Monday, March 23, 2015

Finding your Core Applications

Schools are adopting technology.  And lots of it.  Most schools are now getting a grasp on their one to one initiatives.  There is sufficient planning for the infrastructure, bandwidth and IT systems.  Teachers are more prepared and accepting of utilizing technology in their lesson plans.  There is a breakdown however that relates to consistency for the student population as a whole.  While it is important that we teach students to be flexible in an ever changing technology landscape, not having a core set of applications for a school building can lead to an increased frustration level, and a lack of productivity.  There are core applications that we utilize each day for the purpose of productivity.  It is this core group of products that needs to be consistent in your school to help both students and staff get the most out of your technology program. 


Core Applications


There are at least five ways to do anything with an computer.  If you want to write a document as an example, you can use Microsoft Word, Pages, Google Docs, Evernote, and Notepad.  I could make this list go for pages if I really attempted.  With so many great and capable options out there it isn’t important that you pick the right one, it is just important that you pick the one.  I am surprised when I visit schools and from classroom to classroom, and even from student to student I see multiple word processors being used.  

While I can see a benefit to students choosing their own path to productivity, it ultimately ends up creating confusion and the classroom workflow suffers.  When it suffers too much, the technology is pushed to the side and frustration sets in.  There are some applications that just need to be the core of your technology program.  As a bonus, if this core set of applications is adopted by your entire school, there will be an instant increase in productivity through the common usage of these products.  It also lets you create training that is focused like a laser beam on the key competencies of applications that are being used. 

Using the example above, the word processor, we can examine the breakdowns that occur when we all use a different one.  First of all, the storage of the files is different in each case.  Google stores documents in the cloud, pages stores them on the iPad or Macbook, Microsoft Office might be any combination of those.  This one aspect can create confusion for students and staff.  If I say, “write a paper and turn it in using the LMS”, each person will have a different experience with that task.  The Google user might need to convert the file, save it to their drive, and submit a link.  The Pages user might need to upload the file to the LMS directly after converting it using an export process to a file type that is recognized by the teacher.  The process is completely different for each user.  So when one user has a break down and is not able to complete the task, the teacher then becomes tech support.  And there is nothing worse than having to stop your learning to become the Genius Bar. 

The solution is simple.  There is a core set of applications that we utilize in our everyday work activities that should be made policy by the school.  And even those couple teachers that are tied to a different system should be flexible enough to encourage the consistency for well being of the entire school team.  While this sounds like a simple objective, it really isn’t as easy as it might appear on the surface. -Jason Cross- Copyright 2015

Again, going back to our word processor example, there are several other considerations to think through before you make a firm decision.  You need to think through the workflow of your school and even district procedures.  Some districts have close ties with Microsoft Products and are already implementing them at some level.  Schools might have adopted Google Mail for their teachers already, and use Google Drive to store files.  Some situations have private servers in the building that allow for secure access to documents, with nothing being stored in the cloud.  Each of these elements will help determine which word processor will be the best solution.  As an example, if you are using One Drive to store all of your documents in school, Microsoft Word might be an excellent choice because it offers great interactivity with that solution.  Your district LMS system might have specific integration with Google, or Pages which would make that a great choice.  Below I have listed some of the things to think about when planning out your program.

Where are the files going to be stored?  LMS, Cloud Storage, Private Server.
Has there been something in place for a while?  If so, how satisfied are you with the workflow it has provided?
What works best with the type of technology you have in the building?  Example: If you have Chromebooks, you might not like the Microsoft Office solution.
How much complexity do you want in your applications?
Which system do you think will most likely be adopted by the entire team?

Now on to the good stuff.  The core applications themselves.  This list is just a sample of which applications I believe should be at the core of an educational technology program.  Your school will probably be able to add to the list.  It is ok to have more Core Applications, as long as they meet the needs of your educational goals. -Jason Cross- Copyright 2015


Word Processor Spreadsheet

Lets start with the “Big Two.  These are at the core of how students will get work done.  With these three carefully chosen applications you can create amazing technology education programs.  You can build, create and design beautiful works of art and articled ideas. 


File Storage

Next, the elephant in the room.  The most fragmented part of most school technology programs I have visited over the last ten years.  Where are students and staff going to store the files they create?  How are they going to get files from this location to a place where they can be turned in and feedback provided?

LMS

The most overlooked, but necessary system is the Learning Management System, referred to as the LMS.  In some cases the LMS will determine which file storage and Big Two solution that you choose.  LMS systems come in a large variety.  Some work with your schools grade book, others operate like social media and offer gasification.  It is a big world out there when looking for an LMS.  It is the central nervous system of your school technology program however as it allows for the most efficient digital workflow possible.  Having a single LMS in your school is important to a consistent, productive program.


Web Browser

Almost every device comes with a default web browser, but often this is changed because of a particular need that one of your applications might have.  For instance you might need to use the Chrome browser with the Google Apps suite to get the most out of the product.  Although it is sometimes overlooked, having a single web browser that performs most everything you need is very helpful as it adds consistency to bookmarking and searching activities.  

Note Taking

When you ask your students to use their devices to take notes, let them know which application you want them to take notes in.  Most devices have a very simple note taking solution built in, but the ability for students to work with that information later can vary.  You might want to use something advanced like Evernote or OneNote.  Sometimes using the word processor that you have selected is the best solution.  The key is to minimize the choices and make sure that you are establishing which solution works for your classroom and school.

Calculator

The overlooked tool in the information age.  We take them for granted, but they are all not the same.  You will want to find that perfect solution for your school.  Having a single calculator will make the workflow in your classroom quicker and more responsive.

Book Reader

If you are having your students checkout and read books on their devices, you will want to have a single place for them to go.  Some apple like iBooks offers note taking capabilities that might help students organize thoughts and information.  Having multiple places to read books will most likely result in your students just wanting to check out the paper version.  Not that there is anything wrong with that.  Just keep it consistent to help your classroom workflow stay smooth.

QR Code Scanner


This is one of the tricks of the digital educator that gets students to and from information with ease and speed.  It breaks down when one student has a different QR code reader than another one.  Once again,  teachers are asked to be tech support when multiple readers are being used.   The solution is simple, one common QR code reader.  I recommend that a couple bucks is shelled out for the paid version of these apps as well.  Advertisements can confuse the process. 

Calendar

There are so many calendar applications out there that most schools just don’t use them at all.  Sometimes there are calendars in the LMS, specific apps, and even the devices that you are using.  Pick the calendar solution that makes the most sense and is available to access in the largest variety of ways.  I like calendars that can also be shared with parents as it allows them to get a hands on view of what is happening in the classroom. -Jason Cross- Copyright 2015


Camera

The camera is one of the most important parts of the modern technology classroom. This tool can be the fax machine, the photo copier, and the way that artwork and imagery is turned in electronically.  It can also be a class in itself!   Make sure you have a camera available to your students to assist them with typical classroom workflow activities.

Photo Editing

When working with imagery you need a way to crop, size and change those graphics.  Having a common photo editing tool will assist your classroom consistency and will give you a reliable tool for creative workflow.  When students understand how to brighten an image, or add words and captions, it will open up the door to lots of innovative ways to demonstrate mastery. 

Video Editing

If you are having students work with video, come up with a single solution for the editing of that video product.  Make sure it has lots of ways to export the completed work into compact video files that can be stored on the method of file storage that you have chosen.  Large video files are almost useless in the classroom.  Make use of online technologies that also allow the files to be uploaded and converted into web formats that are easy to work with.  

Presentation

Presentation software could really make the Big Two, the Big Three.  The only problem is that there are so many great solutions out there.  This will be the one time where maybe you don’t need to have just one.  My opinion is to keep it to a couple that offer very different functionality however.  I would recommend a standard presentation tool like Power Point or Keynote, but also an alternative such as Prezi or Adobe Voice.  This will keep your choices few, and the pre-requisites down to a minimum, but will give you the ability to assign a variety of work types. 

Email

This can be a debated topic.  I believe email is a workforce essential and therefore should be taught in schools.  I also think that once students are writing, they can write emails.  This is really about school district policy however.  You need to work with your school and district to determine if email is right for your school.  If you decide to use it, pick an email platform that will most closely resemble a real world work environment.  Expose students to the ways communication and work is done in the modern workplace. 

Sound Recorder

Sound is a powerful method for your students to demonstrate mastery.  While it is often overlooked, some applications such as Notability make it an integral part of the application.  You will want a default, go-to method of allowing your students to record their voice and submit those recording for feedback.  Just like with the video, you want to choose a method that allows for small file sizes.  Pro Tip:  Make sure your students are given a time limit.  Short recordings are the best recordings!

Video/Sound Player

Your students will need a method of playing back videos and sounds that are part of their learning.  Web browsers offer some of this functionality, but each device is different.  Make sure that you have a default player for your video and sound files. 

Wrap Up



As an educator, your students will benefit from consistency.  As a school each of your teachers and administrators will have a good frame of reference with your tech program when you have a set of core applications.  Districts will find that the costs of your technology program will be significantly less when you have a go to set of apps that you can get volume pricing on.  It will also allow for fewer more consistent updates.  Once you have established this core set of applications, the rest of the program is easy to build.  You can add new and exciting ideas into your classroom on this foundation of rock solid software.

-Jason Cross- Copyright 2015