Robben Island Prison

One of the true educational gems in the collection of all things Google is its Cultural Institute.

Using the power of its technology, Google takes us to places that we’d normally never see.  A recent addition to the collection is a sombre reminder of time gone by.

Join Vusumsi Mcongo, a former inmate at the Robben Island Prison in South Africa for a tour.

The presentation is part slideshow, part 360 panorama.

If you’ve ever navigated Google Slides and Google Streetview, you have the skills.

Click the arrows on the sides of the screen to move forward or backward.

It’s a humbling time on the tour.  I just can’t imagine life working in the quarry or living in the cells.

This tour, and many of the other resources from the Institute should be well bookmarked as classroom resources.

Finding My Phone

Boy, did I get in trouble.

My wife and I were on the road and staying in a hotel in Stratford.  As you may know, I’m a real early riser and reader.  So, I’m reading this article “How to use Google to find your lost Android phone“.

I’m here and my phone is over there on the dresser.  Could Google find it?  I wonder.

I head to Google and type “find my phone”.

This is a nice feature.  I don’t want anyone but me finding my phone!

I log in and Google starts looking and finds it.

How about that?  Within 12 metres!  That’s pretty impressive.

It makes sense.  In order for the phone to work, it needs to be connected to the phone network and the network needs to know where it is.  I was so impressed with how close it got.

Then, I made a mistake.

See that little icon that says “Ring” in the bottom left corner?  I should have paid attention to the warning that the service rings the phone at loudest volume for 5 seconds.  I thought that, since I turn the speaker off at night, it might just flash or something.

Yeah.  You can see how this story ends.

My Favourite Five

Like many people, I seem to live in a web browser these days.  So much information, so much to do.  I have nothing but admiration for the developers behind this genre of software.  They do an amazing job both in terms of functionality and in efforts to keep us safe online.

Oh, and productive too.

I would estimate that 90% of the time, I’m using the Firefox browser and the rest in Opera Next or Google Chrome.  They’re all such great pieces of software and yet they all are missing those certain somethings.  Fortunately, there are equally as terrific programmers creating addons/extensions to increase the functionality of the browser.  As I look at the collection that appear at the top of the screen, it can look like a holiday decoration!

Every time I install or reinstall a browser, there are certain go-to addons/extensions that I make sure are added.

Scribefire – This is my go-to blogging tool.  It has all of the blogging functionality that I’ve decided that I need.  Or, perhaps I’ve modified my needs to the functions that it provides.  Either way, for my current needs, it has it all.  I like that it easily schedules posts to go live at a particular time.  I also build for my “This Week in Ontario Edublogs” posts by storing content there and scheduling it for Friday.

Web of Trust – A good internet mantra is to “trust nobody” and the Web of Trust is one of my partners in making it happen.  With a simple red, yellow, or green icon next to links, coupled with some common sense, I try to avoid those dodgy websites.

AdBlock Plus – I started out using this like I think most people originally do.  It blocks the very annoying advertising that permeates the internet.  Some of the advertising can be more than just a bit annoying.  I’ve stuck with it because we have incredibly slow internet access here.  I’m constantly asked by my kids “how can you live like this?”  Removing the advertising is one way to speed things up.

Shareaholic – There was a time when I had different resources to share to Twitter, Facebook, Instapaper, Evernote, … It’s kind of interesting to sit back at times and think about where you share resources.  Shareaholic amalgamates them all into a single place.  Just right click on the resource to be saved/shared, choose your preferred destination, and you’re done.

LastPass – Their motto is “Simplify Your Life”.  Actually, it could be simpler.  Just use the same password for every service that you use.  That would also be one of the dumbest things to do.  Period.  LastPass not only does the heavy remembering for you – an account is remembered for any browser with this extension – but it will also generate complex passwords that get the nod of approval to those password security evaluation recommendations that you get when you create a password.

How’s that for a list?  I had to do some work to cut it back to just five and I feel badly that I’m looking at some other create addons at the top of the screen.

What are your favourites that make you and your browsing productivity experience so good?

What Connected Learning Looks Like

Or, as Daniel Beylerian says “Twitter just got real”.

I had the wonderful opportunity to witness some connected learning among educators last night.  I was a “fly-by” participant, having been tagged in the Twitter post that started it all, just kept half an eye on the discussion while doing other things, and going to bed before the learning was over.  In between all of this, there was a problem definition, problem focus redefined, reach out to learners, a couple of selfies, brainstorming, trial and error, and finally, success!

In the process, the actual product went from this analog original:

to this digital drawing in a Google document.

I was able to visit the iterations leading to success and captured the entire learning to a Storify document I called What Connected Learning Looks Like.

And, the very best part?  I got to add another Ontario Educator to my lists.

Welcome, @NoraBeylerian.

Pacman Comes to Windsor

Or a town near your browser…

You can always count on Google for a good gag for April Fool’s Day.

Just in time for this year’s big day, swing on over to Google Maps and look for the new button in the bottom left of the screen.

If you’re located in a place with a lot of streets, you’re ready to go.

Or, move the map to somewhere where there are a lot of streets or you just might feel lucky.

Ready … Set … Go!

And you’re off!  Use the arrow keys on your keyboard to navigate the streets and keep them clean of the ghosts!

Clouds in Google Docs

One of the reasons that my online document space is Google Drive is for the excellent tools.  Docs, Slides, Sheets, Forms, Drawings, …  There’s nothing that I do that isn’t well handled here.

But even further than great tools, they have the facility to be even better through the use of Add-ons.  If a particular functionality isn’t there, chances are there is an Add-on that provides it.  Just like you might add more functionality to your browser itself, these Add-ons extend the functionality of the tool you’re using.  Just choose the Add-on menu item and then Get Add-ons.

Sit back because you’re going to spend some time taking a look at what more you can do with your document.

The reason for this post was I had to create a document the other day and needed a Word Cloud.  

Now, we all know that there are excellent utilities to do this on the web already.  It’s just a matter of going to them, paste your text into the creator, let it create the cloud, then you save it and import it into your document.  I’ve done it a whack of times.  I’m sure you might have as well.

But, as I started to create, I wondered out loud.  Does one exist right in Google Drive?

Sure enough there is one.  It’s called Tag Cloud Generator.  It worked beautifully for me.

Just complete your document and invoke the generator and voila!  For the purpose of this post, I opened the interview that I had conducted with Donna Fry a way back and created a cloud.

The utility took the content from our interview and nicely summarized it for me.  So nicely, in fact, I’m sitting here thinking – why didn’t I do this all along with my interviews?  Checking out the cloud reveals the passion that she has for education nicely.  (As well as a love for her beloved Thunder Bay).

The whole process was so quick and it was all done within the document.  This is a learning keeper for me.

Trying To Understand My Learning Curve

I find it interesting at times, to step back, and just wonder “Why do I do this?”  Or, “Why don’t I do this?”  Or, “Am I weird?  Everyone else gets it to work”!

Right now, the thing I’m trying to understand is my use of Google’s new interface for Gmail.  It’s simply called Inbox.

Like many people, I think we’re looking for the magic interface that makes email manageable and maybe even enjoyable?  I have Gmail pull all my email from various places (and other services) together in one spot.

When Inbox was announced, it was with limited access.  I asked for a copy and got no response.  Then, it went to a wider distribution and I tried again and go access to it.

I immediately installed a copy on my Android phone (that seemed to be a no-brainer).  I used it and I really liked it.  Tap here, get the material, I liked the layout and the way that Inbox organized my incoming messages.  It was different from the schema that I used with traditional Gmail.  I decided it was a keeper so I downloaded a copy on my iPad.  I had the same response.  This could be a game changer for me.  I tried it in Firefox, my default web browser.  It didn’t work; it wanted to run it in Chrome.  How about Opera Next then?  Nope.  It was a Chrome only solution with the promise of others coming soon.  So, I used Chrome for a while but kept reverting to Firefox because of the extensions that I use regularly.  Even when using it in Chrome, it didn’t seem to have the hook that it did on my phone or tablet.

Then, yesterday, Google announced that Inbox was available on all browser platforms!  Sure enough, when I opened Inbox in Firefox, it was there.  The look was consistent with the mobile interface.


How’s that for a Sylvia promotion.

But, I started using it for my regular email.  I didn’t like it.  How could this be?  It’s my go-to default on phone and tablet?

I opened another browser and opened traditional Gmail.  It did make sense.  Is this just a case of product loyalty?

Then, it hit me.  I did the same action in both programs.  With Inbox, it takes a few more mouse actions to do the same thing.  Plus, as I’ll admit, I don’t always read all of the mail sent me.  With Gmail, I could just easily tag the stuff that I’m not reading and then mass delete them.  I guess it’s a moment of realization that I get too much email.  Many of it comes from subscribing to this and that.  But, it’s one of my learning platforms and I’ll do what I want.

Maybe it just boils down to function?  It’s a lot easily to tap on a device than it is to move a mouse to a spot on the screen and click the mouse button.  Then, I really thought about it.

My approach to email is different on a computer than it is on mobile.  On mobile, I pick and choose what I want to read at the moment.  When I sit down at a computer, I’m on a mission to address them all and reach the mythical inbox-zero.

It was a worthwhile activity and analysis.  Now, Inbox access via Firefox is now just a couple of days old.  I will give it a thorough shakedown.  I’m willing to admit that it’s my preconceived algorithm for attacking the mailbox.  Maybe I’ll be further off in the long run mastering this learning curve.  As with most things Google, it’s bound to be refined and enhanced. 

I’d hate to miss out but it’s slow going at present.