Tagged: google

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Google Glass stresses me out

favicon I like technology, and I like Google, but Google Glass is stressing me out.

Take a look at this video by The Verge’s Joshua Topolsky. He asks, “Doesn’t it seem weird to you that…to get people having more human interactions…we have to augment ourselves with Glass? Have we done something wrong? Like, have we screwed up somewhere fundamental?”

The end of the video (“this can help every human being” / “baby steps”) is haunting.

What are your thoughts? Is this the part where the robots take us over? favicon

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Google Plus now open to high school students

favicon This is big news.

Beginning today, Google Plus is now available to middle schools and high schools using Google Apps for Education.

This means teachers can easily create a virtual learning environment and social network for their students — in other words, an academic Facebook. More important, access to Google Plus means access to Google Hangouts, possibly the best group video chatting service out there.

Here are some other reasons that I think this is a big deal:

1. Teachers can hold virtual office hours.
We all know that students don’t like to do homework. But what if teachers were sometimes available to help? Google Hangouts lets up to 15 people to video chat at the same time. I’m not suggesting that teachers should give up their evening time, but if we’re grading papers or planning lessons, we can also be free for students’ questions. Also, video chatting might be a better way to communicate than texting.

2. Students can work in study groups.
In Google Plus, you can create circles however you like. Students working on a group project can send updates, messages, photos, and videos just to their peers. Or they can open up a Hangout and talk to each other live.

3. Google Plus can become an interactive class blog.
Teachers can add assignments. Students can respond. Students can share their thoughts — to a peer only, to the teacher only, to part of the class, or to the entire class. It’s an easy way to share photos and videos. You can add events, too.

No, it won’t look as good as a WordPress blog, and it won’t be as organized, but it’s much easier for students to use. It’s a very informal space for student expression. (Although it’s not a direct competitor to Edmodo, which focuses on education, I worry that Google Plus on Google Apps for Education may take away some of its business.)

Google Plus will likely be an incredible tool for teachers. But there are some very serious concerns. Schools typically block Facebook and other social networking sites because they don’t want students sharing inappropriate content or socializing with or bullying their peers. By allowing Google Plus and making the service available to all students, schools are opening themselves to an array of problems.

It’ll be interesting how schools using Google Apps will react to the availability of Google Plus. Will they say there’s no way, or will this be an opportunity for teachers and students to use technology responsibly and to become more technologically literate?

Please let me know your thoughts! favicon

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Even Google has trouble closing the digital divide

favicon An excellent article in today’s New York Times highlights the intractability of the digital divide, even for tech giants like Google.

It’s a pretty sad story, actually. Last year, Google promised to supply Kansas City, including its schools and hospitals, with very cheap high-speed Internet. The project is called Google Fiber.

The company wanted to make sure that communities demonstrated their interest in the program. To assess interest, Google required a certain percentage of residents in a neighborhood to put down a $10 deposit in order for the community to get wired.

Although this policy sounded reasonable, Google has found that mobilizing poor and largely African American communities to sign up has not worked well.

A few of the problems:

1. The program requires a credit card,
2. The program requires an email address,
3. Forty-six percent of Africans currently do not use the Internet.

Kevin Lo, the general manager of the project, said that closing the digital divide was “absolutely a core part of our mission,” but added that “it’s unrealistic to expect that we can, in six weeks’ time, close the gap.”

Although Mr. Lo’s sentiment may be true, I believe that Google should have known about the digital divide in Kansas City and done more preparation work before heading into town. It’s great that the company wants to help out, but it looks like Google Fiber wasn’t well thought out.

And shouldn’t the Internet be a public resource, anyway? favicon

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5 ways teachers will use Google folder sharing

faviconGoogle just announced that you can share folders — instead of just individual documents — in Google Apps.

I’ve wanted this feature for a long time. There are many benefits. Here are five reasons that folder sharing will help teachers and students:

  • Electronic portfolios. Instead of sharing a number of documents one by one, students can turn in various assignments all as one batch. On assignments like portfolios, this will be perfect. Students can collect their best work, put it in a folder, create a cover letter, and use their folder in a portfolio presentation.
  • Organization. One of the hardest things to do in Google Docs is staying organized. When you have thousands of documents coming from hundreds of students, it gets overwhelming. With folder sharing, a student can add in a new document into his or her folder, and you’ll receive it, already organized, in your folder. This gets me thinking: I could create a folder for each student, organize all of them by class, and never have to worry again about tidying up my Docs list.
  • Teacher Collaboration. The leader of the Advisory 9 team approached me at the beginning of the year because she had heard that I had created some good curriculum last year for the class. I told her that my stuff was all on Google Docs and that she was welcome to use my account to find documents she liked. It took her way too long because she had to identify individual documents and share them one by one. Too bad folder sharing is new because it would have saved her a lot of time. Being able to share folders means being able to share lesson plans and ideas for entire classes. I have a belief that our teaching practice will improve because sharing ideas will be easier.
  • No More Sharing Individual Documents. This is similar to the one above, but it deserves its own bullet point. Before folder sharing, I would have two steps: (1) share the document with everyone on my team, (2) put the document into the correct folder. Now #1 is gone! The drag-and-drop functionality reminds me of Live Mesh, except the sync is now with different people and different computers. It actually feels a little like the rumored Google Drive to me.
  • Better Communication with Advisers and Parents. At our school, students get an adviser in ninth grade who follows them until they graduate. The adviser is the student’s advocate and liaison to the student’s family. This means it’s crucial for the adviser to know the student well. Folder sharing will make communication run much more smoothly. When a student creates a new folder, he or she can share it not just with the teacher but also with the adviser, who will collect the student’s work without any additional steps. Furthermore, parents can stay updated even if they don’t have a Google Docs account. The adviser can email the parent a link to the folder. Once again, Google’s folder sharing feels very much like Dropbox or some other simple in-the-cloud syncing and storage application. favicon
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How to add an MLA header to a Google Doc

Google DocsfaviconOne of the worst things about Google Docs is that the header is useless for students because pagination does not work.

Update, September 2011: At long last, Google Docs now has pagination! This means that it’s now possible to do a correct MLA header. But it’s available only on regular Google Docs, not Apps. This means teachers and students will have to wait a little longer.

Unlike Microsoft Word, you can’t tell the computer to display the current page number. This means that students can’t follow MLA format.

Good thing I just found a tip from Google Operating System. There’s a bit of html code you can add at the top of your document to make your header work perfectly.

You just have to click on “Edit HTML” under the “Edit” menu. (Update: This applies only to the old version of Google Docs. Please see comment below.)

The problem is, the code offered by Google Operating System is not in proper MLA format. So I changed it. Here is the new and improved version (that includes my last name).

<div style=”text-align: right;” class=”google_header”>  Isero <span class=”google_pagenumber”>1</span></div>

Now I’m wondering if it’s worth it to show this to my students and teach them how to insert this code (with their last name) into their Google Doc. Maybe it’s just too tedious. On the other hand, it might be nice to teach them a little html and the importance of getting things perfectly formatted when turning in a formal essay. favicon

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My Google Apps Journey: Creating users

Here’s Part 3 of My Google Apps Journey.

It’s just three weeks before the start of school last August, and I had just signed up with Google Apps Education Edition. Now I needed to create user accounts, give each student an email address, and make some email distribution lists.

Good thing Google lets you create multiple users. I was not about to type in each student one by one! Instead, I asked the school’s registrar for an Excel spreadsheet of our students. I was happy to hear that this wasn’t an arduous task; she got the file to me the same day.

Then, I followed the directions to create a CSV file to import.

Create user accounts

The only question was what to use as the standard username format. Should it be first initial, last name? First name, last name? I decided to go with a student’s full name because (1) it was simple and professional, (2) I didn’t want to have a lot of identical user accounts.

Another question to consider was what to do with initial passwords. I decided to assign the same generic password to all accounts. Luckily, Google has an option where users must create a new password the first time they log in, which made things much easier when getting students registered.

I was pleased with how simple this process was. About 10 minutes of work yielded user accounts and email addresses for every student at the school. Gone were the days of sporadic email usage. No longer would teachers have to ask for their students’ email addresses or help them one on one to get accounts. Now all students could easily communicate with their teachers and collaborate with their peers, not to mention place their professional emails on their resumes and job applications. This new system would even help us track our graduates better to see how they’re doing in college.

When I told my colleagues, they were happy, but unfortunately, many did not grasp the thousands of hours of work this change saved. Besides time, this change made a huge dent in our school’s digital divide because now all students had access no matter their computer skills or technology situation at home.

(Update, one year later: Teachers have definitely realized the power of moving to Google Apps. Even something small like inputting email addresses into www.mygradebook.com gets done in a snap.)

Although creating new users was easy, putting them into email distribution lists was not as simple. I wanted to create an easy way for the school to communicate with groups of students. For example, I wanted email accounts like students@, classof2012@, and so on. Maybe I haven’t figured an easy way to do this yet (can anyone help me?), but I found the process quite cumbersome. In fact, one year later, it’s not clear whether all the distribution lists are updated and accurate. It’ll probably take a couple hours of clean-up, which doesn’t sound bad, but I wish there were an easier way.

All in all, my Google Apps journey was going really well. The next step would be to pitch the change to staff and find out the easiest way to introduce students to the new system. Stay tuned!

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My Google Apps Journey: Signing Up

Back to my Google Apps story! In a previous post, I explained how I got the idea last year to bring Google Apps to my school. Now came the crucial part: signing up. After all, having an idea is one thing; making that idea a reality so that it’s a systemic part of your school is another.

Despite my excitement, I had a lot of questions: Would signing up for Google Apps Education Edition be easy? Would it really be free, or would there be a catch? And would there be support if I got stuck?

(You may ask, What about getting IT support for the shift? I have to say, That part was easy for me. My school is relatively small, and there was a definite need, so it took just one conversation with the Director of Technology to get the ball rolling. If you’re in a big school, there may be more hoops. Here are 10 Reasons to try it.)

It was June, and school was out, so I had a lot of time to make mistakes and do things the right way. Tip: Don’t try a major tech overhaul in the middle of the year. I found out quickly, though, that the process was easy. Google even has a six-week integration plan to help you get started.

First I had to buy a domain name. This seemed daunting but ended up fairly easy. There are a number of web hosting companies, and after a few minutes of research, I decided on Go Daddy. The hardest part was to find a domain that had not yet been taken but that would be short enough and simple enough for students to remember. After all, nobody wants an email address like markisero@thepublichighschoolinsanfrancisco. I persevered, found a good domain name, paid the $10, and had my first big realization: All my students are going to have free accounts for just $10 a year!

This can’t be true, I thought. Well, it was.  I found that out by doing the second step, signing up for Google Apps. This was ridiculously easy. I typed in just three pages of information, and I was done. Really? Yep.

As a non-techie kind of guy, the only slightly challenging part was the last. I had to “verify domain ownership,” which means I had to prove to Google that I indeed owned the domain on which they were going to add hundreds of free email accounts. This sounded tricky, but fortunately, the site gave me two options: (1) creating a CNAME record, or (2) uploading an HTML file. I chose the first one, which required me to go back to my domain on Go Daddy and change some settings, and within five minutes, I was finished. Yes, it was really that easy.

Even had I stumbled, I could have relied on Google’s support information and videos. It’s remarkable how such a powerful service was so easy to implement. What I thought was going to be hard ended up being easy.

And now, I could focus on the fun part: creating users, setting up all the services, and deploying Apps at my school. It was still June, so I had a lot of time to get ready for the upcoming year.

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My Google Apps Journey: The Beginning

I promised you stories, so here’s one. It all started about a year ago when a student tried to print an essay on a school computer using his flash drive. The problem was, the drive had the virus Disk Knight on it.

And then things went crazy.

Pretty soon Disk Knight had infected the majority of computers on campus. While we dealt with the problem, I started thinking that it might be time for a better way.

For too long, our school’s technology had too many moving parts. For example, we used Microsoft Office at school, but students used Works or WordPerfect at home. (This tech divide is typical in urban schools.) Some students ended up spending more time learning about file formats than doing their work. And it left everybody frustrated.

All of this mayhem led me to think about trying out Google Apps Education Edition, which includes free email accounts and collaborative online word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation applications.

The free email got my attention at first. Up until Google Apps, not all of our students had email accounts. If they did, they ran the gamut. How would you like to email a student at pimpdaddy11, babyangel89, or my favorite, xxx_califoneeyas_finest_xxx? The idea of a common, professional email account structure for all students sounded perfect.

But what ultimately got me to sign up for Google Apps was its simple, easy-to-use office applications. I’ll say more in an upcoming post, but it became clear very quickly that Google Apps would solve nearly all of the problems our students were experiencing. No more flash drives. No more viruses. No more anxiety about file formats. No more emailing documents to yourself. And, most important, no more lost work.

With that vision in mind, I began taking steps to make Google Apps a reality at our school.