Apps vs. Systems: What Technology PD Should Be

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There’s a lot of chatter of course about apps for the iPad, classroom, schools, etc. And apps of course are a big part of the iPad. But I would suggest that content-specific apps are less of a concern (and I will admit that this entry / position might be more applicable to a high school setting, ironic because high school becomes more content specific; elementary school I suspect is more focused on content-specific apps).

The more I’m involved with technology PD, either as a consumer or a provider, the more I am convinced that specifics, be they applications for a computer, apps for a device, or websites, are not what teachers want or need. If I show up as a tech PD provider and say ‘This website will improve your teaching’, the assumption is that that area (whatever area the website covers) needs improving. As a teacher in that situation, my most likely response is something along the lines of ‘Cool, but I’m happy with what I’m doing’. And I don’t fault that teacher, nor do I chalk that teacher up to yet another example of teachers fearing change. What the PD provider has done is solve a problem the teacher doesn’t have.

Technology PD needs to start with systems and teacher-generated shortcomings. Teachers need to say ‘I want to become more efficient in x’ (grading, organization, presentation, annotation, etc.) and the tech PD should focus on that. Maybe that will be a content-specific app but more often than not it becomes an approach with a number of possible tools that the teacher can use. I taught a 6 day after school intro-to-Mac course (the Mac Training at the top) and, as suspected, the most valuable day was day 1, which was spent largely with an overview of little things to adjust in your Finder and file management (for instance, setting the folder that a new Finder window opens) system. This is what (most) teachers need: systems to make technology work for them, systems that are within their reach skills-wise (z+1), and systems that they will wonder how they did without. Another website or app for them to learn, pilot, troubleshoot, and generate or convert material for will only contribute to the already prevalent feeling of too much being added without enough taking away.

Technology makes my life more efficient, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t function that way for all teachers.

PS. I of course have plenty of apps that I love and that I rely on. If you’re looking for a way to assess apps or review apps, either indivudally or as a school, click here. It’s a great post on reviewing apps with lots of different rubrics, assessment sheets, checklists, etc.


Dropbox v. SugarSync

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I always laugh a bit (to myself, of course) when people ask me to explain Dropbox to them. There is, of course, nothing to explain. It’s a folder, pure and simplle, that works like all of the other folders on the computer. The explanation they really need is the conceptual explanation: is Dropbox a paradigm shift in the way you access your folders? Or is Dropbox merely a flash drive without the flash drive, i.e. the place where you temporarily store files to access them in a different place?

SugarSync purports to circumvent this conceptual shift by, rather than adding a folder to yr computer for copying and syncing, identifying existing folders on your computer to be synced. In theory this sounds like a better approach. No copying. No committing to Dropbox. Just the good part, the syncing.

I’ve been using Dropbox for a couple of years now and really can’t do without it. I just added SugarSync to my cloud arsenal, and have been using it recently. Here’s the verdict (so far). Web based will always be clunky. It’s why I don’t love GoogleDocs. The web-based interface isn’t as smooth to navigate as the Finder based interface that Dropbox naturally incorporates. Sure transferring files from Dropbox can be a pain (because my documents folder is bigger than Dropbox allows and I would rather not pay for the extra space) but navigating it to find what I want so easily makes it worthwhile.

So I like SugarSync and will use it for less commonly accessed items, but the web interface, even that split second it takes to open the new web page of a folder, is less efficient than finding something in, well, the Finder.

File Sharing via the Web

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File sharing used to be, it seems to me, a more onerous / technical aspect of computing: FTP servers & clients, etc. These days, with the advent of the Cloud and devices and ones-to-ones it seems that it is really just e-handing in, i.e. file sharing is now the way that students do (or should) submit, well, everything to their teacher. This begs the question, though, of how best to do it. Here are some thoughts (inspired by this post here that outlines a number of different services / approaches).

One distinction to be drawn initially: assignments that will be annotated / edited by me (e.g. full-blown papers) and assignments that only require either summative comments at the end or little to no comments (classwork, homework, etc.). Each yields

The easiest and most obvious way to collect assignments is via your CMS (course management system). We use ItsLearning, which does a nice job with collecting things, especially with its plagiarism control (which isn’t flawless but sends up some good red flags). Here’s what I don’t like about it: the downloading. When I grade papers, I use Word’s track changes. When my students submit in ItsLearning, I have to navigate to the assignment page and download the file before grading it. This is an extra step I can do without. I don’t mind it because of the convenience that ItsLearning provides, i.e. my students are familiar with it and are used to going there, but it’s still an extra step.

I experimented this year with Dropbox shared folders (which I’ve blogged about before, as well as how much I dislike GoogleDocs for anything but collaboration; I’m intrigued by GoogleDrive but not holding out too much hope). I won’t rehash all of that, but Dropbox is a great way to collect things, especially the smaller assignments. Larger / more important ones (like papers) I don’t like to collect via Dropbox because the whole class has access to the folder. Not that I would expect them to tamper, but you never know; better safe than sorry. Dropbox for smaller assignments, however, is ideal because of its ease. If I’m collecting a half page reflection, the time it takes to download from ItsLearning is about the same time it would take me to read it. In addition, Dropbox on the iPad in landscape mode allows you to see the list of files at left and the files themselves at right, so no double clicking and opening everything; just tap, read, tap, read, etc. (This can be mimicked to some extent in the Mac’s Finder: highlight the first file, use the spacebar preview to open a quick version, and use the arrow keys to move to subsequent files.)

One option I liked from the blog post lined above was FileStork. Here’s the description from the blog above: “File Stork is a tool that works with Dropbox and allows you to collect files in two ways. You can make an individual file request by sending an email to someone. The other way, and the more practical way for teachers, is to create a “stand alone” request which will allow you to post an upload link on your blog or website. Visitors can then use that link to upload a file to your Dropbox where you can view it and download it if you like. File Stork allows you to specify an upload password and allows you to specify which types of files you will allow to be uploaded to your Dropbox. People uploading files to your Dropbox through File Stork do not have access to any of the files in your account.” Here’s the problem. It seems not to exist anymore. is a pay service whose logo is different from the one on the blog, and seems to have been hacked or taken down (blank screen with Hi in the title bar); the link on the blog doesn’t open. And indeed it seems that as of June 15, 2012, Filestork is no more. (The link on the Tweet doesn’t work.) So if anyone wants to recreate it, I’d be all for it.

TEC Blogging Course Summary

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Blogging is a more complex technological issue than I had anticipated. I assumed going into the course that I had a base plan and that I needed some tweaking and tidbits. Instead, I realized how complex the genesis of blogging can be, beginning with the different types of blogging-hosting options. Of all of the options presented in the course, I narrowed it initially down to Kidblog and Pikifriends. I looked into Edublogs, and considered WordPress and Blogger, but I wasn’t comfortable leaving students with so much freedom / lack of supervision initially (though more on that below). I did just see this post on Posterous Spaces, newly purchased by Twitter, that allows students to email posts to your blog. They don’t have their own blogs, but the two goals of posting student work / thought in a public (blog) forum and of having those posts moderated are accomplished. I’ve not looked into it yet, but it has some potential.

At any rate, I created a blog on Kidblog (both a test blog and a a blog for my College English 4 class) and I requested access to, and was granted access to, Pikifriends. I’ve not yet set up the account there, but I will. I suspect that I will use different platforms for different classes so that I can compare them and chart their relative merits and demerits.

I’m still torn about the issue of freedom. On the one hand, especially with my seniors, I feel like they should be able to handle the freedom of their own blogs without me moderating everything that they do. On the other hand, I can’t guarantee that they can handle that freedom, and without that guarantee, I’m not sure I want to allow them to do that. The solution here might be a set of clear, specific guidelines regulating the use of an in-class blog. There are a number of examples out there, which I included in a previous post, and I’ve been trying to cull them and reorganize them into my own regulations. I’ve pasted them here (the quoted portions are from; the unquoted portions of them are my additions / changes).

Rules and Guidelines for Student Blogging

• You are expected to abide by these rules guidelines when blogging on your class blog.

• Violation of these rules and guidelines will result in anything from lack of credit for your entry to administrative involvement.

• I have divided the rules and guidelines into digital categories both to organize them and to help you understand the different digital arenae in which you function (whether blogging or not).

• The categories are taken from the New South Wales Digital Citizenship site (

Digital Conduct

– “Use appropriate language and proper grammar and spelling:” would I submit this post to be graded for its syntax or to a prospective employer as a demonstration of my ability to write?

– “Only post information that you can verify is true (no gossiping)

Digital Footprint

– “Only post things that you would want everyone (in school, at home, around the world) to know: is this something I want everyone to see?”

– “Do not share personal information: could someone find me (in real life) based on this information?”

– “Consider your audience and that you’re representing [WHS]:” will this bring any unnecessary negativity to Wayland High School, its faculty, staff, or students?

Digital Relationships

– “Think [and breathe] before you post: what could be the consequences of this post?” should I wait and reconsider after some time has passed before posting this?

– “Know how to give constructive feedback:” what is the reader taking from or how useful to the reader is my post / response?

– “Treat other people the way you want to be treated: would I want someone to say this to me?” or could I understand how someone would not want it said to them?

Digital Law

Some of the differences / changes I’ve introduced are the organization of the guidelines into categories. These are important both for visual effect (i.e. how it appears to the reader and a quick glance) and for organizing the information for students. I’m hoping that a document such as this will allow me to allow students to have their own blogs, and for me not to have to police / oversee every aspect of their blogging. I want them to be safe, and the people they interact with to be safe, but I also want them to feel in control of their blog, both in terms of appearance and content. I also don’t want to be inundated with approval emails.

So, on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being completely prepared to launch this, I’m probably around a 7 (maybe a 6 on a bad day). Going into the course, I thought I was a 5 or 6, but after a couple of hours quickly realized I was a 2 or 3, so being a 7 (or 6) doesn’t seem too bad at this point. I have to firm up the regulations / guidelines, decide on a platform (or which classes will use which platform) and, ultimately, as with most things educational, jump in and be prepared to address shortcomings and assess the plan as a whole.

(A Final?) Twitter Update

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So I’ve made my peace with Twitter, so to speak; it wasn’t quite what I wanted for school, mostly because I didn’t entirely understand how it worked when I undertook my project / experiment. I just found this post (on Twitter, no less) that lists the top 100 tools for educators and Twitter. Most of them don’t seem terribly helpful, but among the first 13, there are at least two that I think would have made the Twitter experiment a bit better / more successful.

1. TweetDeck allows you to create groups among your Twitter contacts to keep some separate from others.

2. Splitweet = multi-account management to keep different accounts separate.

Others include scheduling functionality for either timed Tweets or recurring Tweets as well as notification sites that send tweets to your email.

Still going to try Kikutext this year but some of these might have helped with the Twitter experiment.

Vocab with Wallwisher?

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One of my (not necessarily technological) goals this summer is to figure out a way to do vocab that is not utterly abhorrent. I hadn’t even thought of it today until I was surfing around a list of web 2.0 resources that Nancy pointed us to. First on the list was Wallwisher. I had seen her demo of it and, while not thrilled, thought it could be interesting. I clicked on the teaching demo and it was a wall of vocab. That has potential. In the past I’d used this cumbersome group PowerPoint presentation to have students submit sentences, but this example might make life a bit easier. This could at least be the beginning of a solution. Now I have to figure out how to organize it….

Guidelines for Student Blogging

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One of the hurdles in establishing student blogs is a set of guidelines governing how they blog. A lot of what I’ve written about thus far concerns the tension between freedom and oversight. It occurs to me that a well written and clear set of guidelines (a bit like what Bethann referenced in the email I mentioned a few posts ago) might mitigate that tension, i.e. am I willing to give them more freedom from the outset if they sign a set of guidelines that details what is expected of them? I suspect I am. So here are some specifics from the resources that Nancy provided. I will likely adapt these to my own.

Student Blogging Guidelines [from]

As a student blogger at ISB, you are expected to follow these blogging guidelines below. Use the questions in italics to help you decide what is appropriate to post on your blog.

1. Only post things that you would want everyone (in school, at home, in other countries) to know.
Ask yourself: Is this something I want everyone to see?

2. Do not share personal information.
Ask yourself: Could someone find me (in real life) based on this information?

3. Think before you post.
Ask yourself: What could be the consequences of this post?

4. Know who you’re communicating with.
Ask yourself: Who is going to look at this, and how are they going to interpret my words?

5. Consider your audience and that you’re representing ISB.
Ask yourself: Do I have a good reason/purpose to do this?

6. Know how to give constructive feedback.
Ask yourself: What will I cause by writing this post?

7. Treat other people the way you want to be treated.
Ask yourself: Would I want someone to say this to me?

8. Use appropriate language and proper grammar and spelling.
Ask yourself: Would I want this post to be graded for proper grammar and spelling?

9. Only post information that you can verify is true (no gossiping).
Ask yourself: Is this inappropriate, immature or bullying?

10. Anytime you use media from another source, be sure to properly cite the creator of the original work.
Ask yourself: Who is the original creator of this work?

Commenting Guidelines

As a blogger, you will be commenting on other people’s work regularly. Good comments:

  • are constructive, but not hurtful;
  • consider the author and the purpose of the post;
  • are always related to the content of the post;
  • include personal connections to what the author wrote;
  • answer a question, or add meaningful information to the content topic;
  • follow the writing process. Comments are a published piece of writing.

These are the guidelines to a biology blog; they are simple and concise, and a rubric is included below.

Here is a graphic with some both concise and well-presented thoughts on posting (from a Slideshare by Jaqui Sharp:, via Nancy’s resources):


This graphic included in this PowerPoint from the New South Wales (Australia) Digital Citizenship site (though it’s unclear where the PowerPoint is on the site) does a good job I think of summarizing the idea of scope of digital citizenship (it was an animated slide, so I screencast it and uploaded it to YouTube under the site’s Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license):



Though there is too much to go through here, this is a good meta-site with links to not only various resources on digital citizenship but also the different categories / areas of digital citizenship.

And this is a step-by-step guide to setting up a class blog (though a bit too general).

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