GoogleForms to Collect Student Information and Data Validation

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For the past few years, I collected student email addresses (especially if they don’t use their school email address; I know they should, but that’s a battle I’ve chosen not to fight) by having them come up to my computer and type them into a Word document.

That seemed inefficient, so this year I’m using a GoogleForm. Not only does the GoogleForm make life a bit more efficient, but I can also add other information so that I can have that all in one place, specifically parent email and computer tag number (this tag number is used to set up classes in LanSchool; I’m not a huge LanSchool fan but I figure it’s easier to do it as one of the preliminaries than to try to do it mid-year).

That tag number, though, also includes a standardized WPS before the number itself and, of course, if students include the WPS in their form, the data is thrown off and I have to edit. GoogleForms includes a help text field, which includes a bit of extra instruction below the prompt, but students of course tend to read this quickly at best.

Because the tag number is a number, I figured there had to be some way to check (or validate) the number and indeed there was: data validation:

  1. In the edit field view, click on ‘Advanced Settings’.Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 2.44.03 PM
  2. ‘Advanced Settings’ provides a number of formulae.Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 2.44.29 PMScreen Shot 2014-08-27 at 2.40.47 PM
  3. I chose for this simply ‘is a number’, which makes sure that what is entered is a number (and of course including the WPS renders the number no longer a number).
  4. And you can include a custom error message, which in my case is a reminder not to use the WPS in the number.Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 2.42.56 PM



LA and their iPads: Why Waste (Some of) the Money?

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As I’m sure many of you have heard, Los Angeles has withdrawn a number of their iPads from full circulation because students were able to break the security on them that prevented free web browsing (see here for a recent article). The notion of installing such security on devices for high schoolers notwithstanding (and I don’t know whether the security was intended for only at school or at school and at home), when LA’s commitment to the iPad, both device-wise and financial, was released last spring, my first response was simple and visceral: why waste the money?

Now this is by no means a screed on technology. Obviously I am pro-technology and was thrilled to see a system as vast as LA committing to change and potential innovation. But when it comes to iPads, especially $30 million worth of iPads (soon, as I understand it, to be $1 billion when the program expands to all students), why commit to the unnecessary size and expense of the full-sized iPad? The iPad Mini is by far a more efficient, both device-wise and financial, device for schools.

The iPad Mini has all of the functionality of the full-sized iPad. The only functionality that I minimally (minimally) see a difference between the two is in the watching of video. I attribute this discrepancy, however, to growing accustomed to watching on the full-sized iPad and then shifting to the Mini. On the other hand, both adults and students watch video on considerably smaller devices regularly and happily.

So, LA, why not the Mini? Save yourself (and your taxpayers) a few hundred dollars per device, which across a $30 million or $1 billion outlay is a significant savings, without losing any functionality.

First Impressions of eduBlogs

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Thanks to a Wayland Public Schools Foundation grant, we were able to secure a subscription to edublogs, a service that, as the name implies, facilitates blogging for schools. The advantages to edublogs over more mainstream (and free) blogging services, e.g. WordPress and Blogger, is that edublogs facilitates teacher access to student blogs automatically and allows teachers better control over security and access.

I had heard about edublogs this summer during a two day TEC course on blogging. Maybe 4 or 5 sites were introduced / discussed, many of which I at least checked out if not tried out but none worked for my purposes. Blogging tends to have its focus at the elementary grades, so some sites were more geared toward that age student. So I wrote a Foundation grant and received it, which allows us 20 teacher blogs and unlimited student blogs under each of those teacher blogs. (You can see the price structure for edublogs here.)

Once the grant came through, it took a bit of time, especially with the holidays, to get our account up and running but it is and I have launched edublogs with my classes (and in the interest of full disclosure, launched means introduced it to them, had them start a blog, and write an About Me page; but more on that below).

So here are some first impressions of edublogs, some good, some not so good / jury’s out, in no particular order.

  • It was more difficult than I expected / anticipated for students to set up their blogs / accounts, especially if you want them to use a formulaic name for their URL (more on that below). After doing it three or four times, I finally settled on a system that seemed to work better: have a student come up to the front of the room with his/her computer, hook into the projector, and make their account for the class to follow along with.
  • Jury’s still out on the dashboard. The dashboard, of course, is where you manage the aspects of your blog. On edublogs, one of those aspects is the number of student blogs that you sponsor / oversee. Initially, I have my security settings on relatively tight, such that any post or comment must be approved by me. The problem so far, though, is that to approve posts, it seems that there is a(n unnecessarily) multi-step process. It would seem to make sense that the post itself would show up on the dashboard to make more efficient the process. Instead, you use the dashboard to click to the student’s blog / dashboard, then click on the post itself, and finally on the approve button. I’m hoping there’s a more efficient way to do this.
  • When I first conceived of how I wanted to set edublogs up, especially in terms of managing all of those student blogs, I wanted my dashboard to be organized. To do this, I wanted a standardized name / approach for my students’ URLs. The right naming convention would allow the order that my blogs appeared in my dashboard to mimic the order that they appear in my gradebook: alphabetical by class. What I came up with was this: course|year|period|lastname. So if I were a student in my Medieval Lit course, the end of my URL would be med134dehoratius. This seemed like a good plan. Until two things. One, in the midst of my discussion with one class about privacy, cyber-etiquette, web security, etc., as I was saying that they could put out as much personal information as they wanted, one student pointed out that their last names were part of the URL (as per my instructions….). Not a huge deal, I suppose, especially since these are seniors, but it seemed like an easy enough fix. So the formula was slightly altered to, rather than last name, first three letters of last name (med134deh). Two(a), students that didn’t follow the directions closely enough made their URL something other than the formula, which can’t be changed. Two(b), I realized that students who have multiple teachers that use edublogs wouldn’t be able to follow two different naming conventions. As far as I can tell they get one blog on edublogs rather than one blog per teacher (their account with edublogs is tied to their email address). So the naming convention sounded like a good idea, but I might, especially in the future, just have to deal with a disorganized (or less organized) dashboard.
  • The students seemed more into setting the blog up than I expected. They seemed to enjoy being able to customize the blog (edublogs uses a WordPress interface, though does not make available the variety of themes that WordPress itself does). I also like having them have an easy place to write. So I’ve done one assignment using the blog, and it was very nice to be able to say to them to answer it / write it on their blog, rather than setting up an assignment in ItsLearning (now the reading of those posts might nullify that efficiency; see managing the dashboard above).
  • I wrote out guidelines for blogging that focus more on cyber-etiquette than grading or writing (that will come later). You can check them out here if you want. I also used an ItsLearning survey as a way for students to ‘sign’ off that they had read them / to ‘sign’ the contract.

Finally, my blog, which I’ve not done much with yet, can be found here. Hopefully, especially if I can make more efficient the reading and approving of student blogs, it can be a place for parents, teachers, students, admin, and others to go to see what’s going in my classes.

Keyboards Distribution

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The ZaggFolio Keyboards arrived on Thursday, and we were able to distribute them on Friday. The students were pretty excited (I suppose that might go without saying; as a side note, at least one student has determined that he needs to figure out how to get his own iPad because he won’t know what to do without his school one).

There were a few connectivity issues, the primary one of which was all those bluetooth connections happening at once. Each iPad was showing three to five keyboards to link to. So that meant that we had students wandering outside holding their keyboards and iPads until only their keyboard showed up.

In class, it was immediately apparent how much the keyboards upped the functionality of the iPads. I had wanted to get them out Friday because we were using the time to work on college essays. The iPad plus the keyboard made this a lot easier. Granted, it took about half the class to get the keyboards going, but once we did the process became much more efficient.

The pleasant surprise was that some of the students worked on their essays themselves, while others were able to go to their school’s website and work on any school-specific supplements directly on line.

So, thank you Zagg. We’re enjoying the keyboards / cases.




Background and Inception

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I can’t remember who brought it up, I or my tech director, but at some point we agreed that I would be willing to test iPads in a pilot one-to-one initiative. I had agreed in the spring but wasn’t quite sure if it would go anywhere; I figured I would wait and see. But by the summer it seemed that this initiative had some legs, and by August it was confirmed.

We agreed that I would pilot the iPads with one of my 2 College English 4 sections. This would allow us to have a control section, i.e. one section that was covering the same material but doing so without the iPads, which hopefully would isolate the effectiveness (or not) of the iPads. It at least would give us some comparisons to make, even if more anecdotal than statistical. We also agreed that a College level section would be a more viable group because they can tend to be less self-motivated in terms of their school work; perhaps the iPad could change that.

The administrators put together a letter of introduction to the program that included the school’s Acceptable Use policy as well as a signature sheet for parents to allow their child to participate in the program. We also agreed that if a student or parent did not want to participate because of personal reasons (technophobia; fear of change, etc.; we agreed to assist with any financial difficulties, if that were the hesitation), then we would consider that an acceptable reason for changing sections, either to the control section of my course or to another College English 4 section.

We also agreed that we would follow the Burlington High School model, which has gone to a school-wide iPad one-to-one, namely that the management of the iPads would be decentralized. Students would sync them to their own computers and their own iTunes account with a list of apps and ebooks to purchase from us (which they would then keep; we kept the purchased materials to less than $25, which we figured was an acceptable onus), rather than us syncing and managing the iPads.

We had a meeting for parents at the end of our parents’ night; most of the questions there concerned liability issues (not surprising). My understanding, though I don’t know this for certain, is that homeowners insurance will allow for a low price a rider put on to the policy that will cover the iPad (though one parent brought up the deductible and whether that would negate the insurance policy; that I definitely don’t know). The Monday after that we distributed the iPads, and that Thurday we put them on the network.

Roll Out Week

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We rolled out the iPads this week. Students received them Monday morning during class, with admonitions to take care of them (because they would be case-free for a couple of weeks until we decided on a keyboard-case combo; we had advised both them and their parents to invest in an inexpensive sleeve for the interim). Their ‘homework’ was to take them home, sync them to their computer, and purhcase the list of apps I included. On Thursdsay, the tech people were on hand to put the iPads on the network, when they became fully functional in terms of class. And today was the first day of using them in class (though we didn’t use them much, because we were finishing a video that they couldn’t play on the iPads because it was Flash).

One interesting tidbit from today, however. I had planned about 2/3s of the class with the last 1/3 reserved for them to work on their three writing assignments or the reading assignment. The class without the iPads, for whom I brought in a laptop cart, almost to a student, worked on the writing assignments. The class with the iPads, again almost to a student, read their Friday Night Lights ebook. My buddy suggested that the focus of the iPad class on the books was due to a lack of a keyboard, which I thought was a good point, but I still found the discrepancy an interesting suggestion about the kinds of observations this experiment will create.

More specifics on roll out and equipment to come.