I am Jealous of My Sister’s Technology Footprint

Over the last year, I have become increasingly interested in low-cost technologies. I have explored the potential of $50 smartphones and am currently researching sub-$200 computers. The capabilities of these devices amaze me. You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on phones or laptops anymore. In fact, you can get similar functionality from thousand dollar technologies for fractions of the cost. This is how my sister’s technology footprint has inspired me

Currently my youngest sister is using a smartphone and laptop that cost her less than $300…combined! Specifically, she has a Blu Vivo XL that she got for $99 on its release weekend sale and her laptop is an Asus C300 Chromebook that she got for $199 from Amazon. So, $298 covers all of her technology needs as a college student. This blows my mind! When I think about all of the students who spend $2000+ on Macs or windows PCs and $700+ on iPhones or Android phones. (Not to mention if said student owns a $300+ iPad or Android tablet.) Combined, this technology bill easily approaches $3000, ten times what my sister is currently using. Thinking about this reminded me about what Jessie J & B.o.B would say about the money:

Now, I understand my sister is a special case. Some students require expensive laptops to run specialty software such as AutoCAD, Photoshop, or Final Cut Pro X for their coursework. And studying programmers need to setup virtual machines or use their iPhones to test apps they are creating. But, how much longer will costly computers be required to complete these tasks?

When thinking about this question, I am reminded how we are moving toward a cloud computing world. Company’s like Amazon, Google, & Microsoft are aware of this and investing in cloud-enabled futures where users do not necessarily need the most powerful equipment to be productive. In this world, individuals only require devices that can communicate with (and are assisted by) other computers across the web. Chromebooks are increasingly common examples of these technologies at work; and they are opening new possibilities for what users can accomplish on a budget—more people doing more!

This is why I am jealous of my sister. Not only is she operating on under $300 worth of equipment, but her technology footprint is more aligned with what I believe to be the next era of computing. Her familiarity with future productivity tools and workflows keeps inspiring me to reconsider what technologies I use in my own life. So, thank you Bee for keeping technology in perspective for me!

The featured image is provided CC0 by Vadim Sherbakov via Unsplash.

Chromebook: Manual for Mac User – 2016

I’ve been exploring the current state of Chromebooks this past week and I wanted to document all of the analogous softwares and workflows I use to be productive on a Chromebook if you are coming from a Mac. From word processing to photo editing, here is my list of recommended software alternatives if you are switching from a Mac to a Chromebook:

Mail

Chromebook: CloudMagic

Mac: Mail

CloudMagic offers similar functionality in terms of adding multiple accounts and sorting emails to their respective inboxes and folders as the Mac Mail client. On my Chromebook I added Gmail, Yahoo Mail, iCloud, and Office 365 emails to the CloudMagic app in a couple minutes. So far, I’ve been really pleased with the performance of CloudMagic, not to mention it is a nice looking app to use for reading and writing email.

Calendar

Chromebook: Sunrise Calendar

Mac: Calendar

I needed a way to access my iCloud calendars, Google calendars, and work Exchange calendars from one app on my Chromebook and Sunrise Calendar allows me to easily do this. However, first you need to sync your calendars from another device, and if you need to use iCloud calendars, you have to install the Sunrise Calendar app to an iPhone, iPad or an Android device first (this will not work from the Mac version of Sunrise Calendar). Once, you overcome this syncing hurdle, Sunrise Calendar works well and looks great for organizing meetings and events. Unfortunately, this solution may not be viable in the future as the team behind Sunrise Calendar is now working for Microsoft and does not plan to provide updates to their Sunrise Calendar product in the foreseeable future. For now, it is my recommendation, but be aware it may not be a permanent calendar client solution for Chomebooks.

Office Suite

Chromebook: Google Docs Suite –> Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides

Mac: iWork –> Pages, Numbers, & Keynote

My go to office software on my Mac is Pages, Numbers, & Keynote. Although you can use iCloud.com to access these apps, the Google Docs suite loads much faster for me on Chromebook. If you prefer using Microsoft Office, you are also able to use office.com on a Chromebook if you have an Office 365 subsription. However, the Google Docs suite still loads faster for me and benefits from the Google Drive integration that is part of the Chrome operating system. All that to say, you can always export documents, spreadsheets or presentation slides to their most universal formats (.doc, .ppt, .xls) with any of these aforementioned office suites on a Chromebook.

Music

Chromebook: Google Play Music

Mac: iTunes

If you are not already using Spotify (or another music service), I recommend Google Play Music on Chromebook. Before you move from your Mac, use the Google Play Music Manager app to upload all of your iTunes music into Google Play Music. Once complete, you are able to stream all of your music to your Chromebook from music.google.com. As an added benefit, from this point, you will be able to stream your Google Play Music to your Android phone, iPhone, or any computer that can access music.google.com.

Photo Storage

Chromebook: Google Photos

Mac: Photos

Since Chromebooks have very limited amounts of internal storage my suggestion for storing photos is Google Photos. Similar to the process of uploading your music to Google Play Music, there is a way to upload all of your pictures from your Mac before you move to a Chromebook. Use the Google Photos Uploader software to store all of your pictures in Google Photos for free. Once your images are uploaded, you will be able to access them from your Chromebook (or any other computer) using photos.google.com. In fact, this is a great solution to combine your library of photos from all of your computers and mobile devices into one place!

Photo Editor (Simple)

Chromebook: Canva

Mac: Preview

For basic editing beyond what Mac Photos and Google Photos offer, Canva is my recommendation. Canva can be used to alter the pixel dimensions of a photo and is robust enough to be used as an alternative to Photoshop for basic photo editing. Not to mention, Canva is way easier to use than a traditional photo editor. Just be aware Canva requires signing up for an account before you start creating memes and other graphics from your Chromebook!

Slack

Chromebook: Slacky

Mac: Slack

I use Slack at work to instant message my coworkers from my phone or laptop. It is a great alternative or supplement to email when having online conversations. I prefer the Slacky app to the regular Slack app in the Chrome Web store because Slacky displays Slack within its own window. This makes it is easier to separate Slack messages from other work I am doing on my Chromebook since I can minimize Slacky.

Twitter

Chromebook: Tweetdeck

Mac: Twitter & Tweetdeck

Simply add the Tweetdeck app from the Web App store to your Chromebook and you will have similar access to Twitter as you would on your Mac. The only difference is that Tweetdeck on Chromebook is used through the web browser versus its own window like the app that is available on Mac.

Trello

Chromebook: Trello External Window

Mac: Trello Website

Trello has been my main app for tracking of projects and to-do lists for the last year. I recommend using the Trello External Window app on Chromebook for the same reasons I prefer Slacky to the regular Slack app, it has an external window interface. This makes it easier to separate Trello content from other web browser work.

Feedly

Chromebook: Feedly

Mac: Feedly Website

To access RSS news feeds, I have used Feedly for a long time. It keeps me up-to-date with education blogs and technology news outlets I follow. Like with Tweetdeck, add this app to your Chromebook and you are ready to access news the same way you would have on your Mac.

Ending

This list of 10 Chromebook recommendations covers many of my major productivity needs and workflows that I am accustomed to on my Mac. I hope it has been helpful to you! Also, I am happy to continue this list if you are interested in more suggestions, just let me know.

The featured image is provided CC0 by Tran Mau Tri Tam via Unsplash.

A Learning Management System with a Future?

I recently attended a demonstration of Canvas and wanted to give some of my thoughts on this educational tool. Already, Canvas possesses the baseline features of a Learning Management System (LMS) such as content distribution, grade management, discussion forums, etc., but beyond these fundamental ingredients, there are several parts of Canvas that I found interesting when thinking about education.

Phenomenal Features

Some of my favorite features of Canvas included (1) the option to have students engage in peer grading, (2) giving students the ability to create their own courses within the Canvas system, and (3) being able to produce content and interact with Canvas on mobile devices.

(1) Integrated Peer Grading

In Canvas, peer grading is a streamlined process where instructors can easily assign their students to give feedback to their peers. This feedback process can take place within the bounds of a rubric that is managed by Canvas to seamlessly give and receive feedback on assignments. Instructors can create custom rubrics for assignments or use any that have been standardized by their institution.

In addition to increasing the frequency of feedback on assignments, creating a culture of peer critique and academic interaction is an important step for training the employees and scholars of tomorrow.

(2) Students Create Courses

One of the best ways students gain mastery and transference over content is by educating each other since the challenge of teaching is also the perfect opportunity for learning. Fortunately, Canvas is flexible enough that students can be granted the capability of producing their own courses within the system. Not only would this be valuable practice for pre-service teachers, but this could capitalize on the perspectives of content and learning from our students’ points of view.

For example, imagine a course that is prepared by students as a prerequisite to General Chemistry. In this potential course, students could outline the study materials and explanations that they believed were valuable to their own learning in this course. The act of producing such a course would be an excellent learning exercise for students, and generating more resources for future pupils can aid in their understanding of course materials.

(3) Producing Mobile

I want to build courses using only my phone! Why? Because with that level of flexibility, I can use any device at any location to be productive. As mobile devices are the most prevalent personal computing devices in the world, we shouldn’t be constrained to a computer when interacting with students online. Fortunately, the option to produce and consume content in Canvas from a mobile device is possible via iOS or Android apps. And there is a complete guide on what can be done on mobile devices in Canvas. Imagine being productive using a computing device that was under $50 and breaking down socioeconomic barriers related to technology access and education!

Altogether, these are some of the features that I see being most important for the future of this LMS. Even if these features are underutilized at first, granting these capabilities to users will expand their opportunities for use to engage students.

Everything Else

It was wonderful to see all the external tools that now integrate into Canvas. Due to their excellent API, other companies and communities can integrate their tools into Canvas, adding even more features to this LMS. (Even Minecraft has a Canvas integration!) A byproduct of this openness is the integration of search engines for creative commons materials. For example, pulling open content from Flickr can be done in seconds without leaving the content editing interface of Canvas.

Additionally, it is easy to produce an open course and engage the public in scholarship using this LMS. Being able to showcase the instructional work of teachers and educate individuals beyond the classroom makes me excited for the possibility of this tool at a University.

Finally, beyond all the functionality I saw demonstrated, Canvas sports a clean, modern design. The user interface is nice and I prefer its navigational setup to other LMSs I have used. In fact, it is possible to hide unused components of Canvas from view to minimize confusion when students access a course.

Try Canvas Now!

If you want to try out Canvas for one of your courses, you are able to do so right now! Just sign up for one of their Free-for-Teacher accounts. You won’t have access to your institution’s Student Information System (SIS) within the Canvas system, but you can still use all of the basic features with your students.

I just started exploring Canvas myself and am excited to try some of those features I mentioned—especially interacting with courses using my phone! Up until this moment, I have never been excited for an LMS. But now, I believe this LMS may have a future in my collection of instructional tools.

How to Blog, Develop Curriculum, Microblog, & Discuss in 50 Minutes

Last Friday I had the pleasure to present at OU’s 5th annual Academic Technology Expo with John Stewart. Since our “presentation” was more of a hands-on workshop, titled Mobile Blogging, Scholarship, and Cultivating Student Success, we had participants blog, develop curriculum, microblog and discuss applications of mobile blogging in their classrooms. It was phenomenal, and here’s how we accomplished everything in 50 minutes:

Minutes 0-10

First, John and I started with a Paper Tweet microblogging exercise, asking participants to name and describe their favorite classroom activity in 140 characters or less. Individuals shared some of their examples before we engaged them in a followup discussion.

“Why blog?” and “Why blog using a mobile device?” were the initial questions we posed to the group. And with each inquiry, John and I wanted to establish reasons why instructors might employ blogging and mobile blogging in their classrooms.

Minutes 10-30

Next, John and I asked participants to take their favorite classroom activity—the one from their Paper Tweet—and modify this activity to include a blogging component. We requested participants record these responses as a blog post to let them experience the nuances of writing a post. In other words, we were asking participants to develop curriculum while simultaneously documenting this content as blog posts.

This exercise was the primary logistical challenge of our workshop. For individuals that had their own blog, we encouraged them to use their own digital space to publish responses. For other, John and I brought several tablets to be used to accomplish this task. Following several minutes of collaborative and individual curriculum development, we heard many excellent classroom activities that now included new blogging components.

For example, some responses included having students blog about articles they had to research for assignments. Other examples included having students respond to photographs as blog posts or “live tweeting” during classroom presentations. All that too say, there were several, viable new pieces of curriculum that were outlined and shared in this short period of time.

Minutes 30-45

At this point, John and I led more discussion about mobile blogging. We wanted to know what participants had to say about “how the nature of an assignment is changed when blogging is introduced?” and “how could student success be determined as a blog?” These are a few of the questions that we used to develop the concept of how mobile blogging could be applied in a classroom.

Minutes 45-50

Lastly, John and I spent a few minutes presenting our thoughts on Mobile Blogging. Some of which included:

Reflection

Overall, this experience was excellent. Many participants where introduced to mobile blogging and experiencing it for the first time, while others had attended related training.  During our workshop, John and I wanted to make sure everyone got to discuss mobile blogging applications in the classroom and generate a piece of curriculum that could be used in their courses. We designed this workshop to be hands-on and give participants an opportunity to produce something valuable—and to accomplish all this in 50 minutes was an exciting challenge!

What’s In Store for Spring 2016?

I am really looking forward to the trainings and presentations for the upcoming semester. In particular, I am excited about hosting GOBLIN for the first time (more details below). In addition to GOBLIN, here’s a list of trainings I am offering this semester through CTE (descriptions, schedules, and sign-up links provided where available):

Mobile Blogging & Scholarship

MBS Blog Image

Mobile Blogging & Scholarship (MBS) is about teaching the nature of blogging from a mobile device. Starting with tablet fundamentals and progressing through blogging elements including text, video, and graphics, participants will experience and demonstrate their understanding of each of these topics. In particular, attention will be given to instructional and professional use-cases of mobile blogging to provide participants with content that will be immediately applicable.

A couple days ago, I finished facilitating Mobile Blogging & Scholarship for the 3rd time! I had an awesome group of faculty who where fun to work with and gave me some great feedback on this professional development.

Schedule: January 11 & 12

Academic Technology Expo

Blog Image Banner 3

Academic Technology Expo (ATE) is tomorrow! This year, John Stewart and myself will be presenting over Mobile Blogging, Scholarship, & Cultivating Student Success. Our presentation will be hands-on and center around discussion and interaction. So, come prepared to participate! 🙂

Schedule: January 15 @ 10:00AM

OU Create Training

OU Create Blog Image

OU Create Training, like previous semesters, will take place multiple times during the semester. Each session will be dedicated to getting participants setup within create.ou.edu and on their way to producing their own website. Specifically, users will be introduced to domains, cPanel, and installing and using WordPress on their OU Create space. Each of these trainings is identical and I suggest attending only one.

Schedule:
January 20 @ 9:00AM
January 27 @ 1:00PM
February 5 @ 9:00AM
March 23 @ 1:00PM (Online)

GOBLIN

GOBLIN

Games Offer Bold Learning Insights Nowadays (GOBLIN) is an interactive adventure game that is, first and foremost, a vehicle to experientially teach pedagogical concepts. GOBLIN aims to synergistically combine professional development, storytelling, and a role-playing game into a memorable, engaging learning experience for instructors. Over the course of GOBLIN, topics ranging from scaffolding and overcoming failure to team-based learning, game-based learning, and gamification will be discussed and experienced firsthand.

The remainder of GOBLIN is under wraps for a little while longer. John Stewart and I have been working on this training since last semester and plan to release more details soon!

Schedule: TBD (February - March)

Professional, Instructional, & Advanced Series

This semester, I will offer several series of trainings from various perspectives: professional uses, instructional uses, and advanced uses. Instructors may participate in one session from each topic or all three as desired. Each training will cover different information that is connected but not prerequisite. The following topics will be part of these three perspectives:

WordPress Training will be offered to supplement OU Create training. The Professional Use session will focus on e-portfolios and professional blogs. The Instructional Use session will cover engaging students with blogging. And the Advanced Use session will emphasize plugins and WordPress functionality.

Schedule:
January 20 @ 10:30AM (Professional Use)
January 27 @ 2:30PM (Instructional Use)
February 5 @ 10:30AM (Advanced Use)

Google Hangouts on Air Training, like the WordPress training, will be offered in three flavors. The Professional Use session will aim to provide participants with the knowledge to participate and host a Google Hangouts on Air. The Instructional Use session intends to teach participants how to utilize Google Hangouts on Air in the classroom, potentially as a solution to conduct online office hours, etc. Finally, the Advanced Use session will cover using some of the built in features of Google Hangouts on Air (Cameraman, Control Room, etc.) to demonstrate the full potential of this broadcasting tool.

Schedule: TBD (February - March)

Twitter Training will also benefit from three perspectives. The Professional Use session will focus on Twitter as a networking and communication tool. The Instructional Use session will emphasize how to incorporate Twitter into the classroom. And the Advanced Use session will introduce Twitter visualization like TAGSExplorer.

Schedule:
March 21 @ 1:00PM (Professional Use)
March 30 @ 9:00AM (Instructional Use)
April 8 @ 9:00AM (Advanced Use)

Summer Planning

After all of these trainings take place, I will shift my focus to summer (and likely fall) professional development planning. At the moment, I am considering a Faculty Learning Community that focuses on the skill required to participate in a professional development MOOC (such as CLMOOC), but nothing is finalized yet.

Regardless, 2016 is poised to be a very promising year and I am excited for everything to come!