Going Google – part 2

It has been approximately 2 months since our district went live with Google Apps for Education.  Almost immediately, our schools were buzzing with innovation and increased productivity!  I have developed a presentation for other districts who are considering implementing the Google apps.  We will go live with our students this April/May.  Good luck to you and if you have questions – please send me an email (jen.hegna@byron.k12.mn.us)!

Click the FULL SCREEN Button to view the ultra tiny print!

Going Google

Our Google Apps logo

Our Google Apps logo

Back in December, at our District Technology Committee, we were discussing  technologies  like online learning, cloud computing social media, collaborative learning, and  mobile learning when  I had mentioned  Google Apps for Education.   This was a free suite of tools (Gmail, Google Docs, Google Sites, Google Talk,  Google Groups, and Google Calendar)  that could be managed under our districts umbrella.

Our district was having email issues and we would be looking at purchasing a new server….or another option would be to look at Google Apps as Gmail (Google’s email) was one of the apps we could utilize RIGHT NOW.  Going with Google Apps, just for Gmail alone, would save our district around 5-6,000 dollars. There was no “licensing” or yearly fees.  It came with a FREE spam/Virus checker, and it was all hosted AND backed up on Google’s infrastructure. One other big problem Google apps was going to help solve for me…was the increasing number of  SMART phones making there way into our district.  Staff wanted the ability to access email on their phones.   Because many of these phones were personal, we couldnt standardize on any one.  Google Apps solved that problem and is completely compatible with the Window, iPhone, Blackberry, and of course Android phones.

By the time I left the meeting, Google Apps was a GO!  Because many of our service agreements were coming up for renewal – We needed to act fast!

Google had a great 6 week deployment plan that was very helpful in our deployment.  Even though there is a short inservice scheduled, our hopes are that staff will  take a self learning approach and take advantage the newly created Byron Apps training site. ( developed by using Google Sites and a FREE template) Also, because this is Google, and we were all use to “Googling” for information – it is simply amazing the resources available on the web OR Youtube to help users find print or video content about whatever help they need within Google Apps.

This past Friday, we actually went live with the new application.  On Thursday at 3pm we cleared the queue and shut down the email server.  At midnight, the switch occurred and when we arrived at school Friday morning, mail was already beginning to arrive in our gmail inboxes.  (I had expected it to take 48 hours )  It was business as usual.   Over the next few weeks, staff will be working on uploading their email and because we used the email client Mozilla’s Thunderbird, I found a sweet little add-on, called Zindus, that would allow users to synch their personal addressbooks with Byron Apps Gmail.  (after some much needed clean up of course!)  Also, adding an Imap account in Thunderbird,  for the new Byron Apps gmail, would allow users to copy and Synch emails too.  This is going to take some time for staff, but will be well worth it in the end!

Here is a great video from Google that explains why YOU should go with Google Apps too!

My learning addiction…

Flickr image by CarrotcreativeSeriously folks – if you want a great support group while keeping a pulse on the latest technology and research,  I highly recommend you start using TWITTER!  I can not tell you how many times I have fallen into some great discussion, great research, and great resources.  Below are groups that I follow.  Check them out – find someone who interests you and by all means FOLLOW them!

On a side note – you must must must download and install an Twitter application, like Tweetdeck, to manage and track all of this information.  You can also follow and unfollow from this application.

Jen’s hints for a building a good Twitter learning community

  1. I follow people who have interesting things to say or share!
  2. I do not automatically follow everyone who follows me.
  3. When I follow someone – I look and see who they follow – after all, they get their information from somewhere.
  4. Look for the big thinkers – the people, authors, specialists  you have admired for awhile…Find them, follow them. You will be actively learning WITH them!
  5. I am not afraid to block people either.  There is alot of Internet Marketers and even some spammers (I havent had any issues in a while) that will follow me – well – if they are not up to any good I BLOCK them.
  6. Contribute to the masses – if you find something interesting, worth sharing, tweet it.  We cant learn without you!
  7. If you have a question – ask (tweet).  There are alot of helpful people out there!
  8. Its ok to shut twitter off!  Sometimes all the tweeting can be distracting – so if it is interrupting you – by all means – shut it down. (only temporarily though!)

carrotcreative. Twitter Pack. [Online Image] (March 2008).  Retrieved December 8, 2009 from Flickr Creative Commons. http://www.flickr.com/photos/carrotcreative/2511539541/

Facebook, Friending, and Security

This summer I was fortunate to collaborate with Doug Johnson, Blue Skunk Blogger, on the “Guidelines for Educators Using Social and Educational Networking Sites”. [Version (1)(2)]

Starting this week, I will be traveling to our buildings to discuss with teachers about friending and security settings within one of the most popular social networking sites… Facebook.  I have created a slideshare (below) to coincide with the discussion.  If you have trouble seeing some of the slides, it will be helpful to put it into full screen mode.

Teachers, please be informed and make good choices when creating your social profiles and posting personal information in the online environment!

The Rubber has Met the Road

The Long Road - Flickr photo by Ohad

The Long Road - Flickr photo by Ohad

Two weeks from today, schools in Minnesota will be in session.  Our homes  and schools are in a whirlwind preparing for the 09-10 school year.  Parents are hopefully finishing their school shopping while many of our teachers are beginning to get their classroom ready for their incoming students.

But – will all our classrooms truly ready for these learners?  For the past 3 years, Byron has been fortunate to have great thinkers share their thoughts during our summer’s professional growth academy. In 2007, Dr. Scott McLeod started his virtual keynote address s by quoting Bob Dylan’s phrase  “Times are a changing…”  The following summer, Doug Johnson described  Schools and Libraries for the Net Generation. This summer, David Warlick presented to a group of 50+ Byron educators about the need for Byron school district to Redefine Literacy for the 21st century and the importance of educators to develop their own personal learning networks!

Today…times are not only changing – they HAVE changed.  I began my journey with this district 13 years ago and as I reflect on how the world has evolved….it is astounding!  Back in 1996, the district installed its first LAN with 30 Windows 95 – Pentium 133 MHZ desktops.  Email was a luxury, gradebooks weren’t electronic, word processing wasn’t quite the norm, and no one had even heard of Google. Today, email is viewed as an archaic method of communication, students and parents have portal access to their teacher’s gradebook, desktop word processing is being replaced with cloud computing, and students come to class with Google in their pockets.

This year is pivotal. I have had many educators come to me with BRILLIANT ideas –  Blended learning, Wikis, Classroom Blogs, Video projects, podcasting,  and classrooms infused with Web2.0  tools to  assess their students’ learning.

So what is the worry?  I am fearful that there are still educators who are dusting of the curriculum and lesson plans that was utilized back in the days of the 133mhz Pentiums.   Furthermore, I am even more worried about the future of the students whom will sit (and get) the same education as students did 13 years ago.  As many of our educators are rising to the 21st century education challenge, taking risks,  continuously trying to improve and develop high quality, relevant courses and classrooms, there are still those whom are perfectly content teaching as they did in 1996.   Is this still acceptable?   Are these classrooms preparing our students to truly be lifelong learners in a global economy?

Experimenting with the Slideshare Widget.

As I have been working on an online course I will be presenting in a couple a weeks, I wanted to show how a widget works within a blog or content managment system.  It basically saves the end user a few steps to review the content.  (more intereactive)  I could also embed audio that would make the content even more engaging.  As you look at the following presentation, do you have any advise for me to make my course expectations better?

If you think cell phones do not have educational value – Think again!

I stumbled on this story from ABCnews that highlighted a program out of India where students have English tutors via cell phones.  I think it is very thought provoking that schools in other countries are embracing this technology while US schools still ban it.   “They take the phones everywhere – so ANYWHERE becomes a classroom.”  It is an amazing story and I encourage you to watch the video.

To view the video – click here!

Do schools kill creativity?

This is a great 20 minute video by Sir Ken Robinson! I encourage you to take a few moments to watch it. I happened to stumble on it again and decided to share it with you! What are your thoughts? Is he right?  How can we bring creativity back in our classrooms?

Call for Collaboration

I just skimmed the May 2009 District Administration article “A Call for Collaboration” and was reminded of a group project I recently completed with some grad students from UW Stout. For the first time, in my online learning career, I have made an interpersonal connection to fellow students!  Typically, in a complete asynchronous environment this does not happen.  In a world of text, it is very hard to identify with people.  For my own personal learning journey, the best experiences come from a blend of synchronous and asynchronous tools.  With the rise of Web 2.0 tools… making that personal connection has become increasingly easier to accomplish!

If interested in learning more, you can check out our work on our group wiki OR see the summary of our project by clicking the voicethread below!  Enjoy!

S.O.S – my distress call to you!

I remember just a few years ago, we focused on learning how to use technology tools.   I took a look at our technology curriculum (5yrs old) and that was pretty much what that curriculum was all about.   Learn to use the computer, Learn to use Office Applications, Learn to keyboard, Learn to communicate, Learn to find information on the Internet.

Lets fast forward to today. In just a short time, it seems as though the world has transitioned from learning how to use the tools, to using the tools to learn.  We can no longer use technology tools just for the sake of technology or because our kids are tech savvy!

David Warlick pretty much hit the nail on the head when he stated,

It is not a bad reason integrate technology – to motivate learners with more familiar information experiences.  But what bothers me is that it appears to ignore the greatest and most critical reason – that an increasingly connected, technology-rich, information-driven, and rapidly changing world alters the “what” and “how” of education.

We are no longer preparing children with the skills and knowledge that they will need for all of the rest of their years.  In my father’s time, it was common to graduate from high school (or not), take a job, and do that job for the next 35 or 40 years, retire, and live another 10 years.  Expectations were not much different when I graduated from high school almost 40 years ago.

But today, I suspect that much of what we teach won’t remain valid for five years after graduation – and that may be a generous statement.

Our focus should not be on using technology to make our students easier to teach.  It should be on crafting learning experiences, within networked, digital, and information-abundant learning environments, where students are learning to teach themselves, and begin to cultivate a mutually common cultural and environmental context for for their lives.

Online learning, Web 2.0, Social Media, and the Participatory Culture are all having disruptive affects to the learning of our organizations, classrooms, staff and students. These terms also coin new skills that will be relevant to our students as they leave our school and go to college and/or global workforce.

The new media literacies – Watch more Videos at Vodpod.

We have always been fortunate.  We have a great community, greatschools, great staff, and great kids.  But I am becoming increasingly worried that if we do not address these new learning environments and new skills needed to be TRULY successful in the 21st century, we are in trouble…

So what are our roadblocks?  I am not at all an expert here…but these are the big roadblocks I see to move us from a traditional industrial aged district to a 21st learning institution.

  • Education.  We need to educate ourselves to understand the affects the new media can bring to the learning table.  (This also means to be motivated to become a self learning organization.) This is probably the most significant issue because when we talk or hear about these new technologies and learning environments, it is very difficult to promote their use, when key leaders and teachers are not using them themselves.  A personal example is my recent use of Twitter.  I knew what it was, how it worked.  But I NEVER fathomed the learning potential of this new tool until I started using it.  This is my aha moment, what aha moment have you had lately?  Why not share it?
  • Computers.  I have seen a significant rise in computer use in our schools.  This is good!  As more teachers begin to utilize web/electronic media in their classrooms, our computer labs are becoming utilized more and more.  The problem is that we are also are utilizing computer labs for state and standardized testing.  We literally shut down our labs, for weeks at a time, to accommodate these tasks.  Take away the computer time, we are taking away their learning time.  The other day, I did a count of all the wireless devices (like iPods) in our high school and was amazed to find about 1 in 5 students are bringing these devices to our school.  Of course I would LOVE to see a 1 to 1 computer program in our school, but until then, maybe we should figure out how to utilize the devices our students already have access to.  They come to our schools with the Internet in their pockets… why not use these tools to our advantage vs developing policies to prohibit their use?
  • Time & Money.  This is probably the most difficult issue of all.  Our economy is down the tubes and we are stretched to the max with responsibilities beyond our control.  It is going to take some time and is definitely going to take some money to get there!   However, If we do not step up to the plate now, what will it cost us five years from now?  What affects will this have on our students, our community, and our society?

I know this may come across as doom and gloom, but I do feel that have an extraordinary advantage because we have very VERY talented people right here in our district and community.  What are your ideas? How can we start making a change today!  This is not going to be a one man show, but a movement by many!  So are you interested?