Living in the Cloud

Living in the cloud makes it easier to manage workflow and stay organised.

In my teaching role I mostly use Google Apps for Education (GAFE) for keeping organised, storing digital resources, communicating and sharing. Google Drive, Gmail and Google Calendar are the apps I use most. I also use Evernote and Diigo often. At school and on the road I use Evernote on my phone for all notes (never pen or paper) ranging from jotting someone’s name to keeping detailed meeting notes. (Here’s a note listing VicPLN 2013 participants and their blogs.) Later, I transfer notes that require further work or follow up to Google Drive or Google Calendar. (That’s led me to consider Google’s new note taking app Google Keep. It’s not as powerful as Evernote yet, but its inbuilt Google Drive integration makes it attractive.)

Thanks to VicPLN’s prompting I’ve recently started using Pocket. (I used to use it when it was called ‘Read It Later’, but stopped after I ran out of room for apps on my smartphone.  I recently bought a new phone with more room for apps, so Pocket is once again proving very useful.) Instead of sticking things I want to read, but not necessarily keep, in Diigo, I now ‘pocket’ it for reading later and decide then whether or not to archive it in Diigo.

I use Chrome bookmarks for storing and accessing the sites I use most. I love the way Chrome makes it easy to add web-apps and sync my bookmarks, passwords and files with whatever web connected device I happen to be using. I spend 99% of my notebook computer time in Chrome. The only applications I regularly run locally are for editing videos.

For bandwidth reasons I store music and videos on portable hard disks, but I store everything else ‘in the cloud’ using Google Drive. I’ve become so used to being able to access all my stuff anywhere, anytime from any device that, apart from music and videos, I no longer save anything locally. I’m working hard to encourage my teaching colleagues and students to do the same.

I think it’s essential that students develop effective workflow and organisational techniques. Digital tools make this easier today than ever been before. I’m encouraging my students and teaching colleagues to store everything in Google Drive, Gmail and Google Calendar so that all their important communication, resources, digital work, tasks, deadlines, and events are accessible anytime from home and school. (We use DropBox as a backup for some files.) A growing number of students are beginning to access their work out of school hours to show their parents or to work on a project, sometimes collaboratively with classmates who are also ‘working’ from home. Some students become very well organised with carefully labelled folders in Google Drive, labels for filtering and categorising email messages, and important events marked in Google Calendar with reminders. When classroom teachers begin doing the same, the habit catches on and becomes part of the daily routine.

Having our communication, resources and digital creations stored in one place with everything easily searchable is incredibly powerful. Even with someone else’s smartphone, you have all your stuff available. And that’s just the beginning of the power you hold in your hand!

Tablet or Notebook? Which do you choose?

I love reading on my tablets. I’ve a Kindle, an iPad, a Nexus 7 and a few smartphones. (Yes, I’m a gadget tragic.) When I manage to pry it out of my wife’s hands, I prefer our Nexus 7, but in a classroom I’d go with an iPad because of the wider range of educational apps. That’s if I had to choose a tablet, but I’d prefer to not to have to choose one. A tablet would be a handy second device if my school could afford it.

I’ve been wavering on this lately because I see children doing wonderful things with iPads in classrooms. I’ve come to realise that middle-aged teachers like me love their iPads. In some cases it’s the first time they’ve felt comfortable with technology. That’s a big thing, and it means that children are getting to use technology more often because their teachers are no longer afraid of it. For infants especially, the intuitiveness of touch screens makes for short learning curves. (Interestingly touch screens are rapidly appearing on Windows 8 notebooks, and they recently arrived on Google’s amazing new Chromebook Pixel.)

Despite the great things being done with iPads in schools, I find myself on the same page as Gary Stager in his piece ‘In Praise of Laptops’. (Thanks to @ricahrdolsen for sharing it on Twitter.) I feel restricted by Apple’s closed philosophy. I don’t like having to go to Safari and Apple Maps by default on my iPhone and iPad instead of my preferred Chrome and Google Maps. It’s restrictions like these that send me to my Nexus phone and tablet first. Relative to iOS, I prefer Android’s more flexible operating system and superior Google integration, but I’d still much prefer a notebook in a classroom.

Steve Jobs famously compared computers to trucks and tablets to cars. Like many people, I’m lucky enough to have both. I like to relax with my car, but when I’ve got work to do, I use my truck. I think students need trucks. What about you?

Hello VicPLN 2013

It’s great to be back on Gobal2 and part of VicPLN 2013. I’ve learned a great deal following past participants in this PD program on Twitter, and I’m looking forward to meeting new people and learning more.

I started my first blog (this one) in 2009 when I moved to the country and returned to part-time teaching two years after the sale of my computer software publishing business. This coincided with my eldest daughter’s first year of school. Spending half a day each week volunteering at her school rekindled my passion for teaching – my first career. I began accepting part-time teaching positions including a six month post in a year 5/6 class with 1:1 netbooks at Winters Flat Primary School in Castlemaine.

I was a rusty teacher in 2009, and I learned a great deal during that first six months at Winters Flat. One of the most important things I learned, thanks to Rob Sbaglia, was the motivational power of blogging. Writing for a real audience of parents and peers, not just the teacher, is incredibly empowering for students. I’m still learning new things about blogging, and I’m in awe of teachers like Kathleen Morris and Kelly Jordan who’ve demonstrated just how engaging and productive it can become.  My most valuable PD experiences in recent years have been participating in the Google Teacher Academy and the Powerful Learning Practice Network. These expanded my Professional Learning Network exponentially. Some of my Google Certified Teacher colleagues and fellow PLP Peeps were former participants in VicPLN. They are all great people! That’s another reason why I’m so happy to be part of VicPLN 2013.

If you browse my older posts on this blog you might notice the large number that are dated 1 Feb 2010. That’s not because I started with a rush, but because my old 2009 posts were restamped with a 1 Feb 2010 date when they moved from my expiring DEECD Global Student blog to this newer DEECD Global2 platform. After twelve months away from Global2, mostly on Google+, I’m returning to record my learning journey with VicPLN 2013. I can’t wait to connect, to learn, to share and to add more great people to my PLN.

VicPLN 2013 Professional Development Program

I’m using this blog in 2013 to record my participation in the VicPLN professional development program run by the State Library Association of Victoria. I’ve learned a lot already from simply following the #vicpln hashtag on Twitter (which I’ve often used in my own tweets), so it’s great to now be formally connected with the program.

New Literacies Video Presentation

Here is the New Literacies Group video presentation from the culminating session of the PLP ConnectU program for DEECD teachers in 2011. It features students from Winters Flat PS, Castlemaine PS, Berwick PS, Kalinda PS and Yuille Park Community College.

The students talk about:
– using blogs
– using Google Docs
– using the Ultranet
– improving their traditional literacy skills
– learning new digital literacies

More About Google Plus

Here’s a presentation that provides an excellent overview of Google Plus.  From my post of one month ago you can see that I’m a fan of Google’s new social network.

For students of marketing, this is also a great illustration of how to make an effective presentation. The clever use of infographics and clean slide design make it a pleasure to watch. SlideRocket Blog praises the presentation for the way “the viewer can digest the high-level message about Google Plus in just a few minutes, and then view it again later to glean the details. Presentations like this are a great way to demonstrate your knowledge, creativity and get the word out…”

New Literacies Group – PLP ConnectU

This year I’ve been fortunate to lead the New Literacies Group, one of six PBL teams involved in the DEECD Professional Learning Practice program of 2011, a project involving 70 teachers across Victoria. Digital media literacy is something I’m passionate about as it continues to rise in importance in every discipline and profession (1). Our team began by looking at new literacies of the more literary kind including online research, wikis, texting, blogging and micro-blogging. To keep things manageable we narrowed our focus to blogging – one of the key new literacies that has changed the way millions of people share and communicate with eachother.

Posting on Facebook, on a micro-blogging platform like Twitter or on a personal blog like this is now so commonplace that it’s easy to forget how new blogging is and how rapidly it is growing. Blogging didn’t become mainstream until this century. Facebook, with 800 million users (2), is less than eight years old, Twitter, with more than 200 million users (3) is less than six years old, and the big new social networking entrant Google+ has reached 50 million users in only three months (4).

These figures show that, if our students aren’t already blogging, then they will be soon. So it’s important that we help them and ourselves better understand blogging, its pitfalls and its benefits.

Our first task was to identify the key question to drive our PBL project. After much discussion we settled on, “In what ways does writing and communicating through blogging improve student learning and literacies?”

To our students, some as young as six, we simplified this to questions like, “How has blogging improved your reading and writing?” and “What have you learned through blogging?”

We also used this rubric to introduce both teachers and students to blogging to help them identify what they already know and what they need to learn. Most of our students are new to blogging, and so are some of our teachers, so we’re looking forward to recording our learning along the way.

I’m involved in a number of student, class blogs and school blogs, and I’ll use what I learn in this project to help them all. Since I’ll be spending more time with MAC H, a year 3/4 class at Winters Flat Primary School in term 4, and since these students are mostly new to blogging, I’ll be focusing on their blog and related student blogs to try and gauge the effect of blogging on student learning.  Please check out the MAC H blog here – comments are welcome.

(1) NMC Horizon Report K-12 2011

(2) LA. Times. September 22, 2011

(3) BBC, March 28, 2011

(4) Paul Allen, Google+, September 27, 2011

Hello world!

Hello world and hello especially to students, teachers and parents of Winters Flat, Guildford, Campbells Creek, Castlemaine, Castlemaine North and Malmsbury Primary Schools.   I built my first website in 1993 and have posted on more blogs than I can remember, but this is my first post on my own blog, so there’s lots to learn.  Now … which button do I press!?