Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Rethinking Teaching with Available Canvas Tools

Our school rolled out Canvas with training last school year and expectations for usage this school year. We have learned a lot as we have moved forward. There has been some frustration and also some excitement with this new learning management system. I received an interesting message from a Canvas salesperson this weekend who thanked me for my post "New to an LMS? Take the time to revamp for high agency learning". He said his background was in sales when he joined the Instructure/Canvas team and he wished he had access to this post when he started because he felt it would have helped him understand what Canvas can do for educators better. I do believe we are in a world where new technology-based platforms enter the market exponentially. With this, people are trying to decide how best to embrace these platforms for what they do. It isn't just educators in this struggle. I hear business owners, marketing directors, and whole industries trying to figure out what is next in the circles I am in regarding the increased saturation of voice speakers such as Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. I heard a leading CEO for a media company say "our industry has to stop trying to force what we do into these new platforms. It's time for us to rethink what we do to adapt to these new platforms." Bazinga! The same holds true with education and access to learning management systems. Some of the frustration I hear teachers have with our LMS has to do with the fact that much of what they do is non-digitized and being fit into Canvas to fill the requirements. There is no shame in that game because often we don't know how to change something until we get to know the platform well. I think many of our teachers are beginning to be in the space of looking for other options. Below are a few options that teachers can try to change their curriculum in a way that fits the platform...not because this is the correct thing to do but because of frustrations from trying to do things the way they have in the past. The purpose of this post is to help educators see built-in ways inside Canvas to enhance learning in the classroom with the tools at teacher disposal.

  • Discussions. Discussion boards are a great way to get ideas flowing. If you create discussions in Canvas you can have students discuss documents, links, YouTube videos, or just about any discussion starter you can think of. When setting up a discussion, you have multiple ways to create it to best meet your classroom needs. For instance, you can allow threaded discussions so people can respond to each other. You can also set it up where students can't read other comments until they post their own first. You can even put students in assigned groups for discussions (a great way to differentiate).  Discussion boards are a great way to give the quietest student a voice. 
  • Collaborations. Perhaps your students have been collaborating in Google docs for a long time, but did you know you can set up collaboration opportunities right in Canvas? You can assign groups to work on a Google doc, presentation or spreadsheet by clicking on the "Collaborations" tab inside your course. You can set up your collaboration groups on the fly or set up groups first and then assign the collaboration to that group. 
  • Group Assignments. When creating an assignment in Canvas under the Assignment tab for your course, you can actually choose the option to make it a "Group Assignment." This then allows you to click to choose to give each member of the group their own grade or you can give every group member the same grade automatically when you grade the assignment. 
  • Media Recordings. Did you know that your students can create media recordings (both video and vocal) for assignments? Teach a foreign language and want to check for fluency? Have students upload themselves speaking. Teach dance, pottery, band or chorus? Have students upload a video to show their processes. Are your students going to present in class? Have them practice at home so you can give improvement feedback before the actual event. 
          Did you know you, as a teacher, you can also leave media recording comments inside 
          Speedgrader? That's right. Instead of typing out your comments, use your voice and inflection
          to share your thoughts in the writing process with your students. 
  • Outcomes. What are Outcomes? Outcomes allow the administration and faculty to track mastery in a course. Users can import Account, State, and Common Core Standards into an account and course. Another useful thing about using outcomes is that you can set assignments/quiz access based on the finishing of prior assignment/quizzes. This can allow students to move at their own pace for some units or assignments. It can also allow you to see if they are truly meeting the standards without leaving gaps in their learning before moving on to the next part of the curriculum.

  • "Use Outcomes to:
    • Align Quizzes and Assignments to different kinds of mastery
    • Run reports at the account-level about student artifacts of learning mastery
    • Assess student progress through calculation methods
    • Track student progress on a learning outcome or overall in the Learning Mastery Gradebook
    • Align accreditation or other core standards to programs of study, courses, or student assessments" (pulled from Canvas website)
    • Focus students' attention on the most important skills and activities in your course (find existing outcomes or create new ones)

Monday, February 11, 2019

Redefining Podcasts for Students and Teachers

I don't listen to podcasts. I mean there are times I've even tried to be really intentional and make educational podcasts a priority but I came to the place where I realized that mode of learning just isn't my favorite. I would rather read a blog post, scroll through Twitter, watch a youtube video, or choose a book to learn new things. One reason I don't enjoy podcasts is that they seem to take so long! I'll be driving down the road listening and all of a sudden I realize I haven't really heard the last 10 minutes! I know for some people, podcasts are their "go to" because of ease of access and how you can listen while doing other things.

While at the Alexa Conference in January, I sat in on a panel discussion about podcasting and the VoiceFirst industry. The well-known podcasters were trying to navigate the space between the explosion of voice user interface and podcasting as they knew it. I remember sitting there listening and Steven Goldstein, CEO of Amplifi Media made this comment, "We have to stop trying to make our content fit into the voice realm and start rethinking what content should look like." BAZINGA! As an instructional technologist, I deal with this concept every day all day long. Teachers wanting a digital platform to work seamlessly for a mostly analog curriculum leads to frustration. Whenever new concepts enter the market, whether it be voice or a learning management system, we must step back and rethink our current models to see what this new platform brings that could make things better or at least different!

Having zero experience in creating podcasts or really even listening to them regularly, it became easier for me to reimagine podcasts using voice than some of the people sitting around me. I had no preconceived notions I was trying to apply. I liked the idea of creating a flash briefing using Alexa as a podcast for several reasons:

  • It can't be more than 10 minutes. I realized that's my big beef with podcasts, how long they last often. Someone on the panel said that the average commute in the United States is 26 minutes. This platform seems to make the concept fit. 
  • On-demand content by creating a flash briefing, listeners don't even need an intent word. They just enable the flash briefing and ask Alexa for their news or flash briefing daily.
  • It seemed creator friendly. Even though I really had no knowledge of how podcasting works and the tools I would need, the process seemed easy to adapt to which means the potential for student creation exists.
  • Potential for interactive entertainment/learning. I haven't figured out how to create interactivity with a flash briefing but voice user interface lends itself to this feature. This is on my radar. 
  • Discoverability. The beauty of creating a flash briefing is that your skill has the potential for a global audience. Another thing that was an immediate plus for me was that if you name your skill something that reaches a broad audience, whenever someone searches for that in the regular Amazon store, you skill actually shows up as one of the options. 
I created my flash briefing skill "Voice in Education" last week with lots of fanfare. My plan is to create weekly updates that help educators integrate voice first technology into the classroom. This flash briefing podcast will include tips and thoughts on intentional use of a voice user interface for learning. While at this point my focus is mainly on Alexa, the opportunities are out there for all voice speakers. You can enable "Voice in Education" on your Alexa device and it becomes a flash briefing for you when you ask Alexa what your news or your flash briefing is. You don't even have to remember the name of the skill to invoke it! 

I already have purchased a better mic system and have been brainstorming potential weekly topics. I am excited to see how I can help other educators through my continuous learning on the subject. Follow the hashtag #voiceEDU and let's share ideas with each other for intentional utilization of this tool that's price point makes it a possible "must have" in future classrooms. 

Monday, February 4, 2019

The Amazon Alexa App Just Got Friendlier!

The Amazon Alexa App just made some changes to become more user-friendly. You can now use the blueprint templates and create your own skills right in the app instead of having to be on a computer to do this. What's a blueprint? Amazon Blueprints are a set of templates to create your own Alexa Skills without having to know how to code. Watch the video below to get started with your very own skills! 

Also new to the Alexa App is the ability to adjust the parent dashboard for FreeTime right within the Amazon Alexa app. You no longer have to go into a separate app to access FreeTime. This video will show you how to find FreeTime in the Amazon Alexa app and how to enable skills for devices that are being used with FreeTime. What is FreeTime? It is a platform that allows parental (or in my case, teacher) controls. Within FreeTime parents can enter the Parent Dashboard and set up time limits, availability of certain skills, and turn off explicit music. Watch the video below to learn how you can now enable non-kid skills to be used with FreeTime or on a Kids Edition Echo Dot. 

Sunday, February 3, 2019

#VoiceEDU: Why Waiting Mattered to Me

I bought my first amazon echo the year they hit the market in hopes that it might have good uses for the classroom. After briefly playing around with it in the classrooms of willing teachers and in situations that I could, I decided the risks did not outweigh the benefits. The deciding factor? After a long field day morning for our elementary students, most went home for the day. About 20 students remained and we created a STEM day for the remaining time. I pulled out my echo during carpool time and students would whisper a question in my ear and then I would give them permission to ask Alexa. We danced to the songs she played, we laughed at jokes, and then I asked her to tell us a story. Without hesitation she starts in a sultry voice: “he was riding his bike right there in front of me. His legs were pumping in the sunlight...” and I scream “ALEXA, STOPPPPPP!” I still don’t know why she chose that story based on the skills I had enabled. She was quickly relegated to my office where she often helped me with efficiencies. Meanwhile, Alexa and her pal Google Assistant started showing up in every corner of our home. 

Fast forward to January 2018 when I find out the Alexa Conference is coming to my home town. I reach out to Bradley Metrock, the organizer of the event, and he not only graciously allows me to come to the conference but asks me to speak at it as well. This opened a door for me that still puts me in a position to be aware of what’s next, to bend ears, and to share concerns. At this year’s Alexa Conference, Bradley once again allowed me to be a part. I will forever be grateful for both his vision and willingness to allow a Chattanooga, Tennessee teacher into this space. 

When the Kids Edition Echo Dot came out, I remember thinking “this is it!” Bradley introduced me virtually to Dave Isbitski, the Chief Evangelist for Amazon Alexa and he and his wife sent 5 Kids Edition Echo Dots with remotes to our school to pilot. What an amazing opportunity! I sat down with those five teachers that volunteered to try things out and we planned to create blueprints to personalize the learning in the classroom. Our goal was to use the devices to create more independent learners. 

We soon found out that blueprints didn’t work with the Kids Edition Echo Dot and that only "kids skills" could be used on the device. The teachers kept apologizing for not using them more regularly and I kept feeling like every road was a dead-end. 

Until January 2019, when I finally realized that you could “whitelist” skills using Amazon FreeTime. No longer were we just using kids skills but any educational skill. And a week after the Alexa conference, Kids Edition Echo Dot could start using blueprints! Blueprints are template skills that allow owners to go in and add their own information into a skill without needed to know how to code. All of a sudden, the possibilities with Alexa just got personalized for each individual classroom. 

The really funny thing is that the weekend after the Alexa Conference I was sitting at home and decided I would just change those devices to regular echo dots weighing student access to student privacy. I mean, teachers were using them all over the nation already... why not us? I sent an email out on Friday asking the teachers to let me pick them up to perform this task but on Monday I said: “never mind!” I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I didn’t like the idea of Alexa carrying on adult conversations in the classroom because one kid thinks it’s funny and potentially yells out an inappropriate question. 

I’m so glad I waited! This week I plan to work with our integrated units and create Hyperdocs that will walk students through a lesson that will utilize Alexa in the learning process. While I would say Alexa was never a true brick in the classroom, her ability to truly make a difference in the learning process and safely doing so by using FreeTime just got real! 

Anytime a new technology enters the marketplace, we as Edtech leaders must make choices. In this case, I chose to embrace the device but keep limits and barriers in place. The cutting edge is messy and cumbersome but I’m thankful I waited out my concerns. I can’t wait to see what Amazon for Education will come out with in the future to even take this tool further in being helpful for teachers everywhere. I feel certain it will be a hybrid of the Amazon Alexa for Business Tools and taking student privacy into account. I just hope they will continue to keep their price point minimal so that this device can truly be a game changer for educators everywhere! 

NOTE: You don't have to buy the Kids' Edition Echo Dot to access FreeTime, you can buy free time as a stand-alone but FreeTime is free for one year with the Kids' Edition Echo Dot. 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Alexa, I wanna kiss your face!

In the last two days, Amazon has made our Echo Dot Kids Edition devices more useful in the classroom than ever before! Yesterday, I learned how to "whitelist" Alexa Skills for our Kids Edition Dots that were not specifically made as a kid's skill.

What does this mean? According to this article, "Amazon says that the FreeTime on Alexa experience is tailored for kids ages five to 12, and most of the skills and features are appropriate for ages five to nine. Toni Reid, Amazon’s vice president in charge of Alexa and Echo devices, says the company is taking privacy and security very seriously with the FreeTime service and noted that it does not share customer info with any of the developers of FreeTime skills." (Siefert, 2018) Developers had to jump through additional hoops to create kids skills and oftentimes a really good educational skill wasn't available as a kid's edition skill because it was tagged as an "educational skill." 

While at the Alexa Conference last week, I realized that many developers (as well as some Alexa employees themselves) did not realize this was the case. After a bit of trial and error yesterday I enabled the FreeTime service on one of our school own devices and I was able to allow that device to access some very worthy educational skills by allowing them through the parent portal. What did this look like?:

  • I signed into the Amazon Alexa app that was associated with the account that managed the Echo Dot Kids Edition device I was working with. I then started searching for the educational apps I wanted. Specifically for me this time, 123 Math and AskMyClass. 
  • I then downloaded the FreeTime app for Alexa and signed in with the same credentials. 
  • I then launched the Parent Dashboard inside the app by clicking on the "Child" that I had set up already. (This is password protected so that children can't add things without permission."
  • I then clicked on "Settings"/"Add Content"/"Alexa Skills"
  • I was able to swipe on skills I wanted to add to this device.  
Two concerns:
  1. That's a whole lot of steps, maybe there is a shorter way to do this that I am not aware of right now.
  2. FreeTime will not be free after a year grace period that I received when I got the devices this year. 
Next thing happened TODAY! When I opened my Amazon Alexa app today I noticed something new.
  • Click on "Your Skills" at the top of the app
  • Now I see "Blueprints" 
  • Not only do I see Blueprints but I can create them right from the app now. This can be an amazing formative assessment tool on the fly.
This is a gamechanger for the classroom! We can now personalize the use of our Kids Edition Echo Dots with skills that relate to OUR classrooms and do it safely by using the Kids Edition Echo Dot! Alexa, I could kiss your face! I can't wait to share all this with my teachers tomorrow! 

P.S.-ALEXA, did you read my blog yesterday? Am I vain to think I might have been the catalyst for this change????

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Hey Alexa, do you want to come to my school?

For the last two years, Bradley Metrock of Score Publishing has brought the Alexa Conference to my fair city, Chattanooga the Beautiful. Due to my reaching out to Bradley last year, I not only had the opportunity to attend this cutting edge event but I also spoke during the conference about Alexa from an educator's perspective.  Last year my mind was blown by the creative geniuses in the room that traveled from all over the world to attend. Last year was an intimate group that allowed me to pick their brains.

This year, Amazon became a sponsor of the Alexa Conference and the attendee list grew! For me, it was nice to walk in and see familiar faces and to catch up with some of the developers. This morning is the last day of the 2019 Alexa Conference and I truly feel fortunate to be a part of this event.

In August 2018, Bradley Metrock of Score Publishing connected me with Dave Isbitski, Alexa Chief Evangelist, because I wanted to create a pilot opportunity using Echo Dot Kids Editions with remotes at our school. Mr. Isbitski and his wife graciously sent 5 devices and remotes to our school to support our concept. We have tried things, adjusted, been disappointed, tried new things, and continue to look for ways to integrate the Echo Dot Kids Edition in our classrooms.

After attending the conference, I have learned that our path in using these devices feels ok. Both the pilot teachers and I have been somewhat disappointed in our path of trying to find ways to intentionally integrate. As I have sat and listened to the struggles and the unknowns of various Alexa developers, I realize I am in a place I haven't been very often as an instructional technologist- not bleeding edge but cutting edge. We are truly part of the first to push through.

Using the Echo Dot Kids Edition means we do not have access to using the wonderful blueprints feature available with the regular Echo Dot. I'll be honest, this is probably the most frustrating thing I've dealt with in regards to the potential of tech in the classroom for as long as I can remember. If teachers could create their own skills (without learning how to code) then they could personalize the use of their voice first devices to meet the specific needs in their classroom. It becomes more than just a timer or generic testing of math facts.

I had the chance to talk to some Amazon Alexa representatives at the conference about why you can't create blueprints for the Echo Dot Kids Edition and while I understand the response, I don't necessarily agree with it. So I find myself wondering "Hey Alexa, do you want to come to my school?" Supposedly Google is working to create a student-friendly voice option. But I see Amazon being soooooooo close to being there. Of course, this makes me wonder what is happening behind the scenes that make Amazon not want to connect the dots I see missing.

Why is the kids edition Dot almost twice the cost of the regular dot? How far are we away from a voice first speaker that is built for the preK-12 educational audience? I realize I am on the cutting edge of this and maybe don't even understand how to best meet my own needs for our school but it seems time for voice to be a part of every classroom Hey Alexa, what's the holdup? Let's move forward and show me (and all educators everywhere) how to follow student privacy laws and use voice first in meaningful ways!

Sunday, January 6, 2019

The Value of Relevant Learning

Our school's professional development focus for this year is on assessment. As we have been talking about what good assessment looks like I have been thinking about my own life and what assessment looked like as well. This week:

  • There was a focus on looking at the data analytics when using the LMS Canvas.
  • There was a focus on the value of formative assessment for both students and teachers.
  • There was a focus on "Purposeful Work" that supports our Graduate Profile.
I think it is fair to say that assessment can be relevant for teacher feedback in a myriad of ways. A well-written multiple choice test can give a teacher an immediate snapshot of the learning happening in their classroom. This week I shared with our teachers that I believe we are in a period of time that assessing is easier than ever before. Due to technology, we can now know before our students even leave the door for the day what they learned from the day's lesson. Creating quick digital assessments not only lets teachers know how to prepare the course for the next day but with a little training it can also let students know what they need to focus on for the next day as well. I hear a lot of pushback about differentiating and personalization on social media but quite honestly research shows that the use of formative assessments can truly have a transformable impact for students. Teachers have been doing the "show me a thumb up/thumb down- did you get this?" assessment for a long time. With the technology available many classrooms have today, digital formative assessments are both easy to create and accomplish for your students. I'm a big proponent of knowing if your students are grasping the concepts along the way instead of learning they didn't when they take a summative assessment at the end of a unit.

But today we see a big push towards relevant learning or what we now call "purposeful work" at CCS. This can look like many things. For instance, community-based projects, project-based learning/problem-based learning, authentic learning are all things that make students engaged in the learning process. The fear for many educators is that they don't know for sure if their students are truly learning the concepts expected of them. While rubrics and inquiry-based learning feels purposeful, many of our teachers can't help but think "But I know they are going to be tested at the end of the year. What if learning gains aren't achieved with this type of assessment?" 

I personally feel that's where the beauty of digital formative assessment can play a game-changing role. You have objectives you are trying to reach. You also are guiding your students through the process of purposeful work. Knowing daily what they have gained in this process and who you need to have chats with during the process can be attained through this type of assessing. 

I turn 50 next month and I am at that place where I don't remember a lot of the details of my k12 education. I remember people, shocking events, or big happy things but the process of learning...not so much. I will always remember one thing that has stuck with me for all these years that was relevant to my life at that time. I was in a dual-enrollment English class and was asked to write a persuasive open letter to anyone of my choice. There was a newsletter that went out to parents that had really rubbed me the wrong way so my open letter was to our school principal. I saw it as an assignment but my teacher chose to highlight in class because it impacted everyone in the class and because he felt it was well written. That letter changed how I saw myself as a writer. I knew if I felt passionate about something I had the ability to write it in a way that could have a positive impact. 

Relevant learning has the ability to inspire learners for their future. After a rollercoaster ride of various careers, I sit here today being someone that blogs about education on a regular basis. Not only do I share helpful tips about tech integration but I try to focus on the "why." I feel certain that moment back in 12th grade at Hixson High School has a lot to do with it. I was empowered by that moment. I remember being mortified when I realized the teacher was actually reading my letter. You see, I was a fairly quiet student so when he was done, no one could guess who had written it. The letter led to a great classroom discussion and gave me the feeling of educational respect from my peers that I had not experienced before. I was definitely not the smartest student in that class but on that topic, I was the most passionate. Relevant learning has the ability to stick with us, to mold us, and to empower us for something later on. 

So I guess I am writing this post to ask you to not give up on teaching differently. It doesn't mean you can't still assess your students in ways that feel more beneficial to you as a teacher- use formative assessment to know if students "get it" but look for ways that they can also "take it."

Food for thought: Do you remember the details of any multiple choice test you ever took?