Tag Archives: GoogleApps

Dimensions and Dashboards

I have been doing some reflection recently around eportfolios and the different flavours that are out there to select from. I have categorised each flavour  as a ‘dimension’ below.

The basis for this discussion is really considering what an eportfolio should be and defining a tool that is as authentic as possible. The problem with most eportfolio systems is that the eportfolio is not the central working (learning) space, it is generally a space where learning is brought to and then shared and reflected upon. There is a lack of authenticity here and often a double handling of learning artefacts. So the question… is there a dimension of eportfolios that removes or minimises this issue? Enter the Google Teacher Dashboard, more on that below.

In a traditional sense this is a similar conversation to the portfolio book vs. book look debate. In this situation a dedicated book or folder is the portfolio and examples of learning are filed or glued in or completed directly on the page. A book look is just as it seems, students share the books they use during the normal course of their learning. The first could be considered as being artificial, the second authentic, one manufactured, the other raw…

When we consider this difference in a digital frame, what does it look like? Are current methodologies of eportfolio use really authentic? Do they clearly show the learning process? Are they capable of supporting all learning? Are eportfolios a true representation of the learning or just a snapshot?

Perhaps some clarity around this can be found in the dimensions…

Dimension 1: The Dedicated

A dedicated eportfolio system such as Mahara.

Dimension 2: The Managed

The eportfolio functionality or module built in or attached to a learning management system such as UltraNet, KnowledgeNet, Moodle etc.

Dimension 3: The Blogged

ePortfolios that are contained within an online tool such as Blogger, WordPress, Wikispaces, Weebly etc.

Dimension 4: The Mashed

An eportfolio that is not contained in any one place. It draws on the functionality of several online spaces and web technologies, using the best features of those tools to create and share learning. An example could be this netvibes dashboard.

Dimension 5: The Saved

ePortfolios that are created using desktop software and are not online. They are typically shared after being saved to a disk. Common software for this includes PowerPoint, Keynote, iWeb etc.

Dimension 6: The Integrated

ePortfolios that are seamlessly integrated into the way students are learning. It is a direct reference to the work being done by Hapara with their Teacher Dashboard.

You may consider the Teacher Dashboard as not being an eportfolio at all, more a customised Google LMS. I too do not see the Dashboard itself as an eportfolio, more a window into a student’s eportfolio. The more I think about it, the more I realises that the Dashboard is integrated into what can be seen as an extremely powerful eportfolio system, one that re conceptualises current frameworks. Current eportfolio systems (i.e. dimensions 1 -5 above) have not really done anything radically different in terms of presenting an eportfolio. I know that fans of Mahara and its views would probably disagree with that, but current eportfolios are still spaces where the learning is (generally) taken to, rather than produced and there is so much learning that is ‘missing’.

The Dashboard is built on students working in the cloud, learning with tools provided through the might of Google Apps. The Dashboard is the teacher’s window into this cloud, enabling managing and tracking these spaces with ease but more importantly seeing every step of the process, identifying progress and enabling more personalised and just-in-time feedback.

Student control and sharing is not lost with the functionality of sharing docs, sites or your blog retained, both within and out of the domain as per a normal Apps or Blogger account. The Dashboard and the behind the scenes set-up provides a framework for students to work and share in. Schools determine the framework for how the student environment is organised and what is seen in the Dashboard. Additionally, the Dashboard draws in other student data by integrating with your SMS.

So as a potential eportfolio system it is different… the key difference for me is that the central working (learning) space is accessible and therefore builds in more capacity for support and learning conversations than conventional eportfolio tools. This is the closest digital version of a book look I have seen.

Is the Dashboard the future of eportfolios? Take the time to read the post on the Hapara blog. Consider the potential. Don’t think of it with your current eportfolio hat on, look beyond that and what an eportfolio will look like when students are increasingly working online.

What makes the difference between the Dashboard just being a great way of managing and monitoring student activity within Apps and also being a great eportfolio system? Perhaps this hinges on access. If students are learning in a highly digital environment with 1-1 or similar access and in Apps, then it will work like a dream. To be honest even if student access is not that high, I would still grab the opportunity. If you have Google Apps for your school, you are going to want Teacher Dashboard. Whether that fits your eportfolio framework and dimension is over to you but the potential here is huge.

ePortfolios and mLearning Part 2

Time to look at mPortfolios options through the ePortfolio solution first. Listed below are some popular ePortfolio options, certainly not exhaustive, but cover a broad spectrum. I’m interested in how each platform can be accessed, edited, added too etc from a mobile device, once again specifically the iPhone or Touch, but will also add in info on other mobile platforms if available.

In no particular order:

WordPress (Edublogs): As mentioned in my previous post, any WordPress (version 2.7 or higher) powered blog/eportfolio is can be easily added to through the use of the WordPress iPhone app which works seamlessly when adding new pages or posts with images. Viewing and adding comments/feedback to the eportfolio requires the use of Safari on the iPhone. However some sites have been optimised for use on the iPhone, often through installing an iPhone friendly theme such as WPTouch allowing the browsing  commenting and administering of the site a simple pleasure! (this site has WPTouch installed so check it out on your iPhone/Touch). With a little work from the WordPress web host to set up the something like WPTouch (wordpress.com has, edublogs hasn’t, self hosted is up to the owner) mPortfolios are well catered for on the WordPress platform.
Andriod WordPress app info here, Blackberry info here. WPTouch supports both.

Google Sites: As part of your education addition or a personal account, Google sites offers another great eportfolio option. Google have an iPhone app which easily sets you are to connect to your google suite of apps, but not sites. Using Safari you can easily access your sites the traditionally way to edit and add new pages and posts. You can also insert images through pasting in thecURL but a lot of the features like inserting a Picasa image, document or calendar does not function well mainly due to the lack of Flash (?) support on the device. No really an enjoyable experience without having an iPhone/mobile optimised site like much of the other Google apps.

Blogger: If your eportfolio is a Blogger/Blogspot (also supports WordPress, Joonla, Drupal, MoveableType and more) blog then look no further than the app mentioned in the previous post, BlogPress. Easily the best option for creating new content and has the added feature of allowing YouTube video embeds. It is a shame it cost the extra money to get all of these extra features but the free version does the basics well. Commenting not catered for and Blogger is not really mobile friendly. I am still playing around with themes and layouts to find the best combination for a mobile friendly site. The best way is perhaps to view the site’s RSS feed rather than the web page, this utilises the iPhone/Touch’s built in RSS reader (go to reader.mac.com in mobile Safari if you are not familiar with this feature). Bookmark the feed to revisit the portfolio on the device.

Elgg: Like most eportfolio tools and certainly a lot of those listed below, Elgg can be accessed through the iPhone/Touch’s Safari app. Editing and adding content is not without problems (in v 1.6). Creating a new blog post is easy enough and adding the title OK but I was unable to enter any text in the body. However, searching through the Elgg community discussion forums there is some development in making iPhone specific themes and even a iPhone app to make accessing an Elgg site better. The user community for Elgg is nowhere near as big as that of blogger or WordPress but it is exciting to see that there is interest from the user base to get this type of initiative underway. That’s great use as I am a big fan of Elgg.

Blackboard: (Untested) I have no working knowledge of using Blackbaord as a portfolio platform but after reading an eportfolio report recently it was one of the most popular options. I have not tested it but have included here after reading that they have an iPhone app that they will custom build to fit your requirements: “Our open platform also lets you build and add your own applications so you can tailor Blackboard Mobile in the way you see fit.” Available for the iPhone/Touch and Blackberry. Potential here? I do know enough to say one way or the other.

PebblePad: (Untested) From the website: All installations of PebblePad include a version of Pebble Mobile. To access your mobile version of PebblePad simply point your mobile browser at your normal PebblePad URL and add ‘/mobile’ at the end e.g.: http://www.pebblepad.co.uk/eportfolio/mobile. Plans are seemingly afoot for an iPhone app: We are currently developing a PebblePad iPhone app which will allow users to work with PebblePad on the move. Features currently include viewing your assets, uploading a file, creating a thought and posting this to a blog. This is still an ongoing project due for release in the very near future (PebblePad Newsletter, 10/2009). Sounds great!

Have also not tested the following options: KnowledgeNet, My Portfolio/Mahara, UltraNet. (I do not have access to try some our the the time to try the others but will attempt to try).  As with the other options, I would image that Safari on the iPhone allows surfing of these sites and editing facilities as per a standard web browser with perhaps some limitations… please confirm if that is not the case!

To wrap this post up though it is pretty clear that the eportfolio tools that have a specific app such as Blogger or WordPress have a big advantage over those that don’t. However this experience is not complete until the eportfolio host has taken some measure to also make the eportfolio system mobile friendly to aid viewing and commenting while on the go. While this and a dedicated app is not absolutely required, it makes the process of uploading and sharing learning and receiving feedback on that learning very easy and helps contribute to a collaborative eportfolio from a mobile phone.

Google Docs, Student Writing & Feedback

Our Education Edition of Google Apps allows access to the suite of apps not only for the staff at school but also the students. All students in my class have their own account allowing them to use Gmail, Chat, Docs, Video, Sites and Calendar within our domain.

Students exclusively use Docs for their formal written language. While the initial planning or brainstorming phase may or may not be completed digitally, the complete draft-share-feedback-improve-publish-share process is completed within the Google Apps environment.

We have a school-wide approach to giving feedback on written work, where highlighters are used to indicate where or how a student has met the success criteria (gold) or areas that can be improved (pink). We use the phrases Gold for Goal and Pink for Think to reinforce this process.

Due to the process being completed digitally and the availability of colours in the Docs highlighting palette, I have extended upon the use of gold and pink highlights to include blue and red for the students to use in their self-assessment reflection cycle. These are shown below in the image I generated for use as a poster around the classroom.

highlighter

The whole process is made manageable and possible by the sharing function built in to Docs. The simplified process looks like this with examples below:

  1. Student writes 1st draft of writing and checks independently against the success criteria. Improvements made.
  2. Student shares writing with teacher (or another student).
  3. Teacher/student highlights text as required in pink or gold and provides additional written prompts to improve writing.
  4. Posted to eportfolio.
  5. Student improves writing as per teacher/student feedback.
  6. Student completes own assessment with blue and red highlights.
  7. Posted to eportfolio.

Writing with teacher highlights:

Writing with student highlights:

The process works extremely well in terms of a reflective learning cycle. I will stress however that this process does not replace face to face feedback and conferencing. It is perhaps best viewed as a checkpoint in the learning to formalise some of the ongoing learning conversations. The process also clearly indicates how a student responds to feedback and guidance on how to improve their learning.

I think this is a really good example of how Web 2.0 tools, when grounded in sound pedagogy, really do help facilitate improved learning. I would recommend you give it a go even if you only trial it with a small group of children!

Google Video for Education

Since switching over our domain to Google Apps Education Edition in March of this year, the transition has been very smooth. Gmail and Chat provide seamless day to day communication and while the only PD has focused on Gmail, Docs is taking off on its own accord as staff see the benefits and ease at which they can share documents for a more collaborative approach to school admin and planning. For example, the notion of one staff member being solely in charge of the duty roster is gone as the ownership of this is shared and staff can edit and negotiate independently. Can’t wait to see how the next step of rolling out school wide use of Calendars is received.

However another bonus of the App package is having our very own Google Video site. At this stage the Education Edition allows for us to have 10GB of storage for videos. While that does not sound like heaps, the average size of our students’ podcasts or short movies is between 2-3MB once exported, so that’s about 3300 videos we can store, for free. Not only free, but in a completely secure, safe and add free environment.

For our portfolios we have been using Teacher Tube to host and store our video content which has been proving reasonably successful. I have blogged about this before here. But TeacherTube has just completely revamped their site and now includes storage for photos, audio and documents. While this is a good improvement, the site revamp changed all the embed codes for the video content in my students’ portfolios. Grrrrrrrr. Should I just accept this as the changing nature of Web 2.0 environments? Grrrrrr. Regardless, after this happened, TeacherTube ceased to be my preferred option. The good news is that Google rolled out their Video hosting service to their Apps Education Edition.

So what are the other features, pretty much the usual video storage stuff…

  • You can upload all native Apple video formats such as .mov and .m4v
  • You can embed into your blog or wiki
  • You can restrict which users within your domain can upload video content. Google specify that it should only be staff
  • Your domain admins can edit/delete any uploaded video
  • Videos can be shared with individuals, with groups, anyone within or out of your domain with just viewing rights or collaborative privileges, just like a Google doc.

So does it work well? Sure does. Here’s an example thanks to my new entrant students from 9 years ago!

Why Google Apps?

So the question posed has been why? Why did we need to change our system over to Google? This goes well beyond email (Gmail), which is the only App we have currently implemented across the school, and I would like to think the move sets us up to participate more collaboratively and more effectively together.

I guess the big picture view for me is of the changing nature of knowledge. Traditionally we often held on tightly to any knowledge we had, keeping it to ourselves and maybe sharing it with others on occasion. When we did share, others filed the photocopy away, or watched the movie but gave no feedback.

The notion that knowledge belongs to someone is all a bit bizarre really and thankfully evidence and trends show that knowledge assumes a greater force when it is shared, discussed and built on. Wikipedia of course is the classic modern example. I am certainly not alone in thinking this and perhaps the best known explanation I know of can be found in this clip by Charles Leadbetter.

Other background thinking and recognition of other trends comes in the way of the Horizon Reports, released each year in a variety of formats. The reports are:

an ongoing research project that seeks to identify and describe emerging technologies likely to have a large impact on teaching, learning, research, or creative expression within education around the globe. practical models as well as access to more detailed information.

The recently released 2009 Horizon Report K-12 describes Collaborative Environments:

Collaborative environments are virtual workplaces where students and teachers can communicate, share information, and work together. A growing emphasis on collaboration in education — and an increasing recognition that collaboration is the norm in many modern workplaces — has led more teachers to seek tools to facilitate group interaction and teamwork in their classes. Online spaces designed to support groups of students working together take many forms…

The report suggests collaborative environments have a time-to-adoption horizon of one year or less. If we also look at the 2008 and 2009 Horizon Reports including the 2008 Australia and NZ Edition Horizons Report, they also describe cloud computing, collaboration webs, collective intelligence which all describes the ability to create, share and collaborate online.

So really the answers as to why we have changed is really me standing back and looking at the big picture of what not only the school administrative systems might look like in the next couple of years, but more importantly one of the ways the students will be actively learning.

While I can see quite clearly how this will look and develop, I have the advantage of having used this environment for the past few years, Gmail since its conception in 2004. I must always keep this in the back of my mind when planning and strategically implementing the Apps with the staff. Already staff are seeing the potential benefits and I can’t wait for the momentum to keep building.

More Gmailed

We are about four weeks into our school wide move to Google apps and the move is still seemingly smooth.

One minor complaint has been the lack of an alert sound when new mail arrives, as one would get when using a mail client such as Mail. A quick web search solved this problem and by installing Google Notifier, not only do you get a new email alert sound, but a small window opens to inform you who it is from and a gives you a preview of the message. It is actually very good if you are sitting and working at your computer, but if you are like me and most of your day is spent in the classroom with students it serves little purpose… However, it also allows you to set your default email client as Gmail which is a neat feature so that clicking on an email link opens a new web-based Gmail.

The other issue I am trying to solve is around the scan to email function on our Konica Minolta copier. This was an oversight by me and it wasn’t until after our switch and people wanted to scan items that the problem arose. So I spent an hour trying to problem solve this today, religiously following the manual step by step with no luck. I will try the help desk tomorrow.  A little frustrating as I though I had thought of every angle. While it is possible to scan to our server via FTP, scanning to email is the preferred option. Any ideas on how to get this working successfully would be great!

Finally, last week we had one of our iTips PD sessions on Gmail. iTips are our main form of elearning professional development and are optional short burst of learning after school for about 45 minutes. About half the staff attended, some coming with an open mind, willing to be sold the Gmail concept. Most left happy, especially after we had imported their existing Address Book (using A to G) and when they understood the whole Google Gears offline access, filtering and labelling of emails and the chat/video chat functions. Some of the Labs projects also opened up a whole new world of possibilities.

However, some still ask, “So why is Gmail better?” or, “Why did we need to change?”

I will try and cover this more comprehensively in my next post.

GMailed

The past couple of weeks has brought about some major changes to way we are administering our email and calendering systems within our school. We have taken the step to switch our email over from being administered on our own server to the convenience and power of the mighty Google.

The switch happened seamlessly, only requiring a phone call to Inspire to change our MX records to point to Google not to our school’s server. Everything else was completed online, and once Inspire flicked the switch over our Gmail was up and running within a couple of hours once the domain name change had propagated around the globe. After Google had authenticated us as an educational institute, which took about 10 days, we were upgraded to the Education Edition and now have add free services, more comprehensive admin features and the ability to create and manage 100’s of users, all for zero cost. It is very easy to administer the services and like any Google product, there are discussion forums on any conceivable problem you may encounter.

The change has meant some new learning for staff as they have shifted from using Apple’s Mail, to the web based Gmail. Email addresses have remained the same. Those already using Gmail welcomed the transition but others, as with anything new, questioned the need to do it. Managing this change is always the key to making it work.

So why did we change? Here are some of the key reasons.

  • Google apps becomes a one stop shop for school admin. Our existing set-up was a mish mash of systems that meant going to a variety of places to view calendars, check email, shared contacts, chat, video conference, book facilities etc. Google apps gives us that under one log in.
  • Anytime anywhere access. While previously available, the ease of the new system makes the old method seem very clunky.
  • Collaboration! Collaboration! Collaboration! The Google Apps package is built around the notion of sharing, participation and working together.

The one disappointment I have with the Google Apps package is that Google Reader is not part of the service. To access this, you needs to have a separate Google account. Having Reader as part of this service would really make it the hub for all your professional learning network needs. I would also love to see Google’s Custom Search function put in the package.

The biggest challenge I can see is the dependence of staff on using Word or Pages to create documents and then emailing them as attachments to the recipients. While there will always be a need to do this, a huge amount of this documentation can more simple be shared with users. This is a huge change in thinking and approaching how information is shared and worked on among multiple users. Something to keep modeling throughout the school.

Look no further than Google Apps for eportfolios?

Helen Barrett in her latest blog entry has made a big claim regarding Google Apps, formative assessment and eportfolios.

I am now convinced that in GoogleApps (Sites, Docs, etc.) I have found the best free Web 2.0 tool for maintaining an online personal learning environment that can be used for formative assessment in education.

I have a lot of respect for Helen Barrett and have used and referenced her work and research many times. However on this occasion, I do not fully agree.

Google Apps are fantastic. They continue to offer new apps and improve on existing ones all for free. I would be lost without my gmail, docs, calendar and reader. If you were to take a snapshot of my personal learning environment (PLE) and time spent in various web 2.0 tools, GoogleApps would far and away take up the largest slice of the pie.

However, my experiences with Google Sites as a means for pulling together all the strands of an eportfolio for the students at our school, were not entirely successful. I base these thoughts on the set of criteria we developed in order to select the eportfolio tool that best fit what we required to support teaching and learning.

If I take one of the criteria, based on the concept that viewers should not have to click links and download files, it should just be there, embedded waiting for the play button to be clicked…

Ability to demonstrate learning: The ePortfolio solution needs to be able to display (show within the portfolio not provide a link to file) all the possible media that the students will generate or want to share. This includes but is not limited to: podcasts and movies (m4v, m4a, mov), documents (pdf), images (jpg, png, gif) and embedding Web 2.0 content.

In my experiences with Google Sites, this is not possible. Embedding Web 2.0 content just doesn’t seem to work, apart from Google related products. This has caused me many frustrating moments as the embed code is stripped for other content. Again, Google Sites is a great product but are we trying to fit an eportfolio in a package that doesn’t really work?

Regarding the statement of GoogleApps and formative assessment, any tool that supports feedback, reflection and commenting can theoretically support formative practice. However, when one looks at Barrett’s process for developing eportfolios using Google Sites, what I believe is one of the most important aspects of a formative eportfolio, the student acting on feedback and their own assessments to improve their learning, only gets a passing comment at the very end.

The portfolio developer should be given the option of updating the work, based on the feedback and the rubric.

I see formative assessment as being cyclic in nature with the student action as I described above central to the process. After all, self-direction and self-regulation by the student are two very important outcomes. The following diagram (click for larger version) was developed to reinforce this point as part of the big picture of developing eportfolios for learning.

So what do you think? Is the student action component as important as I believe? Are the GoogleApps really the best solution despite my reservations? Let me know!