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Technology Solutions

Technology's main goal is to provide solutions.  Technology opens doors and gives you more choices when trying to accomplish a task.  It's not the magic bullet or the answer to your problems, just more tools in your toolkit.  Some of those tools are very, very powerful and some are very specialized, but they all depend on the wielder to function.  In short, technology is only as good as the person using it.

One of the fringe benefits of my job as an instructional technology specialist is researching new gadgets, software, and resources that hit the market.  I first have to learn it - and learn it to the point that I'm intimately familiar with it.  Then I have to explain the tool and teach it in Plain English.  Finding additional resources and specific curricular tie-ins are a must as well.  Finally, it pays to see patterns and larger picture trends, so that I can give educators some perspective.  For example, Web 2.0 tools are all characterized by the ability for the average user to contribute to the web in a read/write fashion.  They are reflective of how we are using the web today and those concepts should be present in any classroom use for the technology as well, lest it be used in ways it was not designed for.



Report: Gmail about 1/3 as expensive as hosted e-mail PDF Print E-mail

googleappsI saw this article on Ars Technica.  A new report by the Forrester research company titled, "Should your email live in the cloud?" has taken a look under the hood of both in-house and commercial e-mail services, and put some numbers on the per-user costs associated with a variety of options. The surprise result was not so much that Google's corporate services come out ahead, but rather how large a lead it has on every other option.  This is a timely article considering current budget constraints.  The report looks at corporate costs, so the savings are even more substantial for educational institutions that get Google Apps for FREE.  Yes, free.

Why aren't more school systems embracing this?  Why do we doggedly insist on "keeping our money in our sock drawer"?  Westminster schools of Augusta recently adopted Google Apps, and the response was overwhemlingly positive.

 

Teachers: "This is all so wonderful... Why didn’t we do this earlier?"

 
Google Apps PDF Print E-mail

Many of the schools in my area have been exposed to Google applications such as Google Docs, Gmail, or Google Talk.  A lot of that exposure was due to word of mouth and many, many training sessions from First District ETC.  Jeff Giddens, my co-worker, and I immediately saw the value of "cloud computing" for educational use.

Google Apps is a suite of applications including Google Docs, Gmail, Google Talk, Google Video, Google Calendar, and Google Sites.  Google Apps lets you manage these services on your own domain and allows you to administer thousands of user accounts - FOR FREE.  If you are an educational institution you may qualify for the Google Apps for Education edition, which gives advanced APIs, security, and storage space (25GB of email storage per user, for example).  This is an incredible deal considering how much money and time it takes schools systems to manage their own email servers, spam filters, and office software.  See the video for more information.  Note:  The video is originally hosted on Youtube, but I'm hosting the video because many schools in the area block it.

I researched Google Apps extensively and set up the service on several domains:

  • fdresa.org - First District RESA, my workplace.
  • waynelearns.com - Wayne County School system
  • t3grant.org - domain for our T3 grant
  • gaedtech.org - domain for ETCs across the state
  • jchs.com - Jenkins County Schools
  • educatedgamer.net - my own personal domain
  • mindgene.com - gaming company
  • creativegremlins.com - gaming company

I have provided technical support, user training, and setup/maintenance for each of these domains.

 

GAETC Workshop

In addition to hands-on implementation, I presented a workshop at the Georgia Educational Technology Conference, 2008.  I set up user accounts for each of the participants and we got our hands dirty with the applications.  I also fielded questions about how to get started and addressed concerns about the service.  One of the participants at the workshop was Craig Ham, Technology Coordinator for Westminster Schools in Augusta.  After the workshop, he set about getting Google Apps for his school and after some careful planning and email support, his school made the transition.

He posted his success story at GAETC's e-journal:  http://gaetc-ejournal.org/instruction/googleaps/googleaps.htm

 
Google Sites PDF Print E-mail

 

This is part of Google Apps but I feel that the impact it has had on organizations has been dramatic, so I wanted to single it out.

Grant Team Support

I've used Google Sites as an easy, user-friendly and effective way to manage my grant teams and provide a central place for all grant team members to find training resources, grant documents, a calendar of grant dates, and even a progress report documenting hours and credits.  I have also been using it to document my support visits and link to resources that I might mention to teachers while I am in their rooms.  I have chosen to make the grant sites public to promote openness and transparency, so I have not placed sensitive documents such as observations on the sites.  Here are the three that I'm using this year:

  • Wayne County ITEE Grant - 2nd and final year of this grant.  We did not have Google Sites last year.  The teachers have been using it for their classroom websites as well and LOVE it.
  • Metter High School T3 Grant - This is the first year of this grant.  Metter has not yet adopted their own Google Apps account, so this site is housed at our T3grant account.
  • Jenkins County High T3 Grant - This grant is a collaborative effort with National Science Center's ETC in Augusta, GA.  We found that using Google Sites to track grant resources and progress was invaluable, especially since Jennifer Hutcheson (NSC's grant liason) and I could both edit the site whenever we wanted.


Business

I've been working a bit with a couple of small gaming companies and we've used Google Sites to create private project management areas where we can keep meetings, notes, files, and updates.  Some of the following sites are private and require a login, so I can only show a screenshot

  • Creativegremlins: LLC project site
    • creativegremlins


DOE & ETTCs

ettc-successI created this site last year for our ETCs (then called ETTCs) to collaborate with.  We were having a week-long planning session on how the ETCs would enable and scale school success, and we were going to be broken into 9 different teams, each with files and resources they would have to manage.  In all, there were more than 70 people that needed to collaborate on one central site.  Google Sites came to the rescue.  I set this up just 2 days before our kickoff and announced it at the start of the week.  No one had ever heard of Google Sites and I was given 5 minutes to demonstrate it - that's it.  It's a testament to Google's simplicity that all of the ETC teams used it immediately and were sharing files, websites, and so on.  What's better, core DOE staff were able to keep tabs on each of the 9 teams and make comments on their pages.  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , our DOE program manager, recently contacted me about setting up another site for a large group of users wanting to collaborate on a cyber-safety project.

 
Social Publishing PDF Print E-mail

Many times, I get emails or phone calls for specific social tasks, such as:

I want my kids to start doing their journals with our laptops and don't want to worry about saving their work.  Oh, and I want them to respond to each other's writings but want to be able to edit their comments or ban them.  What should I use?

Forums are ideal for this. PhpBB forums in particular offers a wide range of options, including groups, moderators, avatars, banning, warnings, attachments, and private forums based on user or group permissions. It's also free.

 

 

I want to start blogging, and I want my kids to blog some, but not have their own.  Where do I go?  Everything seems blocked by our filtering here.

I would recommend 3 different levels of blogging.  All of them use Wordpress as the basic engine.

  • Edublogs free version.  Good if you are just starting out and want to do mostly text & images with a very occasional file.  No student blog, but you can give them accounts on your blog and control their posts.
  • Edublogs pay version.  Set up student blogs, plenty of upload space.  Multimedia is limited, and so are plugins & themes.  Podcasting is a bit of a pain.
  • Wordpress installed on school server.  Ultimate in terms of cost (free), features, and overall security/control.  Handles plugins & themes well and thus makes podcasting easy with Podpress plugin.  Installation is about 30 mins for most tech folks
  • SEGA Tech is an example of a Wordpress powered blog that Jeff Giddens (my co-worker) and I built.  Jeff did a majority of the posting, while I managed the back end such as themes, plugins, spam protection, etc.

 

 

We want a collaborative website where my kids can make instructional pages or a class encyclopedia.

Wikis are the way to go.  Some easy and free wikis include Wetpaint (very slick), PBwiki, or even Google Sites (if you have Google Apps, this gives you up to 10 GB of storage!).  You could also go with a super simplistic wiki:  tiddlywiki and put that on a USB drive or even on a network drive for multiple people to edit.