research that I find myself seeking out these days (years), and to be able to share these successes with others.

Reflecting on Day 1 of #GAFESummit

I tweeted this after my morning session – and I wasn’t lying. I learned so much this morning that I would have been happy if I would have left at 11:00am.
And then sessions 2, 3 and 4 happened.
A few things that stood out:


Of everything that stood out, I have to say that my third session with Tim Lee was the most beneficial, given where we are as a school board with Google Apps. There were maybe a dozen of us total in the session, allowing us to all share where we were on our Google Journeys. As a new’er‘ tool in K-12 for some, Google has entered the education market as a rival competitor to existing services that many people have been accustomed to for the past 5, 10, even 20 years.
Now that we have embarked onto the journey of adopting GAFE that is big in scale, you could imagine how some people would be hesitant to make the switch – or even try out – Google Apps for Education.
As a group, we discussed our successes and challenges; the overall theme being there are/were walls at different levels from administrators to IT Leaders. The two main reasons for this:

  • comfort with Microsoft
  • dependencies with current infrastructure

Tim eloquently mentioned before the session began to a few of us in conversation:

Microsoft can be rolled out at any point. Google Apps, however, you can never roll out fully, as it is constantly evolving.

What an interesting way to look at it; yet, the walls that were discussed are a common theme.
Don’t get me wrong, when I am told that I need to switch to a particular program, file format, etc…, there is definitely a fear factor. But as educators, we have to realize that making such a drastic change is going to be better not only for us, but for our students in the long run.

Lastly: Synergyse came up near the end of the session.

I am definitely looking forward to bringing this tool back to work on Monday, as I can definitely see this being a huge help as we continue our Google Apps journey.

I end with a couple of quotes from the keynote presentation by George Couros this morning:

If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.


Technology will never replace great teachers, but technology – in the hands of a great teacher – can be transformational.

Looking forward to learning on day two tomorrow.

Time To Get Googly!

Firstly, I would like to thank Tom Carroll to have found me a ticket only a few weeks ago for the first Ottawa Google Summit today.

This is the first conference that I have gone to that I’ve been torn in my selection of sessions to attend; not because of the similarities, but the differences.

GooglyAs mentioned in a recent post, Google Apps is new to our school board this year. I will admit I have been the driving force for this to happen for the past year or so, making IT and key stakeholders aware of the benefits of Google Apps for Education and Chromebooks in the classroom.

I have been a Google user for years now, but I definitely do not know it at a level that I need to be at given my role. If I’m going to be leading this new initiative with teachers and students throughout the school year as we roll out GAFE and a set of Chromebooks as part of our CODE project this year, I need to learn both the technology and best instructional practices.

Usually – and I’m not trying to brag here – I attend conferences on educational technology to learn more about what people are doing with the available technology, and not how to use it. This weekend, it’s going to be a little bit of both.

I have laid out many selections for the day, and I can’t wait for the learning to begin.

Time to get Googly!

‘Big Brother’ in Schools: Where to Cut It

I tweeted a question this morning, and after thinking about it more and discussing it briefly with a colleague of mine Mr. Tim Robinson, thought it deserved more than 140 characters:

Given my role, I am visible in all schools K-12, where staff and students see me as being the ‘IT guy’. I get stopped in the halls with all kinds of questions, and I do my best to answer them. I know my fair share of educational technology, however, some things are simply out of my realm. One area, for example would have been network security – a year ago; but seeing as it is such an important backbone to student learning in classrooms these days, I learned a great deal about it recently for good reason.

network-security There is no doubt that school boards have differing viewpoints on how secure a network should be for their organization. This ranges from open networks with secure firewalls to networks that are both password protected, secure with firewalls and require user authentication.

Here is an example of two very powerful educational tools in particular that, when required to authenticate through the firewall, become affected by such a setup.

Chromebooks and iPads

Firstly, Chromebooks will not work on a network that requires a prompt for authentication by the student. Chrome OS does not allow for that prompt. There are a few workarounds for this, however, they do not provide that quick, easy access of what a Chromebook is really all about.

Secondly, when the connection for iPads requires authentication to access the internet, they do not work seamlessly either. This is particularly frustrating for students as the prompt does not ‘pop up‘ unless they open an internet browser. If the student wanted to simply turn on the iPad and open an app to work online, nothing would work if a connection is required.

These two scenarios have led to me to beg the question:

How secure do school networks have to be?

I may out of my realm with this, but I think we are at a point in education that we can forgo the excessive security. If schools continue to think that they need to police the internet as some still think they need to, we are in trouble as both leaders and learners. Any number of layers of security should be invisible to students during their learning, providing a seamless learning experience.

I think it is time that schools rethink the difference between what is needed and what is wanted with network security. If we continue to worry about security as some still do, we are not only (in my mind) infringing on their privacy by collecting such things as browsing history, but creating an environment of distrust.

More importantly – harming student learning.

To ‘Classroom’ or to ‘Brightspace’; That is the Question

Google Classroom has been introduced this year, allowing teachers to jump right into ‘blended learning‘ with minimal setup involved.

Do I show Google Classroom and not Brightspace?

I oftentimes cannot make a decision as to what product is best for the teacher. There are so many products to choose from now (Brightspace, Edmodo, Wikispaces, Classroom) that it confuses teachers even more.

Typically in my role, teachers make requests for help with a tool for – blended learning. When Desire2Learn’s virtual Learning Environment (vLE) first came out, that’s all it was known by – a Learning Management System:

Hi Peter, Can you come in and help my class get setup with blended learning?

Good morning Peter, can you set up my LMS?

The notion of blended learning has evolved so much over the last four years that I try to not get caught up in the confusion myself. (vLE’s; LMS’s… Why do they need to keep changing these things?)


At the Nipissing-Parry Sound CDSB, we provide and support two products in this category: Brightspace and now Classroom.

There are definitely two major factors to consider when deciding to bring your classroom online: the product itself (Brightspace or Google Classroom), as well as the pedagogy behind using such powerful tools. The biggest question I hear from teachers now is:

How do I know which tool to use?

As mentioned in my previous post, we have made our first steps in ‘Going to the Cloud’ by offering students and teachers access to Google Apps for Education (GAFE). This excitement for those who knew what it was; but for those who did not – it caused confusion:

I already have email, why do i need Gmail?

Are my files safe in the cloud?

Google recently introduced Classroom this year for the K-12 market. This is in my opinion a more minimalistic version of a vLE tool, as it is both simple to setup as well as organize and collect assignments digitally from students in conjunction with Google Drive.


Brightspace on the other hand, is a more robust vLE, offering many tools to use, from accessing Ministry-provided content, homework solutions, as well as a their very own ePortfolio. Many teachers are online with Brightspace as it has been around for four to five years as part Ontario’s e-Learning Strategy, and every year more and more teachers are signing up.

Given these two differing products, until I meet with teachers and hear exactly what they want an online classroom to do, I try not to let them make a decision beforehand as to what tool they should use. So far, I’ve setup two classes with Google Classroom this year. After meeting with these teachers, I decided to introduce it to these classrooms as a pilot as they were both new to blended learning. Aside from some minor technical issues (laptops/network not working properly) – the students and the teachers love it.


I must say; I think Google Classroom may be what the niche market of teachers who may just want to assign and collect assignments digitally. For the organizational factor alone (it makes folders and files for the students in their own Drives as you go), this could be a game changer. There are still many teachers that have not yet tried the whole blended learning thing yet – for a number of reasons. I think that Classroom could be their answer.