Thursday, July 18, 2019

Digital Assistants: Should you bring them to school?

There are now a variety of digital assistants on the market for home and office use- Amazon Echo (Alexa) and Google Home are two of the most popular and widely used. A digital personal assistant is a software-based service that resides in the cloud, designed to help end users complete tasks such as answering questions, managing schedules, home control, playing music, accessing games, and much more.

It seems like a natural extension to most teachers to incorporate this tool in the classroom to answer questions, define words, and play learning games. But should you bring this tool into your classroom? 

US Educational Privacy Laws
These devices are designed for home and office use primarily by adults. They are not designed for use in the classroom, and therefore, typically don't comply with US laws for educational privacy. In Tweets from Bill Fitzgerald, which have since been removed, he tells us about a conversation with an Amazon representative:

The fact is, any technology tool used in the classroom must comply with COPPACIPA, or FERPA. If you choose to use a tool in the classroom that is not compliant with these laws, then you and your district could be sued and you can lose your teaching license. While the chance of that scenario happening may seem remote, these laws are in place to protect children and give parents and guardians recourse when the laws are not followed.

What is being recorded and who is listening? 
This is a hot topic and a subject of much debate. Each of the companies maintains that their digital assistants do not record or "listen" unless a "wake word" is detected. Even if that is the case, when it does detect a wake word, it records the interaction between the user and the digital assistant. Those recordings are then stored in the cloud and listened to by real people who transcribe and annotate the interactions then feed them back into the software to help improve the responsiveness of your digital assistant

But is that all that happens with the recordings? Not always. For example, there's also the story of a Portland family whose private conversation was recorded and sent to a business associate.

How else might recordings from digital assistants be misused? 
Recently, police in Arkansas got a warrant for sound recordings from a man's Amazon Echo. This raises a host of issues when it comes to student privacy. As teachers, it is up to us to protect the most vulnerable of our students. 

For example, if you have English language learners in your classroom, chance are some of them are undocumented. Having a digital assistant recording conversations could put these students and their families in danger of deportation should ICE decide to get a warrant for your classroom's digital assistant. The families and parents of your ELLs are not necessarily knowledgable of their rights and their child's rights, nor are they always in a position to advocate for those rights.

As another example, we already know that Alexa has, on at least one occasion, sent a private conversation to an outside party. What if during an IEP meeting, your digital assistant starts recording and sends out a recording of one child's IEP meeting to another child's parent or another of your contacts? This would be a huge breach of privacy.

In the end....
It comes down to asking yourself this: is using a "cool tool" in the classroom worth the safety of your students and their families? Is it worth risking your career for?

If you decide to move forward with using a digital assistant in the classroom, you must:

  • ensure that use of such a tool does not violate any policies in your school or district
  • explain to parents what it is and how you plan to use it
  • make parents aware of potential risks to student privacy and security of information
  • get signed permission from all parents before you begin using it in the classroom 
It can be so very tempting to bring the coolest new tool into the classroom- but I urge you to carefully consider the implications before you act!

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Google Classroom: Rubrics Beta

I've finally had a chance to play with one of the new Classroom features that is currently in Beta- the rubrics feature! This is a really cool feature that many users have been requesting for awhile. Read on to learn a little bit more about how it works!

Creating a Rubric
Creating a rubric is pretty easy, with the ability to duplicate criteria to make rubric creation a little faster. The rubrics are 100% customizable- you input your own criteria and descriptions. For each criteria, you can have up to 10 levels of performance. When creating an assignment, you'll see the blue "create rubric" button on the assignment creation box. Tip: When creating your rubric, don't forget to scroll down and save!

Editing a Rubric
If you've forgotten something or just want to edit the rubric in any way, it's easy to do! Tip: When editing a rubric, don't forget to scroll down and save!

Reusing Rubrics
One drawback right now is the inability to choose from your already created rubrics to just add to an assignment. You must currently create the rubric each time.....however, there IS a workaround. If you've already attached the rubric you want to use to another assignment assignment, you can just reuse the assignment, attach new documents, change the name and the instructions, and save yourself some effort.

Send feedback!
If you're participating in the Beta, be sure to send feedback and let the developers know what you like, what you don't like, and what you'd like to see added! They take Beta Feedback into heavy consideration when finalizing the updates for public roll-out. Tip: Title your feedback "Rubrics Beta" in the subject line.

Overall, I like the new rubrics tool, though there are a few things that I think could make it more teacher-friendly. The ability to choose from created rubrics as I mentioned above is one. Another thing I would like to see is the ability to import spreadsheets into the rubric tool. I have a lot of rubrics in spreadsheet format, so it would be nice not to have to recreate those. Yes, I know...copy and paste will have to do for now!

How can you sign up for the beta?
Inevitably, some of you now want to get on board with this awesome tool and start learning how to use it for the coming school year. You can sign up for the beta by filling out this form.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

New Features Coming to GSuite for Education!

Just in time for #ISTE19, Google has announced new features coming to your favorite GSuite for Education apps this fall!

Coming Very Soon....

The Gradebook feature in Classroom has been in beta testing for a bit, but has officially launched publicly. Classroom users should begin to see it in their Classrooms over the coming weeks.

Locked Mode for Managed Chromebooks
A beta has been going throughout the school year in Forms, allowing teachers to lock students in to the tab on quizzes on managed Chromebooks. The beta is wrapping up, and teachers should be seeing this feature become available when setting up quizzes by August.

Question Import in Forms 
Also coming soon (no specific date given) is the ability to import questions from other Forms when creating a new Google Form. Teachers will find this handy when creating and differentiating assessments for students!

Beta Test Opportunities

If you've ever wished you could attach a rubric to an assignment in Google Classroom, you're going to love this news! Google announced that they are working on a feature to allow you to do just that. If you want to get access early, consider signing up for the beta

School Information System (SIS) Sync
Google has been working with many large SIS providers to provide you a better experience by allowing you to sync your classroom and gradebook with your school or district's SIS. If you're eager to try out this feature, consider signing up for the beta.

Those are all the big announcements! Hop on the betas if you're so inclined so that you can give your feedback and help perfect the final version! 

Let me know what you think about these new features! And, if you're going to ISTE, don't miss me there!

Can't make it to ISTE? Catch me at Teach with Tech Conference- online!

Monday, April 15, 2019

Google Classroom: Printing Student Submissions

One of the most common questions I have teachers ask is, "How can I print all my student submissions at once, rather than one at a time?". Since Google Classroom is designed to facilitate a paperless classroom, there is no in-built method to easily print all the submissions for a given assignment. However- there is an easy way to do it!

Step-by-step instructions:

1. Go to your Drive and open the Classroom Folder.

2. Find the subfolder for the Classroom that the assignment you want to print is posted in. For example, if your classroom is named "6th RELA 4th period" then the subfolder for that classroom will be labeled the same.

3. Locate the subfolder for the assignment. It will have the same title as the assignment. Right click the folder to get the folder menu and select "download".

4. Once the zipped folder is downloaded, unzip and open it.

5. Select all the files in the folder.

6. Finally, go to File>Print and follow your system's printing prompts.

While the screenshots are from a Mac, the same basic procedures should work for those of you using PC as well! I hope this helps you to print work when needed in a quicker manner! Please comment below with any questions!

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Google Classroom: How to Order New Assignments to the Top of the Classwork Tab?

**Please note, since the date of this blog post, Google Classroom has introduced a drag and drop feature. You can now drag and drop topics and assignments within topics into the desired order.

One of the biggest complaints I've seen so far about the new updates to Google Classroom is the fact that new topics and the assignments within them go to the bottom of the Classwork Tab. Many teachers don't like the fact that their students have to scroll down through all previous assignments in order to find the most recent ones. Today, I want to share a workaround with you that can help alleviate this issue.

The Default
By default, new topics and/or assignments will go to the bottom of the list on the Classwork tab. You can move topics and assignments within topics up and down on the Classwork tab by clicking the three dots to the right and selecting "move up" or "move down".

However, if you have a long list of previous assignments, this is a lot of moving up/down after adding a new assignment. There is no way to archive or hide previous assignments, other than deleting them. However, I don't recommend deleting past assignments as you won't be able to "reuse" them in later Classrooms. Additionally, once an assignment is deleted, the grades and any private comments are also deleted.

The Workaround
If you create an assignment, question or material without assigning it to a topic, it will appear at the top of the Classwork tab.

Leave it there until the assignment is completed. Then click the three dots and select "edit".

Find the topic dropdown and add a topic to the post by creating a new topic or selecting an existing topic. This will move the assignment from the top of the stream into a topic module, clearing the way at the top of the Classwork tab for the next set of new assignments.

In my opinion, this is the easiest way to get new assignments to the top of the Classwork tab without having to endlessly click "move up" or "move down". Let me know how this works for you in the comments!

Thursday, September 6, 2018

The LATEST Feature Release in Google Classroom

In the weeks since the launch of the updates to Google Classroom, many teachers have sent feedback to the developers. Today, they release several new highly requested features. Read on to learn about those features! Keep in mind that these features will be rolling out to all users over the next few days, so if you don't see them yet- never fear! They'll show up in your Classrooms soon. 

Add Materials

Many teachers were disappointed to find that the "about" tab and the ability to add resources there is gone. Today, Google added a new option under the "Create" button on the Classwork tab labeled "Materials". This allows you to add static materials (not as an assignment or question) to the classwork tab. They can also be organized under any topic on your Classwork tab as well. I created a topic called "resources" to stay at the top of my Classwork stream where items like my syllabus and course website are housed. See the gif below to learn how to add materials to your Classroom- click to see it larger.

Add Classwork Tab

Many teachers started school around or prior to the launch of new features and had already created their Classrooms. Those classes created prior to the launch did not update with the new features. However, today Google released a feature to allow you to add the Classwork tab to your legacy classes. You can now have the Classwork Tab in your classroom created prior to the launch. Watch the gif below to learn how!

Quicker Announcements

Now, instead of having to hover over the + button in the lower right of the page to add an announcement, instead you can do it straight from the top of the stream. 

To reuse an announcement from an archived class, you just click the arrows at the far right of the announcement box, as shown below. 

Important to know

If your students are using mobile devices such as phones or tablets, they will need to update their app in order to have all the latest features. If your students using mobile devices aren't able to see materials that you've posted, this is likely the reason!

Still Coming

Some features are still currently in development, such as the ability to create a quiz from the "create" button on the Classwork tab and create locked quizzes in Forms for students using managed Chromebooks. 

I also know many teachers and students have been missing the To-Do List and the return of this feature has been highly requested. Google did also announce today that in the coming weeks, they will be bringing back the To-Do List

Hopefully, these changes will make the new Google Classroom even better for you!

Monday, July 16, 2018

The NEW Google Classroom- Beta Preview

As announced at ISTE 2018, there are major changes coming to Google Classroom this August. If you've signed up for the beta program, you may be seeing some of these changes on your Google Classroom already. If you didn't sign up for the beta, you'll see these changes coming in August. I wanted to take a few minutes and give you a quick overview.

The Stream
Instead of assignments being posted on the stream, the stream is now more of a social hub- a place for updates and announcements to appear. It is no longer possible to add assignments to the stream. Instead, when you post an assignment, a notification will appear in the stream, while the actual assignment can be seen on the Classwork page.

The Classwork Page
The Classwork page is now the new location for assignments. This is where all the assignments and questions that you create will appear. The Classwork page now also hosts the links to the Classroom folder on Drive, the Class Calendar, and the Google Calendar.

Using the topics feature when posting assignments and questions can help you easily organize the Classwork page by units, modules, or sessions. The box for assigning topics can be found next to the due date on the assignment creation box.

Assigning topics to the assignments and questions you create will group them together on the classwork page in modules. Below is an example of a Classroom I'm using for professional development- you can see how my first module is nicely grouped together. You can rearrange assignments within a topic, and rearrange the order of topics as well. This is done by clicking the three dots in the right of the assignment or topic- there is no drag and drop option at this time.

The People Page
This page is very much like the "students'' tab that you're familiar with.

From here, you can add students and co-teachers, mute students, email students or guardians, and invite guardians to receive daily or weekly Guardian Summaries. Not much has changed about this page except a slight change to the layout and the name of the page. 

A few things are no longer located on this page:
  • Student posting permissions
  • Turning on/off guardian summaries for the class
  • Class code

Classroom Settings
This is new, and this is now where you will find the student posting permissions, the toggle for guardian summaries, and is one of the places you can find the class code.  From your Classroom, click the "gear" setting in the upper right of the page. This is where you'll also be able to toggle on and off your ability to see posts that have been deleted.

You'll next see a screen that allows you to change the settings mentioned above for that class. 

You've probably noticed that the "about" tab is conspicuously missing. About is now a tiny link in the bottom right corner of your banner image.
When you click "about", you'll see a little pop-up appear with the name of the class and the class code. Clicking the box next to the class code will allow you to display it via projector so students can easily join with the code. The ability to add class materials will no longer exist in the new Classroom.

What about my existing Classrooms? 
While there will be some minor visual changes in your existing Classrooms, features like the "Classwork" page will only be available in newly created Classrooms, and will not appear in existing classes. On existing classrooms, the "about" tab will now no longer be a tab in the teacher view (it will still appear as a tab to students), but it will appear on your existing Classrooms the same as above. In existing classrooms only, it will also contain any class materials you'd added and you will still have the ability to add additional materials. The new classroom does not allow you to add materials to the "about" section any longer.

Can I still Join the Beta?
If you want to get a headstart on your classes for next school year, consider joining the beta by filling out this form. if you have a question I haven't covered here, you might find it in the FAQ

I hope you find this quick overview helpful to begin learning about the changes coming in Google Classroom. As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to reply below!