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Exploring the intersections of learning and technology

Flipped Learning as a Way to Build an Online Presence August 24, 2016

Hybrid Pedagogy is a publication you should be reading. It's completely open access, written, edited, and published by educators. The article authors and editors are laser focused on the deeper questions within technology use in education like innate power structures, programmed bias, and the fact that technology is not agnostic by nature.

This week I read Beyond Surface-Level Digital Pedagogy and was introduced to HybridPod, a companion podcast to Hybrid Pedagogy. The article linked and Martha Burtis' keynote at the 2016 Digital Pedagogy Institute really push hard on the idea that all instructors and all students should really be doing stuff on the web. Learning stuff. Breaking stuff. Just stuff.

Tying the two together is this idea (posited in the first article):

"...if our institutions of higher learning ignore the calls for critical digital pedagogy a vast number of K-12 educators will continue to look for shiny tools to cover up education’s most difficult problems."

Granted, higher education has been involved in the making (and breaking) of the web since the beginning while K-12 has really started using it in earnest with students in the last ten years. There's history there, in higher ed, that isn't present in K-12. But, are we learning lessons from that history?

In particular, have K-12 teachers really recognized the enormous value in making and sharing things online? I'm not convinced that lesson is one that's been learned, nor is it one people want to learn. Martha's discussion of the LMS is describing the current state of K-12 education:

I think the Web hit us at a critical moment in higher education where we were already struggling with doing our work less like schools and more like businesses, and the tech industry and its vendors had already begun to infiltrate us with promises of how technology could help us achieve this goal. We had already bought into student information systems (which eventually became everything information systems), and with the promise of those systems came the promise of lots of data which would allow us to become more efficient and streamlined.

As the web becomes more sterilized for our students, we have important pedagogical decisions to make.


Flipped Learning, given its popularity, is often the first place teachers are confronted with working heavily in the online space. Many are already constrained to the LMS and find the shortcomings frustrating to work within. So, they work around.

That process of working around limitations exposes teachers (and by extension, students) to the potential of working in an open web space rather than a closed web space. Flexibility and customizability become the expectation rather than the "nice-to-have." And it's not just about the look of the space: flexibility in functionality - the experience students have - can strongly influence their experience in learning (it's a hybrid experience, remember?)

I agree that Flipped Learning, at first does not necessarily push a shift in instructional methods. But, when you're used to teaching in a very straightforward manner, whether in person or online (in an LMS, perhaps) making an instructional shift is very difficult because of the mindset change involved. I'd like to propose that the first shift be to look outside the provided methods of organization and begin to explore the messiness of digital learning through open spaces.

Martha's suggestion is simple: set up, and run, a domain. The easiest thing to do is purchase a domain name and start a blog. Start sharing. Start reading. Reflecting on practice in an open environment invites comment and outside input to your pedagogy. Being transparent and vulnerable in what we do with instruction will begin to inform those instructional decisions and help bring about a shift.

As you get more comfortable with your space, you'll feel more comfortable pushing your students to do the same. Our students are creating digital footprints in spaces where there is no control. In schools, it's in the LMS. Outside of school, it's through social media (no, they do not own their tweets, snaps, or likes).

Improving in the use of technology is more than just being able to whip out the right app at the right time. It's being able to critically pick apart the explicit and implicit nuance in function while at the same time enhancing the learning experience. Use the challenge of flipping to really push your thinking about how technology can truly change the teaching and learning experience in schools.


flickr photo shared by AstridWestvang under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

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Push Announcements With a Chrome Extension August 5, 2016

Patrick Donovan put out a tweet the other day with a screenshot to a Chrome extension he had just put together. It caught my attention and led to this post because it's a really, really good idea.

I tracked down Curt Schleibaum whose website included a demo to his Chrome extension idea. In short, he provided a template which included all of the necessary files to have a simple popup Chrome browser extension. It was quite clever - instead of having the user change code for the extension to push information, it had an embedded Google Doc that you use updated with new information. It also included links back to the district website, tech support, etc.

It got me thinking about how the extension could be improved, so that's what I put together last night. The source is on GitHub so you can see the nitty gritty. My extension builds on Curt's original idea - allowing a teacher or admin to use a Google service to push announcements out to extension users. Instead of a document, mine uses a spreadsheet and watches for an update to publish and then badges the extension when new information is available.

If you want to play with this yourself, follow the steps below (mostly proof-of-concept at this point, lots of refining to do).

Get the spreadsheet

Google spreadsheets are your friend. The best thing, in my opinion, is that they publish in multiple formats when you publish one to the web (this is different than sharing). One of those formats is JSON, which is a great way to take a lot of data, organize it, and then display that information nicely in another application.

Grab this template spreadsheet and save a copy to your Drive. Then, go to File > Publish to the web and publish it with all the default settings.

The Extension

The extension is a collection of JavaScript files and a popup.html file. The JS does all the magic with the spreadsheet JSON data and the HTML displays it nicely in the Chrome browser. The JS will also ping the spreadsheet every few minutes to see if there have been updates. If there was an update made, a badge notification will appear on the extension icon. Sweet.

The easiest way to do this is to download the extension and load it locally on your machine. To do that, open the project on GitHub and click on "Clone or download" on the right side of the screen. Unzip the file that downloads.

Next, go to chrome:extensions and make sure "Developer Mode" is checked. Once it's checked, you can click on, "Load unpacked extension" and select the folder you just unzipped.

The extension needs one more thing: the spreadsheet key. Go back to the template spreadsheet and grab the jumble of letters and numbers that come after

`https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/`

and before edit in the URL. An example URL would be,

`https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/THE_SPREADSHEET_KEY_IS_HERE/edit`

. When you click on the extension icon the first time, you'll be prompted to copy and paste that spreadsheet key into the box. Now, you're good to go!

Testing...testing...

To test the extension, go back to your spreadsheet template and add some data. Give it a minute or two and, hey presto! Your extension will update with the information you just entered.

Most schools are using some kind of learning management system which includes a messaging app. If you're not, this would be a good way to talk with your students (maybe). In our case, we're looking at using this as a rapid-push service to notify teachers and other staff about upcoming professional learning, system outages, or other announcements that need to be sent, but don't need an email. It's definitely an experimental project, but one I'm curious to play with some more.

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Registering Help Requests in Trello from Google Sheets August 4, 2016

I'm on a new team with the school district (I don't think I've written about that change yet...). I'm teaching one section of AP Biology and working the rest of the day with an Instructional Technology Specialist team for the whole district. The goal is to build out a program to support anything to do with...well...instructional technology.

Part of our big "here we are" message is a Google Form available to anyone in the district. We're in week 1 of school and we're already getting requests for classroom visits, app support, and staff PD across the district. These spreadsheets, if you're using something similar, can get really big, really fast. Puzzle piece number one.

To help organize our projects and day to day tasks, we're using Trello as a team. We can create lists to categorize cards with specific tasks. As they change status, drag a card from one list to another. We can also comment, assign team members, and attach files to the tasks to keep our email from exploding all over the room. There's a web app and a mobile app so we're all in touch. Puzzle piece number two.

Now, I don't want to check a spreadsheet to go and manually put a PD request into Trello. Luckily, Google Sheets allow you to POST data to other apps through APIs on the web. Doubly luckily, Trello has an API.

Long story short, I had an awful time getting this started because Trello required a particular form of authorization that Google no long supports in Apps Script (go figure). So, I Googled and Googled until I came across an old post by Riley Pannkuk who was doing something similar for bug tracking for his app. So, I sent him an email. He wrote back with a solution; I'm not sure how he found it because it isn't in the Trello docs (shame shame), but it works.

The problem was that no matter how I authenticated, Trello didn't recognize my permissions in the app. Riley pointed out that there was a missing parameter on my authorization request: the response_type field needed to be set to token. Again: not in the docs.

So, step one was to set up a Trello board and then grab my API key from (the developer options page)[http://trello.com/app-key]. Then, I sent an authentication request via URL with the following information:

  • key = My app key
  • name = arbitrary name to identify the app by in my settings
  • scope = level of access needed by the app (in this case, read & write)
  • expiration = how long should the app have access?
  • response_type = token

The authorization request looks like this when you're ready to send it:

https://trello.com/1/authorize?key=YOUR_APP_KEY&name=APP_NAME&scope=read,write&expiration=never&response_type=token

This returns a webpage with a long string of letters and numbers that need to be included in the script (see below) to post when the sheet is updated.

Here's the script with comments so you can see what's going on:

Rather than sharing a pretty team-specific Trello board, the last step in the function is to change the Google sheet status to "In Progress" so others can check up on what needs to be done.

The next step is to add something called a webhook to watch the cards as they move through the Trello board and update things like the team member assigned, completed, etc. I'll add another post when that's done, complete with code.

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Maybe it IS About the Video… July 20, 2016

In 2011, I wrote a post in which I strongly declared that Flipped Learning is not about the videos.

But what if it is?

11096369675_220527ceb3_k flickr photo shared by cogdog Creative Commons Attribution BY license.

The whole idea of Flipped Learning is moving from directing instruction in front of the community to allow active learning practices to prompt learning experiences in students. In order to do that, time has to be reclaimed somewhere...something during the class has to be sacrificed.

For many, the way to do that is through video.

So, it is about the video, but only in the sense that it allows the teacher to explore other methods of interacting with students within the context of the class. The transition from instruction in the room to instruction as a recording is a small leap; accessible to most teachers where they are now and one that can lead to deeper learning opportunities.

Obviously, the video is only an enabler of change, not the cause. There is still an active decision made by the teacher to change their classroom practice for students. It is not the only way to effect change in practice, but it is (or seems to be) quite popular.

Beyond offloading instruction, the video doesn't do much. Without taking steps to improve the learning experiences students have in the classroom, then no, nothing has changed. Use that time to push yourself and students into new experiences and allow those videos to help support the change.

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Commenting on Periscope in a Blog Post

A week or two back, Lisa Dabbs, known for starting and moderating #ntchat wrote a post (a second post, actually) on why new teachers should use Periscope with their students.

There are some concerns with the Periscope terms of service and privacy policy that come up when the teacher is broadcasting students across the app. I posted a comment on Lisa's blog, but after some tweets and awaiting moderation, it isn't live, so I'm posting it here because the discussion is valuable. I hope Lisa and others are willing to comment on some of the points below.


Hi Lisa, I want to push back on the idea that new teachers should jump into using Periscope. Yes, it’s important to share and get feedback and it can be a great way to do that. But jumping right in and sharing student images and student information without at least mentioning the Terms of Use and Privacy Statements is, in my opinion, dangerous.

From the Periscope Privacy Statement (my emphasis added):

We use and store information about your location to provide features of our Services, such as broadcasting with your location, and to improve and customize the Services. We may infer your location based on information from your device. If you have turned on location services for Periscope, we may share your precise location.

There is no limitation on how long they store that information. If a new teacher is broadcasting and a student with limitations from their parents is included in that broadcast, that can lead to serious issues. Broadcasting specific location data is never a wise idea, especially when minors are involved.

From the TOS:

You agree that this license includes the right for Twitter, Inc. to provide, promote, and improve Periscope and to make Content submitted to or through Periscope available to other companies, organizations or individuals who partner with Twitter, Inc. for the syndication, broadcast, distribution or publication of such Content on other media and services, subject to our terms and conditions for such Content use.

Often, this licensing is so Periscope can rebroadcast your content, much like other services ask for the same permission to share materials you create on a wide basis and not case by case. But, this can also include use in advertisements, promotional materials, etc. Again, broadcasting the images of students and having a company with their own profit in mind with no control over how or why those images are stored perpetually can lead to liability problems at some point.

You are responsible for your use of Periscope, for any Content you provide, and for any consequences thereof, including the use of your Content by other users and our third party partners.

In other words, “If someone misuses your content, it’s your fault for posting it.”

The teacher is responsible in loco parentis. We are representatives of the school district. Any liability the teacher takes on using any application can come back to the district. This is an express agreement that is glossed over in most cases. Periscope, because of its public nature, brings a unique challenge.

All I’m saying is that twice now you have implored new teachers to jump into a service with no mention of repercussions that could come from tacit use. You have a great amount of influence and a lot of people look to you for guidance. Please consider taking explicit steps with these recommendations to outline Privacy and Terms of Use considerations for apps and programs. Especially for new teachers. They have enough to worry about already.


As always, comments are open.

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