Saving the classroom computing experience


This post is actually an amalgam of a number of conversations that I’ve had with friends over the past weeks.  So, I won’t name names but I’m sure that those who were in the conversation will recognize their part.

The conversations were a result of talking about the successful use of technology in the hands of students and the barriers toward that success.  Their observations may or may not echo your experiences.  It would be great if you could add your thoughts/comments to the bottom of the post.  Much of the conversation dealt with frustrations but there might be light at the end of the tunnel.

Lack of Professional Learning

It’s interesting to see the arguments and they’re so similar to the Digital Immigrants/Native discussion.  Just because more people are comfortable with personal devices doesn’t necessarily translate into success in the classroom.  Schools and school districts shouldn’t assume that they’re enjoying success.  In fact, it’s only with the constant stirring of the pot and the sharing of resources, that success will happen.

Technicians

Most school districts hire computer technicians whose job it is to visit schools and fix things and install software.  Observations were made that we have more technology than ever in schools and yet have the same number or even fewer technicians that actually touch the equipment.  That results in an increasingly larger inventory of technology that needs attention before it can be used.

Priorities

So, even when the technician does get to the school (one person reported that it was once ever two weeks, barring emergencies) there is a priority to the jobs that are addressed.  While there was a debate on the order of priorities, we kind of agreed that this was pretty much it.

  • network problems
  • secretary’s computer/printer
  • principal’s computer
  • vice-principal’s computer
  • teachers’ computers
  • computers/tablets for students with special needs
  • adaptive technology for students with special needs
  • the newest computers/tablets acquired for student use
  • older computers/tablets if there is time

More Priorities

  • printers for the students
  • other peripheral devices

It’s an interesting list of priorities and it’s difficult to argue with the order.  But, frustration does exist if that student in Grade 5 is writing the next great Canadian novel or that student in Grade 11 is one last run away from having their programming project complete and submitted.

Hanging On

  • schools are notorious for hanging on to things and computers are no exception.  Letting go can be hard but sometimes technology has just had its day and you’re further off without it.

These days, school districts rely increasingly on the cloud (a horrible name when you actually get to see a computing centre) for things like an office suite or activities that would normally be handled by software installed on the computer.  Remember how the province used to rely on OSAPAC to provide a number of new pieces of software annually?  This list shows that things are changing.

With the increasing acceptance of students bringing their own devices to schools, there has been indeed a real shift in computer use.  With the exception of specialized topics, the use of web-based resources makes a great deal of sense.  One of the people I chatted with indicated that their IT Department has a three year cycle for installing new software on computers.  You could easily draw the conclusion that it’s obsolete even before the students get a shot at it!

The older computer is an interesting scenario.  Newer software often runs much slower, if at all.  But, for the most part, things that are available on the web would work nicely if there was only a working browser on the computer.

It doesn’t take long to find stories like this:

Technology in Education: How Chromebooks and Google Classroom Change the Learning Process

There generally was great love shown for the use of Chromebooks rather than a continuing reliance on the traditional desktop.

Samsung provided this interesting infographic a few years ago – Why Chromebook? (infographic)  Their concept of four generations makes a great deal of sense. The message remains the same but has also extended with the new features in Chromebooks including even longer battery life, more contemporary extensions and Chrome applications, touch screen, and the ability to run Android applications.  Many are waiting with interest for the release of the newest Samsung Chromebooks.

This infographic from Educational Technology and Mobile Learning makes the case for the ease of use and a possible workflow.

Educational Technology and Mobile Learning, Important Chromebook Tips. Digital Image. January 7, 2017 Published http://www.educatorstechnology.com/2017/01/an-excellent-infographic-featuring.html, February 4, 2017 Accessed.

More importantly, you don’t need to image and install a multitude of applications.  With the reliance on cloud-based applications and storage, much of the traditional thinking behind computer use just goes away.  Instead of all the work and tweaking that maintaining an approved image of applications requires, accessing things in the browser really question the traditional way of thinking about classroom computing.

There are so many things that just form part of the experience that make it a good choice.  For the those who like the tablet format, the inclusion of Android applications is a natural – probably even better since they can now be used with a keyboard if necessary.  For those needing help, the adaptive features are handly, including using Chromevox.

For the foreseeable future, there still is a need for a traditional computer with traditional software installed for some purposes.  However, the general use can well be addressed via the web.  It equalizes the process for the bring your own students and teachers.

The Smartlock Feature would be intriguing to see in classroom use.

Your Chromebook will be unlocked when your Android phone is unlocked and nearby.

The general thought was that this are so many interesting features and benefits of a move in this direction.

Will all computer makers follow suit?  Will your district?

But, should you go this route because it’s the newest and shiniest kid on the block?  It’s even more crucial that you step back from the technology and determine just what it is that you intend to accomplish with any technology acquisition.  Instead of asking “how many”, the first questions should be “what would we do with it?” and “how will we leverage professional learning to get the most from any purchase?”

Your thoughts?

A Better Zoom


Like many people, I use the zoom in and out feature of the computer I’m using to zoom text in and out.   It can be very handy if you’re doing a presentation and want to show a particular part of a web page to the back of the room.  You just zoom in and move the screen so that what you want to show off is centred and away you go.  

Typically, the command is done with a CTRL/CMD and + or CTRL/CMD and – with a CTRL/CMD and 0 resetting things.  In addition to presentations, it can be handy to use when you hit a web site that uses a very small font.  Rather than squinting, just zoom in on it a bit.  

That’s how I thought that zooming was all about until I played around with the Zoom Extension.

This extension takes the guess work out of resizing your screen.

It installs like any other extension and, when you click the Z, a little slider bar (or a – and +) appears to let you adjust the size on the screen to precisely what you want.

If that was all that the extension did, it would still be worth installing.

However, there’s more.  Right click on the icon to get to the options.

There’s actually two ways that the extension will use to zoom.  It will either use the browser default or will tinker with the web page’s CSS for the effect.  That’s impressive but the singularly most impressive part is that the extension will “remember” the zoom level for a web page.  This, I find, to be extremely helpful for those news sites that don’t present their content in easily human readable size.  Set the new zoom size and forget it.  When you return to the website, things will be exactly to the liking that you left.  

Give the extension a shot and see what you think.  It may well be exactly what you’re looking for.  

Online photo editing with Tuxpi


There was a time when there was one or two great photo editing pieces of software.  Once you learned how to use the software, you could turn the world on its end and create amazing things.  But it required a great deal of skill, the installation of the software, and quite frankly, learning a lot of the software features that you really might never use.

Turn to today.  People want to get the job done, with quick and easy access to commonly used tools and then use it.

Add in the popularity of Chromebooks and the fact that everyone likes to do things in their browser and you may need a different solution.

Enter Tuxpi, an online photoediting tool.

It doesn’t have the huge collection of tools and effects that your traditional tool does.  But, it’s quick and easy to get started, applies the effects instantly and all while inside your browser.

You need to start with a good picture.

The simplified editor lets you try effects easily and see the results instantly.

Save it and the job is done.

What could be easier and more effective?

Give it a shot.  It just might be the solution you’re looking for.

Another coding alternative


I suspect that I, as well as half the online reading universe were taken in by the announcement that Coding with Chrome was available for the download.  I love this reaction …

And, of course, in addition to the browser, we have the huge adoption of the Chromebook and what it means for the classroom.

I was off to explore.  One of the articles that I had read talked about the “Coding with Chrome Extension”; I was running Opera at the time and so didn’t see it as an issue.  Well, it was … Coding with Chrome is not an extension; it’s a Chrome Application and so it needs access to the Chrome base.  No problem here – I just switched browsers and installed the application.

Upon running, I was pleased to see the easy to navigate interface.  This definitely has education and home users in mind.

With both a Beginner and Advanced Mode, there’s a little something there for any coding learner.  I also like the message there that coding isn’t just dragging and dropping blocks; there is more and users will see it every time they launch the application.  (unless they turn it off but why?)

I did the typical first run, kick at the tires, things.  I went into my old friend Blockly and checked out the provided “Hello World” program to get an idea as to just how this would work.  And it worked very nicely.

There’s a familiar command set.

I was up and running, dragging components into the workspace quickly.  A toggle flips you in and out of regular text editor.  I know that it’s the geeky me talking but it was fun programming.  Who wouldn’t love it?  You’re not limited to just coding on the screen.  My friend Sphero has a connection here as well as others noted on the developers’ website.

They’re clear that Coding with Chrome is in Beta.  That doesn’t seem to be as big an issue these days.  Everything is in beta it seems with all the updates that are pushed to use daily.  I wouldn’t stop that from installing this to see if it has a purpose for you.

From Beginner to Advanced, screen to devices, this seems to be taking aim at a big part of the coding and making environments.

If you’ve downloaded and played around with it, I’d really like to hear your thoughts.  Please respond below.

Sketching with Snapstouch


The news this week is full of stories about the successful adoption of the Chromebooks in education.

Chromebooks are about to take over and Apple and Microsoft should be worried

Of course, we saw stories like this with the introduction of the iPad.  It was successful at first but the pricing has forced school districts to look around and see if there are alternatives.  Alternatives with keyboards…

It makes for some interesting thinking.  Do you buy the higher priced devices that can do everything and last for a long time?  Or, do you buy the lesser priced device that can do many things but will have a shorter life.  I can clearly see both sides.  One of the fun and time consuming things of buying a new computer is setting it up just the way that you want it.  One of the appealing things about doing this more frequently is being able to upgrade to a device with more power and features sooner.

Is there not some combination of both that would be the best possible solution?  A friend of my reflected on the increasing ability (and price) of computers and how, at times, there’s far more than needed.  His comment – “It’s like giving phasers to cavemen”.

Based on the story above, there were some interesting conversations – it’s exciting to think that school districts are able to purchase more equipment.  And yet, as it was noted, for the power user, there will be things that can’t be done.  In this case, it was photo editing.  Long time Photoshop or Gimp users will know that you’ll lose that ability on a Chromebook.  Yet, the price is so appealing for other things.

The answer, as it can be to so many things these days, is to look online to see if there isn’t some web based application that can at least partially ease the burden.  If I was managing a class set or district set of Chromebooks, I’d be looking for web based solutions that support the functionality of the device.  One of the tools that I would most certainly bookmark would be Snapstouch.

I decided to put it to the test yesterday.  I think I could dig into my Photoshop skillset and do the above transformations.  Could Snapstouch do it for me?

As it would happen, there was a tug boat headed north on the Detroit River yesterday and I took a picture.

I put Snapstouch through its paces.  It works quite easily.  Just locate the picture that you want, upload it, wait a few minutes while the magic happens and then walk away with your image.

Sketch

Painting

Drawing

Outlining

Black and White

Not bad, if I do say so myself. 

Of course, you don’t have the whole suite of tools that you would with Photoshop or Gimp.  But, if the goal is to apply some effects quickly, this fits the bill.

If you’re a Chromebook user or support users using Chromebook, I’d bookmark and pass this utility along.

In the meantime, if you really are a power user, it’s still comforting to know that you can still buy that higher powered computer to get the full, familiar functionality that you’ve come to love and enjoy.

A scorecard?


There used to be a time when you didn’t need a scorecard to determine what would run on your computer.

If you had a Windows computer, then you ran Windows programs.

If you had a Macintosh computer, then you ran Macintosh programs.

If you had a Linux computer, then you ran Linux programs.

Nice, neat, wrap it with a bow and call it a plan.

Then, for me, it got a little murky.  I had inherited a Macintosh computer but I really didn’t like the Macintosh software.  Sure, it had Microsoft Office on it, but the Macintosh version of the software lagged badly in comparison to the Windows version.  I did some digging and found that running a Virtual Machine let me run Windows on the computer.  After a bit of playing around, I got it to work.  There’s a difference between working and working well though.  Or, perhaps at the time, the software wasn’t the greatest.  I was happy in the knowledge that I could do it.  I had a Windows computer along side the Macintosh so it just turned out to be an academic exercise.

Later, when I started to make Ubuntu my favoured operating system, there still was a need every now and again to run a Windows piece of software.  Sure, I could reboot the computer and run in native Windows mode.  However, I had done some digging and found that Wine was a wonderful utility that did the trick for me.  After a while, it became hard to know what was what so my “scorecard” was a folder called “Windows software” so that I could differentiate Windows software from Linux software.  

Enter the tablet world.  We were back to first principles here.  The iPad runs iOS software and smart people get it from one place – the Apple App Store.  Android tablets are similar and smart people get their software from one place – the Google Play site.  Both iOS and Android have incredible applications just awaiting installation.  And, it that doesn’t fill the need, there’s always the web where some websites become applications.

While I’ve always differentiated the use between my computers and my iPad, it was Zoe who talked me into going to a computer store a couple of years ago and buying a bluetooth keyboard/case for it.  Now, I can use it like a regular computer albeit with a smaller keyboard.  It requires a bit of balancing to get the true “laptop” experience but works wonderfully when perched on a table.

One piece of technology that I haven’t used seriously is the Chromebook.  We borrow some from the Waterloo board for onsite registration devices for the BIT Conference and I got to get my hands on Jamie Casap’s Pixel while helping him set up for his keynote a few years ago.  Nice devices (Jamie’s was really nice) but why would I want a separate device when I could just run the Chrome browser on my computer?  

Then, as she said “curiouser and curiouser”.  

The Chromebook became a device that didn’t require continuous internet ability.  You could run some of its applications in standalone with no networking.  Now, this gets really interesting.  Just like a tablet with limited storage, you couldn’t download every application available.  But, for the discriminating user, downloading a selected set of Chrome applications makes a great deal of sense.  The operative point here is “Chrome applications”.  If you do a search on the Google Play store, you’ll realize that’s only a subset of all that’s available.  There’s also all those Android applications…

Then, I read this article this morning.  “A million Android apps are apparently coming to Chrome OS“.  It comes with more than just speculation, but a screen capture.

I suppose that we should have seen this coming.  Both Android and Chrome OS have Linux roots and I’m sure that there have been very smart people at Google thinking and working through this for some time now.  Imagine all of your favourite applications running on a laptop with a real keyboard and not an add-on.   The approach looks incredibly sound to me and the beneficiaries will be those who like to combine the best of the web with the best of the local applications.  It’s pretty exciting when you picture the possibilities, particularly in education where these devices are proving to be very affordable and very functional in the hands of students.  And it’s not just for schools with their tight budgets, but for homes with their budgets.  It is not only attractive for initial purchase and the functionality afforded but also when it comes time to upgrade.  If all this comes to fruition, it will make shelling out the big bucks for a traditional computer a tough decision.

Is anyone keeping score?

Transferring with Tone


I’ve been reading a lot about the new Tone extension for Google Chrome so I had to check it out.

The premise is that the extension, when installed, will send a URL from one computer using Google Chrome to another via sound.  

Now, the concept of transferring via sound isn’t new for us long timers.  If you’ve ever connected to another source via modem you’ve done it.  Who hasn’t picked up the phone line only to hear the sounds of two modems communicating?  NO CARRIER  Or, a fax machine?  

This extension gets rid of the wires!  It uses your computer’s microphone to head what another computer is sending.  The extension descriptor gives you all kinds of caveats about situations where it wouldn’t work – noisy rooms, distance, etc.  That only makes sense.  

So, I had to try it out here at the labs, er, reclining chair.  Proof of concept confirmed!

Now, there are the sort of issues that you need to be aware.  The extension doesn’t ask for permission to use your microphone; it just does it.  So, you should have a bit of concern of what else the extension is listening to!  In terms of public etiquette, a certain volume is required in order for the transfer to be successful.  Hopefully, that won’t destroy the ambience of a conversation at a coffee shop with people sharing URLs!

The bottom line here is that the innovation world is all right.  Good people thinking about new ways to push technology.