Picasa and Google Apps – Me likey!

I posted this tweet earlier today “Today I have come to appreciate how powerful Picasa and Picasa Web albums are within Google Apps. Me Likey!”

I received a tweet back from @smbeaverson – “details?”

I decided to create a little blogpost about my first encounter with Picasa within my Google Apps domain and share some advantages of the application.


  1. I can share and give access to users within my domain to Web Albums. This includes distribution groups I have created using Google Groups OR contact lists I have created in Gmail.  For instance, we had an event yesterday (Blue Ribbon Award Ceremony – YEAH!) and I had taken quite a few pictures.  However, I also knew that other teachers\staff also had pictures too.  Giving them web album access, they can upload their own pictures vs emailing them to ME and having ME upload them to the web album.  It is as simple as sending an email! (See image below)

Note the people on the right are contact lists that I have created.  As soon as I type any email, it automatically loads from my personal AND district contacts!  Simple!  I can also decide who gets to add photos (group of people?) or just View photos.  We also have distribution lists we have created via Google Groups which allows me to instantly share an album with a single group email. (Teachers, Buildings, District)

2. What I also noted, was that we can tag people within albums, just like facebook, and I can begin associating specific people with pictures.  This is all associated with my contacts and district contact list.

3.  Picasa also has some basic photo editing features too! AND I note – Picnik is now a feature and even listed as a Google App.

4.   With the Picasa App, You can also synchronize folders on your computer.  So, as you add pics, it just sends them to the web.  (Is this good – not sure, but its doable!)

5.  You can easily create and embed slideshow widgets based on your albums.

Possible Problems

1.  Not a long term solution as you only get a 1 gb folder.  You will have to do housecleaning and teach staff/students how to conserve space by resizing images.

2.  It took me a little while to figure out how to integrate the Picasa App with the Picasa Web albums.  Training (or learning time)  is going to be needed.

3.  I havent transitioned my domain to the new Google Apps.  Right now, only very few people have access to these tools (within our domain).

From banning to embracing – my thoughts on allowing student owned devices in our schools

Right now there is a GREAT discussion happening in my highschool regarding allowing/banning students to bring in student owned devices.   Our high school principal sent an email to our staff inviting them respond/discuss their thoughts of the following video showing a student owned device pilot project in Osseo Schools.


The following is my response to our staff:

Dear Staff,
I appreciate the responses from this thread and value all of your ideas and concerns.  In my honest opinion, I truly feel that we can no longer ignore these Internet enabled devices.   Students are walking into your classrooms with Google in their pockets – we should harness this opportunity – not ban it.

The 2010 Horizon Report indicates we have 1 year or less to adopt these technologies in our schools.  It is coming, it is here, its not going away.  As I think of my own use of my smart phone – it is an integral part of my business communications. As we think of preparing students for their future – these devices are going to be the primary way students are connected to people (family, friends, coworkers) as well as personal/professional email, calendars, social media applications.  In the 21st century being connected also means using these devices to create, learn and share  information.  If interested, the new term coined for this type of learning is mlearning.  (Let me Google it for you!)

Budget.  I can honestly say for the past 10 years the term 1:1 has been discussed numerous times in various committees.  But, to develop a budget to support an initiative as well as SUSTAIN it is very complex and fiscally not possible… at least not yet.  Financially, it makes sense for students to bring in their personal devices.

Access.  Did you know that our HS has less than a 2:1 ratio?  For every 2 students we have 1 computer/laptop. We have added labs this summer and added computers to address class sizes.  It is still not enough.  As you continue to integrate technology into your classes the demand for access is rising.  I realize their may be concerns of have/and have nots. However, I really have to wonder how many have nots we have? I just purchased an iPod touch for my youngest for Christmas for about $200. It has full Internet capabilities – including access to Google Apps, Moodle, as well as a wealth of other useful tools(aka APPS).

As for obstacles I see three issues when moving in this direction.

  • Current Policy.  Right now our policy bans this technology in our classrooms. Here is an etiquette guide to give an example  of what other schools are looking at. There may be new discipline issues that will come with these devices too, but look at the amount of discipline time we are spending just trying implementing our “Ban” policy.  I would like to take an uneducated guess and say that 90% of our detention, parent calls, frustrated students, incident record keeping could disappear if we allowed these devices in our schools.  We should be teaching students how to appropriately use them – not ban them.  This is a skill that will be very important for them, when they graduate and go to college/workforce.
  • Bandwidth/Wireless.  Adding an additional 300 devices might affect our Internet bandwidth.  We will need adjust it and it will cost $.  We also need to think about increasing the wireless access (add more access points) this is also an added cost.
  • Teaching will need to change – Teachers are going to need to create lesson plans that are endpoint independent.  If you have a classroom of Smartphones, iPods, iPads, netbooks and laptops – how you will have your students complete the lessons will change. At this point, We will still need our labs for writing, specialized programs, and testing – but is the lab necessary for research and other web-based applications?  Teacher will also need to think about how they assess student learning.  If students are given tests that can be easily Googled, is it a relevant assessment to their learning? Cheating is always a concern, but if teachers develop more authentic assessments and/or project based lessons – cheating  can decrease immensely. An added benefit will be that students will know the content better and it will be more meaningful to them.

I look forward to continuing this conversation with you.  I think easing into this environment is a great idea and I think a pilot is very appropriate. I will also be willing to serve on any HS committee/group that are wiling to look at this further.

I would like to leave you with an excerpt from Doug Johnson’s Blue Skunk blog post Rules for Pod People and a Proposal for Banning Pencils, in which he compares the reasons for banning iPods with banning pencils:

  1. A student might poke out the eye of another student.
  2. A student might write a dirty word with one. Or even write a whole harassing note and pass it to another student.
  3. One student might have a mechanical pencil making those with wooden ones feel bad.
  4. The pencil might get stolen or lost.
  5. Kids might be doodling instead of working on their assignments.

Headed to TIES

I am very excited to be able to go back to my TIES Conference this year.  As I reflect on my learning over the course of the last year, it is primarily made up of online resources like Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking/media.  Even though I have learned a tremendous amount from my PLN (Personal Learning Network), I also value the ability to connect face to face with colleagues out in the field.


iPad in the Classroom

My PLN has been buzzing about this gadget for quite some time and I am looking forward to some hands-on training.  I am fortunate that I recently obtained access to one, and from personal standpoint – I LOVE IT.  I can do just about anything on this device as I can on a computer. Reading on it is amazing.  Even though I am a screen reader – I have found that the iPad seems a little easier on the eyes. I can watch videos, listen to music, and browse the web.  Some of the apps are absolutely fantastic.  So far, I am very impressed with the Music apps, children’s education apps, interactive simulations, and free books.  What I am hoping is to find out what others are using in their classrooms and figure out the best way to sift through the junk and get right to the good stuff.  I am also wondering what apps are worth paying for.  Right now, this device (as well as the iPod) is under consideration in our Early Ed classrooms.

Moodle Compact Design

I am very excited about this workshop!  I first witnessed this design back in October, while attending the Memo conference.   There is a new technique via Moodle that takes the “Moodle Scroll of Death” away and make it more compact. (Participants in online courses have to scroll up and down to get to their appropriate content.)  In January, I am teaching another 4 week “Facilitating Online Learning with Moodle” course to some of our teachers and I not only want to improve the experience for my participants but also teach them NEW design techniques.  I plan to apply what I have learned by actively working on my course @ this session.  I have also excited to meet and connect with other Moodlers!


Google Apps for Education
8:30 – 3:30 –(all day – YEAH!)

Last January, our district transitioned to Google Apps for Education.  All of our teachers and students (grades 5-12) have an account and have access to Gmail, Calendar, Docs, and Sites.  It is simply amazing what we are doing in our district, schools, and classrooms because of Google Apps! It has transformed the way we create and share information and I truly believe we have different conversations because of this tool.  I am looking to learning new ideas of how we can further integrate Google Apps in our classrooms and of course networking with Google Apps users.  I am hoping I will learn about how other districts are using Google Sites for ePortfolios.  We had a couple of pilot projects this fall and any information I can bring back would be great.  I am a believer in ePortfolios as an assessment tool – not only is it authentic and meaningful to students, but it is also very relevant in today’s world!

Some highlights I am looking forward to on Monday and Tuesday!

Keynote – Monday AM: I am thrilled to be able to attend the opening keynote – Sir Ken Robinson, “Finding Students’ Passion” on Monday morning!  I have been following his work for some time and feel privileged I get to hear him speak.  Our district also is sending a team of teachers to the conference this day so I am really looking forward to how they react to his presentation and most of all, any follow-up discussions/ideas afterwards.

eLearning - FLickr photo by adesigna

eLearning - FLickr photo by adesigna

I am also looking forward to presenting at TIES this year.  On Monday, I will co-present with Blue Skunk Blogger, Doug Johnson – “A Guide for Teachers Using Social and Educational Networking Sites”.  Session is from 11:45 – 12:45.  Immediately following that session, I am presenting with our Math Department “Bidding Adieu to Textbooks” @ 1pm.  (Wow – is that going to be a tight schedule!)  I am very proud of the work these educators have done to discontinue the use of textbooks in our Math Curriculum and feel fortunate we get to share our story.

As for the other general sessions I plan on attending sessions that deal with:

  • Online learning
  • Effective assessment practices in the 21st Century
  • 1:1 Computing and/or Mobile Devices

After looking at my focus strands – I realize how they all related to one another.

I plan tweeting and blogging about my experiences during and after the conference.  If you can’t attend the conference but are interested in following the conversations, I suggest you follow the discussion via #ties10.

MDE Bridge Plan – Goals and Strategies

Flickr photo by Eggman

Flickr photo by Eggman

School districts that apply for Erate must have to have an approved technology plan ON File with the Minnesota Department of Education.  This year we are required to submit a bridge plan to share updates on the previous 2008-11 technology plans.    I decided to post the goals and related strategies of the plan to my blog as I am most definitely interested in feedback.  Many of these strategies are already underway while others will be a work in progress.

Goal: Ensure that all Byron students fully engage in a 21st century learning environment.

  • Investigate distance/online options for teaching and learning and develop a comprehensive e-Plan for district implementation.
  • Develop assessment model to determine district’s eReadiness
  • Pilot/Research mobile technologies and develop a mobile learning plan to extend student access as well as learning and teaching to Byron staff and students.
  • Work with district principals to develop a technology integration observation/assessment model for all K12 classrooms
  • Expand 24/7 access to student courses and learning materials (K-12)
  • Update district’s current technology assessment to include current technologies and transformative instructional practices.
  • Monitor the use of Google Apps for Education with staff and students

Goal: Centralize and strengthen support services

  • Implement a centralized support/ticket system
  • Investigate and implement a remote desktop support system

Goal: Expand professional development opportunities through online courses/resources

  • Expand the pool of certified Byron online teachers through participation of district’s 36 credit hour “Facilitating Online Learning” course.
  • Promote PLN’s (Personal Learning Networks) to all district staff
  • Expand BEARS PGA to include online opportunities
  • Explore and expand opportunities by collaborating with regional and statewide networks

Goal: Improve district hardware and infrastructure.

  • Research and develop a teacher laptop replacement plan for summer 2011 to include 2 options of laptops based on user needs. (power vs standard)
  • Implement district’s first virtual desktop lab.  Monitor the ROI of the
  • Investigate asset management technologies

Goal: Increase Communication between Staff, Students, and Community

  • Explore and increase the use of social media (Twitter, Facebook, Youtube) as a communication tool for the Byron Public Schools parents, students, and community.
  • Monitor and promote effective use of Infinite Campus and its parent portals K-12

I appreciate the state of MN publishing approved plans(pdf) online as it helps me to learn what others districts are planning and also gauge the technology vision of our district with other schools.  I have been told there can be up to 1 month turn around for approval.  MN Districts are advised to submit their plans soon – to ensure approval before the next erate cycle.

Goal 4 – Teacher laptop replacement plan

Goal 4 – Research and develop a teacher laptop replacement plan for summer 2011.

ThinkPad X100e
ThinkPad X100e

It is amazing how fast 3 years go by!  Next summer, we will be looking at another teacher laptop refresh.  All of our teachers and administrators have had wirless laptops since the 2001!  Typically, in the past, we have provided ALL teachers with the same laptop. The laptop specifications were robust and I believe that the 50 or 60 percent of our staff do not come close to utilizing all the features of the systems.  (not official)  These systems were also more expensive.  Again, with the financial status of our district we need to be able to cut down on the spending to support this project for our 115+ users.  The last time we looked at systems there was no such thing as a netbook.  One laptop/netbook we are currently looking at is the X100e Lenovo Thinkpad.  It has a full keyboard, nice sturdy design, and has everything that low end or even mid end users would take advantage of.  Light, Mobile, Nice screen ratio! This next go around we may have a couple of options for staff to chose from based on computer usage and needs.

Stay tuned…more goals to follow!  I would love to hear feedback!

Goal 3 – Virtual Technology

Goal 3 – Implement Virtual Technology.

It is time for us to begin the process and adopt virtual technology in our district.  Summer plans include beginning to virtualize our servers.  We have acquired quite a server farm over the years! I see  improved IT management  and  energy savings as significant reason to make the move!  We are also piloting our first virtual desktop computer lab.  Now, there are some people that say the cost savings are almost ½ of what a desktop lab is.  Client to client that may be true – but you need to have a larger server with more capacity to be able to push out to those virtual desktop clients.  If you are going between buildings – you had better be sure that your WAN connection can support the number of clients.  In doing our own checking – we would have to upgrade from a 1B to a 10GB connection to support this.  Again, what I see as the advantage – is the energy savings and the efficiency of IT management.  So you have a spyware bug? Reboot.  Need to add a new application – add it to the image.   I am sure there will be future blogging – and tweeting about this topic.  If it is as good as I have been reading and hearing about we will expand the technology in other schools in the future!

Goal 2 – Robust Support System

Flickr photo by Katiew

Flickr photo by Katiew

Goal 2 –  Research and implement district wide help desk system.

This goal has been on my “to do” list for a while.  Right now, the way we provide support is somewhat fragmented.  There is no systemic process of how problems/solutions are communicated.  Email is the primary way of staff making “requests” but there are also phone calls, sticky notes, instant messages, text messages, and the friendly f2f “Hey Jen?”.  Well, as you can imagine – and I have come to realize – is that the way we prioritize and actually provide the support can also be fragmented.  Of course it is easy to prioritize big issue items like Internet, Network, Email, ect – because of the amount of users it impacts.  But the smaller requests, are more difficult especially when we are getting requests by so many different methods.  So what am I looking for?

  • Something EASY.  The last thing I want is some big complicated system that is difficult for our end-users or difficult for us (techs) to support.
  • Something CHEAP/FREE. In light of our financial status we need a system that is economical.  Is it possible to develop a system with Google Apps? Is there an open source option?  I just really need to get the bulk of my requests OUT of my inbox and into a centralized system! Which leads me to…
  • Something CENTRALIZED with ROBUST REPORTING capabilities.  Right now I can’t tell you how many issues we fix in a day, month, year –  nor can I  tell you if we have systemic “small” problems across our buildings.  Is the support load of one of our techs unmanageable?  Are their problems that consistently come up that training or support materials need to be created to support? Is there a knowledgebase of “fixes” where our end users can find their own answers?

I would LOVE to hear what your district uses and how it has helped your district!

Goal 1 – ePlanning

As one school year ends, another begins.  I am going to post to my blog my goals I would like to have accomplished during the 2010-11 school year.  (There are 10!)

Flickr photo by Jen Hega

Flickr photo by Jen Hega

Goal 1- Investigate distance/online options for teaching and learning and develop a comprehensive e-Plan for district implementation.
This year, I have seen a significant rise in the use of technology in our district.  Digital storytelling, Wiki’s, Blogging, Social Networking, as well as a wealth of Web2.0 tools are engaging and impacting learning and teaching in our classrooms.

In January, our district transitioned to Google Apps for Education, and this summer we are preparing for a student transition as well.  It is exciting to see the innovations that staff and teachers have come up with – so quickly after implementation.  To put it frankly, we are having unbelievable conversations and ideas to come up with new and much more efficient ways to obtain, collect, and communicate information.  This summer we will be integrating Google  Apps with our students.  I have even registered for a third domain for elementary students in which we can provide “walled garden” access to the suite of collaborative tools.

Our teacher’s use of Moodle is also influencing learning beyond our brick and mortar classrooms.  I announced earlier that our high school math department has unanimously decided to “ditch textbooks”. By developing their own curriculum with a blend of open education resources (oer) and teacher created content –   students will have 24/7 access to teacher content/ lecture.

We recently installed our own Moodle server so that we, as a district, have more control over design and user access with Moodle.  This summer we plan to merge several of the district systems (Active Directory, Moodle, and Google Apps) to provide a more user-friendly experience for our students and a more efficient experience for support services. (yeah!)

These examples are just the tip of the elearning iceberg.  I am very proud of what we have going on in our district, yet I truly feel that a comprehensive plan needs to be developed to put all the pieces (image) together. Right now, we have a piecemeal of activity happening, and need a systemic approach to ensure that all our students have access/experience to effective collaborative online environments.  Please note – that I feel eLearning does NOT need to be just fully online courses – but can also represent a blend of activities in the f2f or blended (part f2f/part online) classroom.

What do you think? What other pieces are there in this eLearning puzzle?  It’s going to be a journey – for sure!

Bidding adieu to textbooks…

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Andrew Wertheimer

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Andrew Wertheimer

This summer our high school math department will be leaving their old, heavy, dusty textbooks behind and will be developing and moving their curriculum online.  While this may seem like a considerable charge (for a team of five) there are several reasons why they decided – Now is the time to move!

  • Money talks – Especially when there is none.  Just like most districts in the state of MN, our district is facing budget reductions.  There is no money for new textbooks.
  • New Standards – The state of MN has been shifting and restructuring the math standards and many of the current HS math courses need adjusting to match those standards – starting in the 2010-11 school year.
  • Current textbook Use – The team has identified that the  majority of our students do not use textbook as learning resources but use them for homework assignments only. They are heavy, dated, and lack real world application.
  • Open Education – New open education resources like Hippocampus, Curriki, or Connexions are free online sites with organized learning modules so teachers do not have to reinvent the wheel. (many are multimedia rich)
  • Learning Styles – Textbooks only address a limited number of learning styles and are generally not for the visual or auditory learners.  They are not interactive, very impersonal, and lack the collaborative learning students today crave.
  • Access 24/7 – The math department has already made the decision to begin recording video SMART board lessons/lectures/demonstrations, storing them on Youtube, and organizing the content within Moodle.  Students will have 24/7 access to these resources, and can watch and (RE)watch the recordings as many times as it takes to understand the concepts.  (Many students will not ask questions in class in fear of looking  “stupid” in front of their peers)
  • Living Curriculum – Since the team will be creating the curriculum – they will also be able to adjust and improve upon the courses as needed.  Forever.
  • Future  Delivery of Public Education – Reports indicate that half of high school courses could be online by 2019.  Governor Pawlenty recently proposed to require every high school graduate, beginning in 2013, to take an online course, participate in an online experience or participate in online experiences.  Developing a blended curriculum in the math department will prepare our students AND teachers for the eminent shift in the delivery of public education.

There may be many more benefits than the ones I have identified above.  There will also be roadblocks that we will have to address. (like computer access)  We will tackle those problems as they occur.  I am looking forward to this new journey and the opportunities it will give our students!

Teachers computers on lockdown…

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Daniel Y. Go

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Daniel Y. Go

I can relate to  Doug Johnson’s blog post The Changing Role of Tech Support.  In his blog, he describes how some district’s:

“…technology departments are raising barriers rather than creating possibilities about new resources – especially when the objections seem rather spurious (security of GoogleApps, bandwidth for YouTube, predators on Facebook, licensing of Skype, etc.). Are the concerns real or just because the way of doing something is different?”

In a recent discussion…  blaming problems of spyware, malware it was the opinion of some districts tech departments to block and lock down everything – including teacher systems. Software like Deep Freeze, was being installed on teacher computers and teachers did not have “administrative” rights to bypass this security allowing them to install software, including opensource/free apps.    They (techs) decide what apps are allowed on the machines and teachers are left to talk the techs into installing the software for them, when it is convenient to the techs.

One example given was a district decision NOT to support or install JING, a free screen capture tool from Techsmith.  The district only supported Camstudio, another free app.  As an advocate for transparent educational technology – I really want my teachers to find the tool that they are most comfortable with to adapt and – most of all – integrate into their classrooms to support student learning.  I am more proud of the fact they are recording tutorials/resources for their students rather than scrutinizing what tool they want to use to do it.

Doug describes this problem as techs being reluctant to change.  I would agree.  Just as teachers need to move from the “sole givers of information” techs also need to move from the “sole givers of the technology”.  Do you think a better understanding of classroom pedagogy and instructional design would help these reluctant districts  accept that teachers need to have the flexibility to find, install, and practice with emerging tools to match and support their students individual learning styles and needs?

I will admit – I genuinely enjoy collaborating with (not policing) teachers when trying THEIR new ideas within their classrooms! The benefits to our students have been AMAZING!