Thursday, 28 August 2014

Who Teaches Parents Tech?

They do, their children do, but now with the help of the guys and gals at Google, Google does too.

For decades society has been dominated by media such as books, comics, cinema, radio, and television — all are technologies, whether or not the users recognise it, all of which now have a digital equivalent, so that even if parents weren't familiar with the particular content their children engaged with, at least they could access and understand the medium, so that, if they wished to understand what their children were doing or share the activity with them, they could.

However, with the advent of digital media, things have changed. The demands of the computer interface are significant, rendering many parents to believe that they are 'dinosaurs' in an information age inhabited by their children.

Only in rare instances in history have children gained greater expertise than parents in skills highly valued by society. More usually, youthful expertise—in music, games, or imaginative play—is accorded little, serious value by adults, even if it is envied rather nostalgically. Thus, although young people’s newfound online skills are justifiably trumpeted by both generations, this doesn't help their parents much. For everyone of these mouse wielding, track pad savant, 'tech-savvy' students there is quite likely at least two not quite so tech-savvy parents - parents who often find themselves on the less competent end of the conversation - a conversation often sprinkled with a fair amount of eye ball rolling, groaning and huffing and puffing. Thankfully, the people at Google thought there had to be a better way...

The result of their brainstorm is, a site that allows you to select any number of simple tech support videos to help ameliorate this situation, you might even want to send them to your own mum, dad or uncle Vinnie. The site is not perfect and hardly covers all the tech support questions you may be asked, but hopefully it’s a start.

Better than a click in the teeth, anyway.

With the considerable influx of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) this year, inevitably parents will find themselves increasingly faced with the challenge of providing adequate access to digital technologies at home, ie, a computer. To complicate matters further some of the resources that our students will be attempting to use can be quite demanding about the extent to which the home Windows PC or Mac is kept in efficient operating condition.


Following these (hopefully) simple pointers will mitigate a great many headaches for you as parents. For the purposes of this advice, I'm assuming you are using Chrome, you don't have to use Chrome, but it's the browser we recommend students to use in school, as it is the browser that plays nicely with everything Google.

  • Keep your browser/computer software up to date, the Internet is constantly evolving, and your computer needs to be constantly updated to keep up with it, so if you get a message prompting you to update your computer - do it! This not only keeps your machine working well, it also makes it less vulnerable to malicious attacks. An out of date computer is a computer that is vulnerable to exploitation, and one that will be frustrating to use as it struggles to 'keep up' with the pace of change of the Internet.
  • Direct your child to use the Google Chrome browser for their homework, this is the recommended browser at UWCSEA as well. Once your child as signed in and synced' all of the bookmarks, passwords, browsing history will magically follow them home as well as at school. The Chrome browser can be downloaded from here.
  • Keep your browser up to date! The above links above include a tutorial on this. This is very important, many of the Web 2.0 technologies your child will be directed to use are very demanding of the latest browser technologies. An out of date browser will struggle to cope with even the most basic tasks. The Google Chrome browser has a useful option of automating these updates, I highly recommend you use it.
  • Make sure your Adobe Flash Player is up to date. if in doubt click here to check to see if you have the latest version. This software is essential to run may of the awesome animations that are commonly used in these websites, such as Mathletics et al.
  • Check the speed of your home internet connection, either directly with your provider (eg Starhub) or using a free web service like (no account needed) where you should expect to see at least 4-5 Mbps (>10 is better) if you are attempting to access 'rich' media, like streaming video, presentations, or interactive media. 

Sometimes odd behaviour in a web browser can be caused by 'cookies' that are interfering with the way you want your browser to behave.

If you clear out your cookies (something you should do regularly anyway) you can often find that resolves many problems. For normal (non techie) parents, Cookies are bits of code that are stored by websites on your computer to enable a site to 'remember' or 'recognise' you when you return to their website, like remembering your preferences etc.

Confused? Never mind, every browser has ways to do this, in the Chrome browser, just click Chrome on the Menu, and choose 'Clear Browsing Data' tick or untick as you see fit, just make sure the Cookies box is ticked, and then click the 'Clear browsing data' button. Don't panic, you can't do any major damage to your computer here.

Another alternative in Chrome is to browse using an incognito window, (File > New Incognito Window) which will force the browser to behave normally, since no cookies are stored.

Sharing a Home Computer

If you are a Primary school parent, you will probably need to share your computer at home with your child for them to do homework from time to time. This can be made easier by using a separate user account for each child, this can be as fancy as a completely separate user account for your child, instructions on how to set that up on a Mac here. This effectively makes your computer feel like your child's own computer, but it's a hassle if you want to be able to hop on and off without faffing about with account switching.

A simpler solution is to just agree that you will not use Chrome, just your child will, or, if you really prefer to use Chrome, create a separate user profile for your child within the Chrome browser, instructions on that here, or this post here. Now all your child has to do is choose their account, with a couple of clicks, and everything they've been working at at school will magically appear in their own copy of the browser, without affecting anything in yours (or vice versa).

Always remember (and use) the '3 Rs' of troubleshooting:

Refresh (the browser)

Retry (Quit the browser and try again, or try a different browser)

Restart (the computer)

That's it.

Finally... you might want to consider creating a separate user account for your child/children, guidance on how to do this on a Mac can be found here. This in effect feels to your child like that computer is as good as their very own, until you log them out. Activating Fast user switching makes switching between their account and yours a very simple process.

Finally, maybe the best tip of them all?

Questions? Feel free to post them below, I will attempt to answer these the best I can ...

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Teachers Team Teaching with Students - Techsperts

Team Teaching—With Our Own Students [Techsperts]

Instead of just teaching your students, maybe it's time to try Team Teaching with them, especially when this involves the use of digital technologies. This short video explaining what a Techspert is, demonstrates how this student would help his teacher teach his class how to use the Numbers App in Maths class that week. It was made by this 8 year old Grade 2 student on an iPad using iMovie as a part of our Techsperts sessions, where 2-3 kids per class in the grade join me during one lunchtime to empower them to help their teachers and their classmates.

Many students are quick to learn many of the skills and potentialities of digital tools, what Mishra & Koehler (2006) call technological knowledge (TK), yet are not necessarily skilled at, for example, sharing them. The involvement of students through skilled facilitation (Ruddock, 2004) creates a collaborative ethos that harnesses the time spent in the classroom as time for ‘training’ by taking advantage of the students’ natural facility with digital technologies, while also harnessing the pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) of their teachers—their unique perspectives based on many years of experience. This is a repurposing of Mishra & Koehler’s model (2006) I describe as TK (and) PCK = TPACK. However, this approach requires the teachers to allow the students’ a certain degree of autonomy, I can remember many instances 'back in the day' with teachers who were locked into a traditional didactic approach to teaching ICT skills, who struggled to establish this model with their students, complaining that their students, 'get themselves stuck' because they haven't 'followed the instructions'. What if we let the students figure things out themselves, instead of 'instructing' them? We guide them in the process of 'figuring it out themselves', and helping each other to 'figure things out', yes that's slower, but believe me, it's a lot more effective.

Students as collaborators

I have witnessed students struggling with some digital tools because they were not being given autonomy to learn independently, through enquiry, because their teacher was more comfortable ‘teaching’ them how to use the technology didactically, step by step, or more accurately, literally, click by click.  By shifting teaching approach from that of ‘instructor’, towards that of ‘mediator’ or even 'engineer', teachers are better able to bring together facilitative strategies, modelling a collaborative ethos—the organising influence as the teacher is still highly salient, albeit a form of leadership that is more ‘fluid’ (Peachey et al, 2008). Our teachers find different ways to incorporate this model into their teaching.

Some teachers use a strategy I call “I teach you - you teach two”—each 'Techspert' teaches two other students, and those students become 'Techsperts' who teach two others, and so on until the whole class has been covered. Knowledge and understanding are gained through combinations of the students’ and teacher’s co-constructing, acting together through ‘distributed cognition’. This creation of a supportive, problem-solving classroom community is essential to the development of digital literacies (Beetham et al, 2009; Twining 2009).

Let kids lead [when they can]

Many of our teachers have been eager to embrace this approach, and regularly come up with unique ways to repurpose the model, one teacher designated a particularly keen Techspert in his class to take on the day-to-day management of the Class Site. As teachers become more comfortable with the awareness that students are going to be able to teach them, their contributions can be smoothly integrated into the fabric of a lesson. Teachers describe how they feel this has ‘flipped’ their perspective on technology; they now feel comfortable “not knowing everything” and “letting them work it out”, which makes the prospect of using digital tools much less daunting.

'Teachable Moments'

Scenarios become commonplace whereby a student finds a new way of doing something or makes a discovery that the teacher has never come across before, but rather than feeling threatened by this, the teacher facilitates this and turns it into a “teachable moment” (Crook et al, 2010). I can assure you that I've learned many 'power tips' from students in the Primary School, just the other day in fact. In one case the teacher gave the student control of the screen, via an interactive whiteboard (IWB), to guide their class (and often their teacher) through a process. Our students usually have a very high level of confidence when approaching technical problems, an approach with a notably positive bias. They appear to have a natural sense of determination and perseverance when faced with technical problems; even though they accept that these problems happen, they see this as an inevitable aspect of using technology - not an exception.

The less you know, the more you can learn

This perspective contrasts considerably with that of many adults, who, when faced with technical problems, tend to blame the machine, whereas the students are more inclined to assume the fault lies with themselves, in the way they are using it.

This way when a problem arises, rather than being a potential threat, it becomes a learning opportunity; if anything, an issue to be wary of is with teachers who are highly skilled with ICTs being too quick to offer solutions, instead of encouraging the students to find someone else in the room who has worked through that problem, so they can tutor one another. Seen this way, could lacking technological expertise can be seen as a kind of enabler...?

Maybe, maybe not. But one thing is for sure, throughout the Primary school, there is a lot of teaching going on, and not all of it is by teachers.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Creating Group Email Lists in GMail

First you need the email addresses... 

You can get them through CIMS, here's how. Open up the College Information Management System (CIMS),

First method 

(click to enlarge images):

Go to Students > Search, choose the tutor group or class, and click Go.

Then, you can click on 'Email selected Students' Parents' and Gmail will launch with the email ready to roll.

If you want to turn this into a group you can use over and over, just select all the parent emails in the Bcc field, copy them and paste them into a new Group. How?
  1. Copy the parents (or students) email addresses - click Command + A, then Command + C to copy all
  2. Open a new tab with GMail and select Contacts from the Google Menu
  3. Scroll down to create a New Group from the sidebar 
  4. Name the group with something that makes sense
  5. Click at the top + symbol and paste in the students email addresses.
  6. Done.

Spreadsheet Class Information

You can also download a spreadsheet from CIMS with the class information you need:

In CIMS choose List from the options on the left.

Choose your class, then click Go on the far right.

Now you should be able to download a spreadsheet you can open in Excel, Google Docs, or Numbers.

You can edit/modify this to your hearts content.

Make a Group to Email in GMail

In Google Mail, click Contacts and click on your NEW group (create one if you haven't done so)

You should see an icon that says 'Add to' 'Name of Group' when you roll over it, click that.

Now paste the email list you copied into the white rectangle hole (field).

Then click Add



You can easily edit this list, by adding any additional email addresses using the same method as above, or ticking any you want to remove, and choosing 'Delete contact' from the 'More' menu.

Now in an email you just have start typing the name of the group to email them 'Parents' etc. It might take a while for them to appear... Ideally you should click 'Add Bcc' NOT the 'To' field, to preserve the parents privacy. That way they all get the email, but they can't see everyone else's addresses.

Bewildered about Bcc? Read this post.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Picasa & iPhoto The Dynamic Duo

First, activate your Picasa account if you have not done so already, click here:

Yes you can ignore iPhoto and upload directly to Picasa/Google Photos (web address but this does not RESIZE the images, so you will eat up your storage limit very quickly... Fine for students, not so much for teachers.

Short and simple - the best way to do this is using iPhoto with the Picasa Web Album uploader, here, which bypasses iPhoto, and lets you drag and drop images for upload, all resizing options are available as above.

  1. Import the images to iPhoto (drag and drop on the icon on the dock) 
  2. Remove the photos that you don't want 
  3. Select the photos you want to share (select individual images, a whole album, or event) 
  4. Drag and drop to the uploader 
  5. Choose 'Unlisted Album' (this is automatically 'anyone with the link' in Picasa = perfect for our purposes) 
  6. Choose 'Faster Upload' 
  7. Click Export 
  8. When it's done, you'll get a 'View' option, click that 
  9. Share the album via the Share button. 
  10. Click the box "Let people I share with contribute photos" if you want that option, they will need a Google account to be able to contribute, comment or like images in your album. 


Easily confused: Picasa Web Albums vs Picasa the application:

Images can can only be downloaded one by one from a Picasa album, unless you download and install Picasa the application (free) which basically does the same job as iPhoto (image management and editing) but will also allow you some other options, like downloading entire albums, and syncing your albums with Picasa (as opposed to just uploading to Picasa).

Your parents cannot download video, or an entire album from a Picasa web album, only view, unless they 'upgrade' to Google+ then they can. If you wish to share video that you want the recipients to be able to download, (without using Google+) then share it via Google Drive.