More on Licensing Culture and Owning What You Pay For

I was talking with our school librarian today about why we don’t offer ebooks for students to check out. It came up because I grabbed a real, hardcover library book six weeks ago and had _just_ finished it this week. It’s only 400ish pages, and taking that long to read a short/medium length book was a little embarrassing.

Compared to reading on my phone or my Kindle, it was an eternity. I like the portability of ebooks. I like being able to pull it up on my phone and read a little when I’m sitting, waiting for something. Especially this year, as I move all over the district day to day, carrying another book in my bag is precious space that’s often wasted due to time.

Ebooks sound great, but I got thinking about [Maha Bali’s post on “owning” a domain]( and [Audrey Watters’ fantastic take]( (rebuttal?) on the topic. [I even weighed in a little bit]( on how teachers can start to build that identity.

I don’t want to encourage a culture where ownership is a burden. Moving school libraries to epubs sounds great: access! they’re on their phones anyways! Kindle!…

…but in practice, it’s a school, paying a company to _licence_ titles. Each borrow by a student turns into dollars paid to an outside entity for the privilege of licensing the book. Libraries cannot give the books away or even recoup shrinking budgets by having used book sales. It’s a expenditure, through and through.

All of that, of course, is ignoring the DRM hurdles put on certain publications, which are only accessible through certain platforms. Ebooks aren’t “just like” books, only in bits. It’s a completely new market geared for one thing: making a profit.

At whose expense?

Flipped Learning as a Way to Build an Online Presence


[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]( “Harbour”) shared by [AstridWestvang]( under a [Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license](

Push Announcements With a Chrome Extension

[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


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


. 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!


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.

Registering Help Requests in Trello from Google Sheets

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)[]. 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:


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.