Monday, February 25, 2019

Cutting Edge versus Bleeding Edge Technology Adoption

As a rule, I definitely wouldn't consider myself a "BANDWAGON" technology adopter- those are the ones that are using new resources blazing the trail for educators like myself that would rather consider technology use after others can give me feedback and suggestions. Why am I that way?

  1. Time. There is never enough time in the day to get the things done I want to get done, much less the things I am curious about. Cutting edge technology comes with kinks and bugs. That takes time. 
  2. Limited Resources. My budget for innovation isn't very big so therefore I am not going to spend it on non-proven products/tools. I want to make sure I am going to get a bang for my school's buck. 
  3. Cautionary Nature. As a rule, I tend to want to make sure there are no unforeseen issues regarding adoption of technology. I prefer allowing someone else to jump off the bridge first while I watch to see if they sink or swim. It's my nature.  
All the above being said I believe it is fair to say that I stepped out my usual mold when it comes to voice user interface. In 2016 when Alexa first entered the market I immediately took it to a teachers classroom for a brief "trial" to consider the potential. I imagined this being a useful tool but I didn't truly decide to jump in until the Echo Dot Kids Edition hit the market. I liked the fact that with FreeTime, Alexa wouldn't have adult conversations with our students. I was ready to try! I reached out to many people in the VoiceFirst industry and was blessed by being given 5 Echo Dot Kids Editions and 5 remotes to pilot at our school. 

Here is what I can tell you today, bleeding edge adoption is a lot easier than cutting edge but I have enjoyed the challenge and nature of riding the wave into classrooms regarding Echo Dot Kids Edition in the classroom. Starting in August, I didn't know you couldn't use blueprints with the Kids Edition, I didn't know you had only use kids-labeled skills for this device unless you enable it in FreeTime and even then it may or may not show up in FreeTime for you to enable it. 

Cutting edge means quirky, disappointing, time consuming, and ever-changing. It means hours on the phone with developers. It means teachers feeling so frustrated that they want to quit. So for me, as an instructional technologist, it also means taking the lead in trying new things and handing the product over to the teachers. It means staying informed. It means questioning. It means suggesting. It means trial and error. It means time; finding that time, being intentional with that time, and growing from taking that time. 

So I say this, if you are going to choose to be a cutting edge adopter versus a bleeding edge adopter (where many of the why's and how's have already been answered) then make sure you believe in the product or tool's value and potential. If you don't, you will want to give up or take the easy route of waiting it out until someone else finds all the answers. I don't want that. I believe so strongly in the value of Alexa in the classroom that I am willing to be the evangelist for its classroom use in a world screaming all the reasons why it shouldn't be. I am willing to put safeguards up and wait out some awesome capabilities until it works within the parameters that equal safety. I am willing to blaze forward using critical thinking to creates opportunities for our students while still waiting for the technology to adapt to the true classroom needs. 

Being a cutting edge adopter means adopting with limitations. It means encouraging those that are on board with you. It means trying that thing again...a different way...failing...trying again. This experience has been good for me because it not only has pulled me out of my norm but also has pushed me in the area of a growth mindset and sticking to my learning goals. All the things I want for the teachers I serve and the students we teach. This process has honed me as an educator to be mindful of all the moving parts that come with learning. My one word for 2019 has been "resolve." This project alone has helped me to live that word out loud as well as to model it to others. 

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.