Friday, October 19, 2012

Tips and Tricks for users groups

Welcome to the new age of training. We did it all wrong in the 90s in regards to technology training as explained in my last post.

Tips and Tricks for users groups
    • Everyone must hold the time sacred. Pretend you’re paying for the session and you can’t miss it. NOTHING should get in the way of this time. Be adults and plan accordingly.
    • Set up away from your regular desks. Reserve a conference room. Participants should be completely engaged. Avoid leaving your email open and if you must check it only during scheduled breaks. Everyone likes feeling important, but if someone else needs you RIGHT NOW and one of your children is not dying, you need to set different expectations and enable people less.
    • Pull your own learning cart: come with questions and be ready to help answer the questions of your colleagues.
    • Bring wine to the picnic: arrive with your best strategies and ideas for effective use, time management and effective problem solving. Be ready to share.
    • Use some of that money you were going to spend on a class for refreshments to keep people comfortable. Brain research says people need to be operating in the larger parts of the brain to truly be learning. This means you need to be hydrated, warm and your stomach needs to be full. Otherwise your brain is just thinking about how uncomfortable you are. Working in survival mode will not allow your brain to absorb information you need.
    • Work collaboratively through the modules in small groups according to level. Stop to practice, ask questions, take notes and cement information so you can retrieve it later.
    • Have the technology ready so you can try things. Make your less technology-savvy people drive at times and be patient with them.
    • Get up and move around frequently and take deep, cleansing breaths. Switch tasks, pulling relevant information from resources outside of the written curriculum. For example, if you study pivot tables in the module and they still don’t make sense, find a YouTube video for a little more information or clarity. If you have specific questions about, for example, pivot tables use Microsoft’s website or user forums to look up the information. Use good search terms to get your answers, if you don’t find it, try something new. Your tenacity will pay off. You’ll be able to find your answer more quickly next time and the hard work will help you remember the information for which you’ve looked. It’s easy to have someone tell you the answer but you’ll forget it more readily than if you need to work to get it.
    • Avoid side conversations about unrelated topics (work or otherwise) or make them short (your brain needs them). Appoint a task master if this is difficult for your group. Make sure this person is efficient and outspoken. They’ll need to watch the clock and firmly guide the group.

    Friday, September 14, 2012

    Learning to Learn: Welcome to the Future!

    This from a colleague: “Hi Corin, a few of us were ok’ed to take an excel class, we were going to do it from Fred Pryor, but Anna said she took the course and she had to help the instructor. I did a google search and found very bad reviews. Can you recommend something for us. We are interested in some help with 2010 and both basic and up.”
    AAAAARGH! Using Excel as my example, you’ll see my response below. 
    Learning to Learn quotation
    Picture credit to: miffdesigner on Flickr
    You’re not going to like this. All your canned Excel courses are going to be like Anna’s experience – it’s why she feels she needs another one instead of absorbing the information from the classes she’s taken in the past. No one can know everything about Excel, it’s too vast. You all use it enough so that you’ll come with specific questions and they are probably going to be somewhat deep and very specific based on your jobs. If the instructor doesn’t have that particular piece of knowledge, it will look like they need help. The reality is they actually just need the time, not in front of a group, to figure out how to solve the problem and get back to you. Your teachers will have good searching strategies as well as time and experience using Excel but they still won’t know it all…ever.
    Welcome to training today. Software changes too much and is too large to have it and all its uses effectively taught even over a college semester.
    The problem with the courses you're looking for has been that the content doesn’t really have staying power. When you need that one skill someone taught you in a class six months earlier, you still need to look it up – which is what you should be able to do now…without spending hundreds of dollars on a class. Here are some free ideas that should work better if you’re willing to do a bit of planning. Based on how research says content and skills get cemented in the brain (conversation, practice, and collaboration) the following experiences will help you remember what you learn.
    Form a users’ group around business office use of Excel. Use the training we get free because we pay Microsoft’s astronomical campus fees. You can break groups up into smaller pairs or triads depending on self-assessed levels (basic, novice, intermediate, advanced, etc). Hold these groups for a couple hours once a month.
    Hone your searching skills. You’ve got resources ALL OVER THE INTERNET. They are YouTube videos, user forums, recorded webinars, and websites full of resources. Microsoft has done a great job with videos at A class in effective searching is probably the best way to spend agency money. However, you can get training on this for FREE if you look for it on the internet. I take webinars on this constantly and there is a lot of useful documentation at your favorite search engine.
    Because you can stop, start, practice and discuss the content in each module it’s going to stick with you far longer than what you’ll get in a couple of face-to-face sessions with someone standing and delivering in the front of the room. The human brain is not meant to sit and get information for long periods of time with only a lunch break but the format is so engrained in our hearts and minds it’s all we know. Time to break the pattern because the paradigm isn’t working.
    Phew! It’s probably not what you wanted to hear, but your best instructors are not going to know Excel to its core and your best users of Excel won’t be great teachers. I’d be more than happy to facilitate these sessions or just get you started by directing the group and being your initial task master but I think you ladies are more than capable of effectively doing this on your own.

    Next month, look here for tips and tricks on running your own user group.

    Tuesday, May 15, 2012

    Part Two: Give me a Picture Sharing Site

    This post is a continuation of Part One.

    Fourth argument: Google will delete any account for students under the age of 14. Um, no. The terms of service at Picasa,Flickr and other picture sharing sites ask that children have a parent’s permission to create an account as per the Children Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA). Admittedly, there is a lot of confusion over the federal COPPA law. However, you’ll find clarity on the FCC’s website through part one of this blog post. Oregon’s contract with Google states that we’ll have permission forms on file for ALL students (even those over 13). This has pushed districts in our state to do local education around the use of online tools in education which is not only great for access, but also a good community builder. Discussions around shifts in educational resources with parents, board members, even local businesses and non-profits has only been good for education here. We still have a long way to go.

    Fifth argument: Kids will go home and access inappropriate pictures. We can’t control what kids do at home. And we can’t use COPPA’s cousin, CIPA as an excuse to block websites unless students are connecting at school. The Children’s Internet Protection Act applies ONLY to connections for which school districts receive eRate money. If students access Picasa through their school account at home its the parents’ responsibility to monitor Internet usage. This is a great educational piece for parents and all the more reason to open the conversation. The fact is, on an unfiltered Internet connection with no parental supervision, Picasa is one of the more tame sites to which children will have access. It is both the job of the educational system and the local police department to help parents with this. To block children from the usefulness of Picnik/Picasa would be a sad sacrifice both in discussion and students as contributors on the Web. Use of Picasa can also foster a conversation about how kids can avoid victimization. This verbiage and subsequent curricular planning should be addressed in writing and appropriate for each grade level.

    students at computer
    Students Learning and Sharing by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory on Flickr

    Let’s revisit that second argument, as absurd as it is. We should use caution when giving kids access to Picasa just as when we give them access to ANY tool online. Schools have content filtering in place and usually a strict policy about how and why students access the Internet. The rules help students and staff effectively access the great stuff on the web and help educators and human resource departments (and sometimes law enforcement) dole out consequences when there is a breach of policy. I am a teacher and it offends me when law enforcement officials and technology directors feel they can tell me how to educate children and deem which resources are appropriate for teaching the skills and knowledge required for today’s world. It is a technology department’s job to give us safe, secure connections to online tools while maintaining the integrity of the network. My job is classroom management. There is no grey area here. When I ask for access, you find the safest most secure way to give it to me without question. Period.
    The opportunity for teaching skills within and way beyond the regular curriculum far outweighs the dangers. In fact, I still take the stance that children will be much safer given access **including education** to and around these tools than if we simply block them. We are doing children a grave disservice if we don’t teach them to effectively navigate these online resources. Effective navigation includes avoiding inappropriate images. If these tools are blocked, we lose this teaching opportunity entirely. Let me remind you there are no accidents. The goal is to have students find exactly what they are looking for. When they do, I know it and there are always consequences for their behavior. Sometimes, said consequences are pleasant and sometimes they are very, very, very unpleasant. Have you every been in a lab full of children? There are no secrets. If a student accesses an inappropriate site, the teacher knows within a second.
    There are thousands of sites where people can share media and license it according to their purpose. Some of these sites are useful for teaching certain required concepts because of their capabilities or the way in which they are formatted. In Oregon, it makes the most sense to open (at least) Picasa since we have a statewide agreement to provide districts with Google Apps for Education. Sensibility comes when we turn on this service through our districts and teach students to make full use of it. There is no expectation of privacy as this is made clear through education and permission slips between school and home. When there is a question about usage on the part of a staff member or student, the district maintains the right to access the content within any account. I’m not saying this because districts need to be punitive. The district’s right to access the content within any account can foster conversations about digital citizenship, information literacy and other types of responsibilities stemming from broad Internet use. Education is the key.
    Schools around the world have Picasa OPEN. This isn’t innovation. Use of this tool isn’t new, it’s become a basic part of many curricula around the globe. Stop arguing and start acting. For crumb’s sake, let me do my job.
    With all of that said, here are a few ideas for using picture sharing sites in your school or classroom:
    • Use open-licensed images as building blocks for multimedia presentations and conversations about copyright.
    • Have students collaborate with others in different locations on albums about historical events, science concepts, or local civics. Students can build collaborative presentations using Google Docs.
    • Upload pictures of your classroom and tag parts of each photo with words for the objects in the photos. This is a great activity for emerging readers and writers and English language learners.
    • Use Picnik to overlay a limerick, haiku or other piece of writing over a student-generated photo or artwork; this would be a fun activity with literary devices that can be represented visually
    • Share albums for sporting or other school events. Allow others to upload photos to each event album. Use these pictures for newsletters and the yearbook.
    • Have students keep a collection of pictures related to a current event or other topic. They can create their own art related to the topic based on the photos they collect.
    • Teachers can get ideas for arts and crafts based on the photos they find in Picasa.
    • Use pictures to teach good composition and basic design principles.

    Thursday, April 12, 2012

    Part One: Give Me a Picture Sharing Site

    This post is based on REAL conversations between myself, local law enforcement and technology directors. These discussions took place over time and with a variety of people.

    When our local sheriff’s department took a stance against unblocking Picasa in educational settings I expressed to the technology coordinator in my geographically closest school district the importance of opening at least one such site. He didn’t get it. Arguments ensued.

    First argument: Students will fall victim to predators. Yes, pedophiles lurk in picture sharing sites. They are there whether we’re teaching students to use these sites or not. Let me reiterate:  they are there whether we are teaching students to use these sites or not. If I can save even one child from abuse through education about avoiding victimization unblocking picture sharing sites is worth it. My argument is education may be the only way to save children from becoming victims. Yes, we will still lose some battles but there will be far fewer victims when we are truly teaching students about the dangers and how to recognize when they are being groomed.

    Second argument: When students use “sex” as a search term they get inappropriate pictures. Duh. That is all. I might come back to this one.

    students at iPad
    Lewis Elementary School Students via lewiselementary on Flickr

    Third argument: There are many other ways to teach digital citizenship. With myriad ways to teach students about using content on the Internet responsibly, picture sharing sites embody the best way to teach some things. Including collaborative media sites allows us to comprehensively teach students important things about responsible use of photos, video and other artwork. There are a number of technology skills we are required to teach students. Proficiency is expected by the end of eighth grade so as to capitalize on these skills in high school. To name a few where Picasa is an obvious fit:

    • Create original works as a means of personal or group expression
    • interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts, or others employing a variety of digital environments and media
    • communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats
    • develop cultural understanding and global awareness by engaging with learners or other cultures
    • contribute project teams to produce original works or solve problems
    • advocate  and practice safe, legal, and responsible use of information and technology
    • select and use applications effectively and productively

    There are also a number of other Oregon state and Common Core standards that can be met through the use of Picasa. Picasa has been known to aid in teaching concepts to ELL students because of its visual nature. Students can publish drawings and other media, even their own written work through Picasa. Studies prove performance and student buy-in increase when they publish broadly versus within only the four walls of the classroom. However, through a Google Apps domain we possess the capability to keep sharing to a minimum until students are taught proper safety and digital citizenship.

    Sunday, March 11, 2012

    QR Codes: Creative Curricula

    Try scanning this QR code with the mobile device of your choice.
    I thought you might like to try something using QR codes. Here are some examples.

    When you scan a QR code with a barcode reader contained on a mobile device, you'll get a website, video, text message, map or other piece of digital information. MANY of our students have these devices right in their pockets.

    The greatest thing about them is that kids can create the products and connected QR codes to practice concepts and skills related to content in a student-centered manner. SO, if you're saying to yourself, "We don't allow students to have their phones out during the day," don't worry! They need a computer with Internet access to create a QR code and the video, Google doc/pres, website, poster, etc. When they want to read something, watch a video, study for a test, etc. *that's* when they'll need their mobile devices.

    Alice's ideas in the website above are spectacular examples. Here are some other things we've done with QR codes:

    1) Book, Event or Concept Talks - Instead of book reports or having students stand up and all give the same speech, have them record a short clip (bonus that it's less likely they'll plagiarize since it's pretty difficult while scripting a clip with a time limit) explaining the book, concept, skill, story, event, etc. Print and hang them in the library, in your classroom or in the hallway and set up a gallery walk where students can share.

    2) Scavenger hunts during a field trip - reinforce the content you want kids to know by asking them to find specific things during the trip. When they scan the code related to the object they'll get more of a context for what they're looking at; supplement devices by asking to borrow iPads, iPod Touches, etc.

    3) Have students create interactive study guides - mash up GDocs or Sites and QR codes and text to hit multiple learning styles. Kids can create their own resources or compile them (of course, they'll check whether the information is reliable and valid)

    Let me know if you want more information or help designing a project integrating QR codes and the subsequent materials into your content area.

    Thursday, February 9, 2012

    Creative Commons Attribution

    Creative Commons provides rights an intellectual property or creative works an author can grant to other users. Through Creative Commons, authors can grant rights for copying and reusing material. This non-profit was created with the same ideas behind open source software - our collective intelligence is better than each of us working for our own benefit. Both of these movements were started and continued by like-minded individuals who want to make the world a better place through collaboration. Contributing back to the same community from which you benefit is altruistic. At the Creative Commons website you can get a Creative Commons license for your own work and search for other products that people are willing to share.

    There are a number of ways you can license your work. The table below describes each category and displays the icon related to each.

    Public Domain

    The Public Domain in the United States contains works that are considered property of the masses. They include things the government creates and/or distributes, are so old or unprotected they no longer carry a copyright or trademark or were created specifically for widespread use. Orphaned works, those where no one knows the originator are also considered public domain. Recently, I dug up an old collection of images that serve as a wonderful, local (for most of you) example called Yukon Public Domain. This was a set of images created by a team of high school students as a senior project in the early 1990s. This collection was created at Benson High School in Portland, Oregon.

    What does this have to do with teaching and learning?

    If your students don't have enough time to create their own graphics and pictures for publications and slide decks, consider teaching them to search for images, buttons, icons, etc on the Creative Commons website (author-licensed work) or through the Library of Congress and the National Archives (Public domain).

    Wednesday, January 18, 2012

    COPPA Clarified

    I thought about doing this post in a series of myths. However, there is so much confusion around this United States federal law I thought being straight up about it might be a better strategy.

    The Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA) was enacted in 2000. It pertains purely to advertisers’ collection of information from children under the age of 13:

    “This part implements the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, (15 U.S.C. 6501, et seq.,) which prohibits unfair or deceptive acts or practices in connection with the collection, use, and/or disclosure of personal information from and about children on the Internet. The effective date of this part is April 21, 2000.” (

    This law does not say children cannot be advertised to. This law does not say sites collecting personal information from students in schools need to be blocked by content filters or educators. Quite simply, COPPA states that advertisers need to have parent permission to access children’s personal information. It also stipulates that school officials can act in place of the parent in giving this permission.

    COPPA was written in 1998, leagues of time from today given large shifts in technology. The FTC released proposed revisions to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection (COPPA) Rule on September 15, 2011. The full text of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, along with the accompanying press announcement, can be found here. Additional information about the proposal can be found on the Business Center Blog.

    I have found that the law is merely being updated. There are no gross changes in how it operates or the ideas behind why action was taken in the late 1990s.

    In Oregon, we've always used the stipulation in COPPA stating that as teachers we can equalize access to resources by acting in place of the parent. Here's a section from the FTC website:

    "COPPA allows teachers to act on behalf of a parent during school activities online, but does not require them to do so. That is, the law does not require teachers to make decisions about the collection of their students' personal information. Check to see whether your school district has a policy about disclosing student information." 

    I've always trusted that the law was behind me as an educator in this respect and have never once felt like I was personally at risk for acting in place of the parent. That may be naive, but if they want to sue me for something like this I think, "Bring it on!" If I'm proactive with policy, conversations, training and classroom management the chance of problems decreases significantly. I'm quite thankful for COPPA legislation. Since 2000, COPPA has given me a great starting point to talk to audiences about its purpose and the necessity of educating young people about media literacy. As people in the two IT camps (information and instructional) we have been standing behind this law and its cousin, CIPA and using them as an excuse for not giving kids access for far too long.