iCal Conquered (even with GoogleCalendar)

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I posted a while ago about my excitement for and confusion around the advent of iCloud, specifically about its ability to share calendars across both devices and the web. I use iCal as my planner, with each class having its own calendar as well as the full school schedule having its own calendar; having to input plans at my desktop computer only was cumbersome, though the convenience of being able to sync that calendar with my iPod Touch and my iPad so that I could have it on the go with me in class was worth it. As my work became more laptop-based, not having that calendar on my laptop became somewhat inconvenient, but the desktop remained the base of operations, so to speak. With iCloud, I figured all of my problems were solved. Now I could sync those calendars across all devices wirelessly and seamlessly and, more important, I could generate events on any of the devices and those events too would sync across all devices. Sadly, at least initially, this was not the case.

When I first started using iCloud, there was a distinction drawn between calendars ‘On my Mac’ and ‘iCloud’. Immediately, this seemed counterintuitive. Why would I want duplicate calendars, one only on my Mac and one in the (i)cloud? Partly because of this duplication, I was also nervous about committing to the cloud calendars exclusively: if a computer-based calendar remains, what does that say about the security and/or longevity of the iCloud calendar? For safety’s sake, I stuck with the ‘On my Mac’ calendars, which then of course didn’t sync to iCloud or other devices.

In the meantime, school uses GoogleCalendar, not so much for school events (feel free to do so, Wayland High School, especially in light of this post) but for more practical matters like signing up for computer labs, laptop carts, etc. This seemed an effective use of the calendar function, though, as with GoogleDocs, I find Google Calendar a less than smooth interface. I, of course, want the school’s Google Calendar to sync to my computer and my devices, however, to eliminate that extra step of opening the Google Calendar.

I am pleased to say that I have solved most of these issues. Let me rephrase. I am pleased to report that most of these issues have solved themselves. I’d like to say that my thorough investigation of support fora and instructional websites allowed me to do this but, as far as I can tell, someone on Apple’s end finally figured out a few things and made some changes to make life easier.

I resolved the other day to finally embrace iCloud. I had found a relatively complex set of steps for merging my existing ‘On my Mac’ calendars with my iCloud calendars and was prepared to do it. I sat down at my desktop, had my laptop with me with the instructions, clicked on the calendars button and, to my surprise, only iCloud calendars; no ‘On my Mac’ calendars. I scrolled, I clicked, I surfed menu items, nothing. I don’t miss them; as I said, it’s somewhat comforting to have the decision made for me rather than having to decide to scrap my ‘On my Mac’ calendars. I suppose I wish I knew how and when that happened but fine by me.

So I conducted a few tests. I created a test event on my desktop: showed up on line, on laptops, and on the devices. Went the other way: created a test event on the iPad, and it showed up elsewhere. So far so good. Feeling ambitious and buoyed by my success, I decided to tackle the Google problem: could I get my school’s Google Calendars to show up in iCal?

I started with some Google Help (from http://support.google.com/calendar/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=99358#ical) (these are for iCal 5; there are separate instructions for iCal 3):

  1. Open Apple iCal, go to Preferences and then the Accounts tab.
  2. Click on the + button to add an account.
  3. Enter the following information:
    • Account Type: CalDAV
    • User Name: Enter the email address that you use to log in to Calendar. Make sure to include the ‘@domain.com’ portion (which is @gmail.com for Gmail users) in this section.
    • Password: Enter the password for the email address you listed above.
    • Server Address: Enter “https://www.google.com/calendar/dav/YOUREMAIL@DOMAIN.COM/user”. DO NOT substitute your username for ‘user’ at the end of the URL.

If you have other secondary account to view:

  1. Open Apple iCal, go to Preferences and then the Accounts tab.
  2. Select your Google account.
  3. Under the Delegation tab, select the calendars you’d like to add to iCal by checking the boxes next to them. If you don’t see a list of delegates, switch to the Account Information tab and then switch back to the Delegation tab.

This seemed to work. All of a sudden my daily calendar was flooded with all of those sign-out calendars that the school had set up. This was not of course desirable; having so many concurrent calendars visible would be overwhelming and completely impractical. But there had to be a way to hide them. Clicking on calendars, scrolling to the bottom, and finding the Delegates section, did the trick. They were all checked there and by unchecking them they disappeared. But now for the real test: can I sign out a computer cart from my Mac and have it show up in the school’s Google Calendar? It did: July 3rd, block 3, I’ll be using Lang iCart 1, as signed out from my Mac.

As for devices, here’s the link to set up iOS devices for Google Calendar:

http://support.google.com/calendar/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=151674&rd=1

I didn’t use the Google instructions, but rather these:

http://www.ideaexcursion.com/2009/06/17/howto-sync-google-calendar-on-iphone-os-3-0/

I feel like I used the Google instructions, and the Google account didn’t work quite as easily as the CalDAV account (which the second link sets up).

In any case, to mimic the delegates functionality on your iOS devices, you need to go here:

https://www.google.com/calendar/hosted/your_domain/iphoneselect [replacing, of course, your domain with your domain name]

For Wayland teachers / calendars, the address would be this:

https://www.google.com/calendar/hosted/wayland.k12.ma.us/iphoneselect

On that page, you can choose which calendars sync to your iOS device. So now, I have all of those Wayland calendars available and editable on all of my Macs and all of my devices.

Next for iCal is experimenting with and assessing the functionality of shared iCal calendars for syllabus distribution since students will have their own laptops this year.

 

 

Pages?

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I’m here at the Wayland Literacy Institute, and I’m presenting at 1.30. I was preparing the PowerPoint last night, and wanted to include a couple of flow charts. My first thought was Inspiration; does it even exist anymore? Certainly not on my current computer. Then I wondered if I could do it right there in PowerPoint. But it didn’t seem too efficient. So I hit the iPad. There has to be an app for that, yes? A search on the App Store yielded inFlowChartLite, the only free option. I downloaded it and, short of being overwhelmed by the language of flowchart shapes and symbols, it looked great. The problem is that the free version limits you to 10 elements in your flowcharts. What I didn’t realize (stupidly) was that the arrows were part of that 10 (I had assumed the elements were the actual shapes). And $5.99 just didn’t seem worth it for something I probably wouldn’t use frequently.

Next. I had read in a recent MacWorld a review of productivity suites (and pleased to see that Office2HD scored very well), of which Pages was one. Pages did not fare well in general, largely because of Apple’s limiting of its accessibility and compatibility. But it did score very high as a stand-alone iPad creator, especially for not-just-text documents. So I figured I’d try it to make my flowcharts in Pages.

I started with a blank sheet. The + sign at upper right let me add shapes (not quite the variety of the iPad app but enough for a beginner like me); I didn’t realize until my second that I had options for color, shading, etc. And so off I went. In the end, Pages did the job. If I made a lot flowcharts, though, Pages would not be my go to app (I’d spring the $5.99). The most glaring issue was the lack of snap-to grids (ClarisWorks / AppleWorks fans, that one’s for you), i.e. it was difficult to align lines and shapes with each other to the extent that I want. Pages provides coordinates to assist, but to assume that I would remember the coordinates from a previous shape’s location seems a bit ambitious. A function that would automatically link proximal objects would be helpful. Otherwise, Pages provided a good stopgap. As I said, I wouldn’t use it frequently, but for what I needed it (mostly) did the job.

And here are the flowcharts (and I do realize that to call them flowcharts might be a bit insulting to real flowcharts), for better or worse:

Typology of IF

IF in Classroom Chart

Conquering the Cloud

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(For all you Classicists out there, I know there’s an Aristophanes joke in here somewhere….)

A few years back I was introduced to Dropbox and, to be honest, it changed my technology world. There isn’t much that comes along that has that much of an impact on my tech work as Dropbox did, but it did. No more flashdrives, burning CDs, drag and dropping files at the beginning and end of school years (more on that later). Dropbox’s seamless integration of the Cloud and my computers / devices made and make it indispensible.

About the time I ran across Dropbox, GoogleDocs was on the ascendancy. School was pushing it and I was interested. But immediately I knew that GoogleDocs was not for me. Sharing and collaborating, fine. I get that, and there isn’t much that makes it easier to group edit / write a document. But for storage, access, and management, its linear and search-based interface wasn’t for me (just as I was skeptical when my buddy told me that the Mac’s Spotlight would do away with the need for folders).

What made Dropbox perfect was its presence on my computer, that Dropbox folder from which anything I opened and edited would be automatically synced to the web and anywhere else that I have Dropbox. My problems were these: 1. initially, I wasn’t ready to make Dropbox my Documents folder, i.e. the one goto folder from which I opened everything. Either the skeptic or the conservative in me needed a localized, non-Cloud base of operations; I couldn’t give up my documents folder that easily; 2. related to this, my documents folder was bigger than my Dropbox storage allotment, so I couldn’t copy everything wholesale even if I had wanted to.

I plugged Dropbox to my friends and managed to squeeze out a few extra gigs of storage space from their signing on (Dropbox gave 250 megs of space if someone used your referral code to sign on; they’ve sinced upped that to 500 megs, and grandfathered those of us in, i.e. all of my 250 meg upgrades were bumped to 500; there was an 8 gig max at the 250 meg rate which has been raised to 15 gigs under the 500 meg rate). But what really did it was getting my students to sign on. I started using Dropbox with class as part of the iPad pilot; students would open and submit assignments via a shared folder, and then expanded that to my other classes. And once I was the first to get to my students with Dropbox, my storage space skyrocketed (I’m up to just under 15 gigs), plenty of space for my whole documents folder. But I’m still not ready to convert; maybe I will this year, but we’ll see.

In the interim, I’ve seen advertised other Cloud storage options. I’ll leave the commercial add-ons out (Apple’s iCloud and Amazon) but focus on dedicated Cloud storage options. A few months ago I downloaded Box.net, similar to Dropbox but with 5 gigs of free storage at the outset. The plan initially was to parcel out my documents folder to different Cloud storage spots, so that if my whole folder couldn’t fit in one, I’d put the less used files in another (i.e. Dropbox, say, would have the bulk of my commonly used files while Box would have my less used files: open stacks vs. closed stacks, you could say). The problem with Box.net, however, is the clunky upload. It’s web and device based (no folder on the computer like Dropbox) and the upload is by individual file only; no folder upload. This alone makes it not worth my while.

I’d seen advertised SugarSync, clearly a Cloud service (those banner ads above Words with Friends). It seemed intriguing but I never got around to trying it. But a recent MacWorld article detailing these very Cloud services introduced me to it and put me on to it. The advantage that SugarSync has, it seems, is that, rather than a separate folder on your computer like Dropbox, it allows you to designate existing folders as sync-able. So in its introductory window, it shows you your folders and their sizes, allows you to navigate to the ones that you want, and check them off for syncing. Then it takes their existing content and uploads it. So here’s how SugarSync looks on the iPad:

ImageImage

The first image is of the three folders from my computer, and the second their contents. Word documents are recognized (at the bottom); InDesign (the ones above the Word documents) are not. SugarSync presents an intriguing possibility. I’ll be working with it certainly this academic year, if not this summer, and I’ll keep you updated.

My Twitter: Past and Future

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I blogged at the beginning of second semester how I was going to experiment with Twitter as a way to communicate with students, especially in terms of nightly homework assignments, reminders, etc. I was looking for something that would go to them, rather than something to which they would have to go, and something that was relatively easy for me to update regularly (and the announcements feature on our course management system is not). Twitter seemed a good solution, or at least something worth trying.

First and foremost, I didn’t entirely understand Twitter when I undertook this experiment. I thought that tweets came to followers via email, rather than followers having to go and monitor and their Twitter feed to find things (or search for me or hashtags). So this was a bit of a flaw from the outset; the students that benefited the most from my use of Twitter were those that subscribed via their phones and received the Tweets as text messages (and didn’t mind receiving the tweets that weren’t related to their class; some did mind this).

Will I continue to use Twitter next year? Somewhere between I’m not sure and I doubt it. Once there wasn’t a critical mass of student buy in, I lost my enthusiasm for it (because I didn’t feel like it was hitting enough students), which then created that vicious cycle of they used it less-I used it less-they used it less, etc. What I’d like to do is find an alternative, likely one more suited to what I have in mind. Kikutext is on my list. It has potential, but I’ll have to play around a bit before I give it a shot.

For myself, however, I have found Twitter a great resource. I haven’t quite figured out yet how people follow thousands of feeds and glean anything but Twitter is a great way for things to come to you. I’m following some like-minded teachers out there and am constantly getting interesting links to blog posts or other sites (I will admit sheepishly that I have a poor Safari page with innumerable tabs open, just waiting to be revisited; I’m trying to cover the Twitter-related ones here). Here is a nice post about a teacher’s use of Twitter, one that I would echo in terms of my own use of it. And another, a bit less practical and more conceptual, about why teachers should be on Twitter.

One of my Twitter conflicts (Twitterflicts?) is the notion of live tweeting. On the one hand, I get it from a producer standpoint; it is a way to make people part of the game, trip, event, whatever. On the other hand, from a consumer standpoint, it can be, to be frank, annoying. I love following the Worcester Tornadoes (found out that they’re back from the road trip and have a home game tonight; wouldn’t have known that without Twitter) but I don’t love when, at 11 PM I have 50 new tweets and 25 of them are live-tweets of the Tornadoes’ game. I wonder if such institutions can be convinced to have a separate feed for live tweeting (and, by the way, Twitter, if you’re out there: any way we can have multiple feeds under one account / handle?)? That would allow us non-super fans not to be inundated by the live-tweets but still get the updates we want. This was all brought on by this post on how an elementary school is implementing Twitter. I like the idea of the live tweet field trip, but then my immediate next thought was how many tweets before that got annoying to parents? Especially at the high school level (where I teach). On the other hand, I’d love to broadcast my yearly trip to Boston’s MFA, and I love the idea of posting them on the flat screen monitors throughout the school (which we, being in a new school, have plenty of).

I’m not as convinced of Twitter as a classroom tool; I just haven’t wrapped my brain around it yet. And that’s not me being curmudgeonly or Troglydytean, but I’m not familiar enough with the logistics of Twitter to envision how that would work: every student has an account and they follow me and I use my account to do the activities? That would seem a bit cumbersome for those students not in a particularly class when they are inundated with Tweets from other classes (though, as I’ve said, I’m not particularly good at ignoring Tweets, a skill I’m guessing my students are fine with). In any case, here’s a post about different classroom uses, and a specific one about using it to learn vocab, a variation of which I might try myself next year.

So my final verdict on Twitter remains to be seen. But I’ll continue to experiment with it and other social media outlets to try to improve communication with students and parents. That’s my goal.

Thank you, Time Machine

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We recently blew the hard drive on our iMac. I wasn’t worried about; we had other computers to use and I had my data backed up via Time Machine. And I’d used Time Machine for more minor crises as well (e.g. a failed transition from POP to IMAP; still working on that one), but never for restoring an entire system.

For those of you that don’t know (JH), Time Machine is Apple’s automatic backup system. It works best with a desktop because the external hard drive can be hooked up to the computer permanently rather than a laptop to which the hard drive is usually only hooked up when the computer is home (so to speak). Either way, however, with an external drive hooked up, the computer will back itself up regularly and save those backups until the drive is full.

Here’s Apple’s video intro: http://www.apple.com/findouthow/mac/#timemachinebasics.

To get started, open the Time Machine preferences (utility bar; the clock with a counter clockwise arrow) and, with the external drive plugged in, set it as your Time Machine drive. Once set, Time Machine does everything itself. To take advantage of it, open Time Machine, where you will see a cascading series of whatever window you had open on the computer when you opened Time Machine. You can use the chronology bar at right to navigate through all your available backups. You can restore single files, folders, whatever you need. I was interested to see what restoring an entire computer would be like.

34 hours later (that’s 34), my computer was as if it had never left: exactly the way it was before the hard drive blew. Playlists were back in iTunes, bookmarks in Firefox, Dock the way it was. I knew that I had my information backed up, and was comfortable that I hadn’t lost anything, but had no idea that the full restore would be so comprehensive and easy (34 hours notwithstanding).

So thank you, Time Machine. A job well done.

Update & Summer Goals

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Just wanted to check in with my five or six (generous estimate?) readers out there. I know it’s been a while since I’ve written; we’ll chalk that up to standardized test season (I’m the AP & SAT Coordinator at school) and, after testing season, wrapping my schoolwork up before having shoulder surgery last Monday (so, yes, I’m typing one-handed right now). Sed de hoc satis.

The iPad pilot is officially over, but I will continue to use this space to discuss iPad, Mac, and tech-in-education issues. My goals for the summer are these: 1. Sort out the intersection of iCal, iCloud, and GoogleCalendar; I’ve attempted this perhaps 3/4-heartedly, but I’d like to figure it out for good; doing so would make life a lot easier. 2. Figure out a viable approach to student blogging; I’m taking a two day workshop in July on this, so more after that. 3. Improve student/parent communication: this will begin with Twitter, i.e. assessing the extent to which that experiment worked, and assessing the alternatives. 4. Sort out the various platforms available to me to streamline distribution to and collection from students.