Saturday, August 30, 2014

Anecdotal Voice Comments with Google Forms and Mobile Devices

One of the biggest challenges for me as a classroom teacher was keeping track of my observations and anecdotal comments.  My normal solution was to carry a clipboard around the classroom, with some line paper or a checklist for making observations, and then file those in a somewhat haphazard manner, to be accessed when it was time to write reports.  I don't think it was a great solution and it didn't serve me, or my students the best.

Last year, I was working with a primary teacher, and she wanted to know what she might be able to do with her smartphone to make use of it in her classroom.  She didn't really see herself using Google Apps for Education with her students, but wondered if there might be a way take advantage of the phone and GAFE for some kind of assessment purposes.

After a few minutes of brainstorming, I thought about combining the power of the voice to text engine in the phone, with the simplicity of a Google Form and the power of Google Spreadsheets to organize and review data that has been captured.  Put them together, and you have a very simple way to record and organize the observations and comments you make about the students in your classroom.

The video below will take you through the complete process of setting up a Google Form, getting it to your smartphone (or other mobile device with a voice to text engine), and organizing the data to make it easy to use for reporting and conferencing.  It supplements the tip sheet that I prepared for Ontario GAFE Summit in the spring of 2014.

Since demonstrating this with several teachers and administrators and helping them set up their own forms, we've come up with a variety of uses and considerations that I'll list below.
  • You don't have to use the voice-to-text.  If you have an observation that you wouldn't like others to overhear, simply type it out the way you normally would.
  • You can still use the form from your laptop computer if you'd like to make observations there
  • In the demo, I used a simple field (Subject) to categorize the data.  You could choose to use specific curriculum expectations to organize your observations.  In this case, you might want to make a different form for each subject/class that you are planning on using this tool in.
  • If you try getting specific (as described in the point above), you don't need to put ALL of the curriculum expectations for a subject in at once.  You can simply put in the observations that you are currently working on, and change them on a weekly (or other timeframe) basis.
  • Administrators can use this tool to record observations from walk-throughs (though again, they may find it more useful to type confidential information).
  • Students with mobile devices could adapt this to record their own reflections on their work
  • You could add a second paragraph text item to allow students to add their own response to your comments/observations during conferencing.
  • For more ideas check out Molly Schroeder's "Innovative Uses of Google Forms" page.  Many of those ideas could be adapted to take advantage of the voice-to-text engines build into various devices.
In terms of the security of your anecdotal comments and observations, Google Drive is a very secure platform, but you should pay attention to your school board's policies about what information can be stored in the cloud.  You should also be aware that your GAFE administrator could access your account (if necessary), and should be comfortable explaining any comments/observations to students/parents/administrators, etc.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Getting Started with the Google Drive Desktop App

The Google Drive Desktop App allows you to sync folders from your computer with your Google Drive Account.  It functions much like Dropbox except that it give you WAY more space.  For teachers (and students), the nice thing about using the Google Drive App, is that if you are using a home computer, you can simply save your work from any program (i.e. MS Word, Movie Maker, Audacity, iMovie, etc.) to your Google Drive folder and then still be able to access it when you are at school and using your Google Apps account. Lost memory sticks? Not a problem because your work is saved directly to the cloud.

A couple of things to note...

  1. You still need to enable offline access for your Google Docs/Sheets/Slides (it's shown in the tutorial).
  2. You can only set up the Google Drive Desktop App for one Google Account at a time.  So if you have a personal account and a work account, you will need to choose between them (tip: create a shared folder for stuff you need access to from either account).  Teachers who are storing student data, should use their Google Apps for Education (GAFE) Account and not their personal Gmail accounts.
  3. Files that have been shared with you won't sync until you add them to "My Drive" or a synced folder in your Google Drive.

In the video below, I will show you how to set up the Google Drive Desktop App using a Windows 8 computer and the new Google Drive interface.

Signing in to Google Drive

One of the most common questions I get from teachers who are new to Google Chrome is, "Why is it asking me to sign in to Chrome?"

The answer is that signing into Chrome allows you back up your account information to Google's servers.  The benefit of this is that when you sign in to Chrome from another location (say, on your home computer instead of your school computer), you will continue to have access to all of the sites that you have bookmarked, your browsing history, or that cool extension that you downloaded at school (but now forget the name of).  Google will even sync your saved passwords (if you give it permission to - personally, I prefer LastPass because I think it is more secure). Bookmarks can even be shared between your mobile devices using the Google Chrome browser and your desktop/laptop devices, so when you're on the road and come across a great site with your phone, simply save it to your mobile bookmarks and quickly find it when you return to the full browser.

In the short screencast below, I'll take you through the steps of signing in to the Chrome Browser.  I've done it using my YRDSB Google Apps for Education Account, so some viewers may see an extra single-sign-on step that you won't be asked to complete.

Imagine, no more working to find the perfect site on the weekend only to forget what it is on Monday and no longer be able to find it.  With your synced bookmarks and browsing history, it should be a snap!