Google Goes Deeper Into Education

Google has been getting deeper into education, particularly into higher education. For example, their interest in creating a technically skilled, innovative and diverse workforce has moved them into computer science (CS) education.

That is a logical path for the company and they are interested in developing programs, resources, tools and community partnerships which make CS engaging and accessible for all students.

In STEM generally, women and minorities are historically underrepresented and that's true for computer science at the post-secondary level. In the U.S., women and ethnic minorities each represent just 18% of computer science graduates.professional experience.

You would expect Google to have sophisticated analytics, and analytics in online education software is a key feature in an LMS today as a way to understand how students are doing in greater detail than is possible by trying to do it manually. Course Builder offers several built-in analytics that require little set-up and also options for creating custom analytics using Google Analytics and Google BigQuery. They do note that not everything is free - running either type of custom analytics counts against your App Engine quota and can incur costs.





Course Builder is part of their overall education strategy. Check these links for more information:

Open Line Education https://www.google.com/edu/openonline/  

Course Builder Features https://www.google.com/edu/openonline/course-builder/docs/1.10/feature-list.html

One feature is accessibility https://www.google.com/edu/openonline/course-builder/docs/1.10/feature-list.html#accessibility 

Peer Review https://www.google.com/edu/openonline/course-builder/docs/1.10/feature-list.html#peer-review

 


Teach Online, Even If Your School Doesn't Offer a Platform

If you have never had the opportunity to teach online and have wondered what it's like, here's a chance to find out. Canvas offers you a chance to try out their learning management system (LMS) for free. They offer two options: Take Canvas for a test drive with a free, two-week trial account that is pre-loaded with course content so that you can explore without having to build from scratch. But, even better, is the offer to actually teach your existing class on Canvas for free, forever. "You bring the content and students. We’ll provide the awesome platform, " says Canvas.

Sure, this is an offer meant to help market the platform and entice you to recommend it at your institution, but take advantage of it. That is especially true if you have never taught online and want to give it a try. Perhaps your school doesn't even offer the option to supplement your face-to-face class with an online section. Though I am more involved in how any LMS including Canvas is used in higher education, this is probably even more applicable to pre-college. (Look at how the platform is being used in K-12 education.)  

I have designed online learning and taught in a number of learning management systems over the years - WebBoard, WebCT, Blackboard, eCollege, Sakai, Moodle and Canvas. My first experience with Canvas was when I taught a MOOC in the Canvas Network back in 2013. That was a meta-MOOC called "Academia and the MOOC" and was intended to attract teachers as well as others in academic roles (instructional designer, support staff, administration and student).

I found Canvas easy to use, but it seemed like a work-in-progress at the time. It lacked many of the tools I was used to having built-in (equation editor, white board, blog, wiki and journal features etc.). But here are some interesting things that came out of that experience.

Teaching that MOOC led me to connect with many other online instructors. Some had take my "course" (which was more of a large conversation) in order to try out Canvas as much as to learn about MOOCs.

dip your toe inWhile I was facilitating the MOOC, I was contacted by two other New Jersey colleges that were considering moving to Canvas. The instructional designers at both schools separately reported the same phenomena at their colleges. The instructional design staff felt as I had when I encountered Canvas - it seemed "underpowered." But, their faculty really liked it for pretty much the same reason: it was clean and simple and didn't have all those "tools we never use." Both colleges now use Canvas.

I think that anyone currently teaching at any level should have experienced being a student and being a teacher in an online setting. There is just no getting around the fact that it is and will continue to be a part of what learning has become and how it is offered.

Dip your foot into the online water - or just jump in with your whole course. It's not as scary as it looks.


Virtual Expeditions

Virtual field trips have been around in schools almost as long as Internet has been in the classroom. Before there were fast connections in schools and video applications that could handle streaming environments, a virtual field trip to a location like a museum or outdoor site could an unpleasant technological experience.

But things have improved. 

A new Apps for Education, back in 2006 with cloud-based email, calendar and document-sharing products available free to schools. Google's field-trip simulation system, called Expeditions, will also be free to schools as part of a company effort to further develop the technology.

Microsoft is also in the education market with its own email, calendar, Skype and other software. and they have also introduced new products like the note-taking app called OneNote Class Notebook.

Google Expeditions is very much designed for classroom use, rather than being an existing consumer/enterprise products like Skype being marketed to schools. 

Google Classroom is another free app (to create, collect and comment on student assignments) that was made for schools. And don't count out the juggernaut that is Facebook which has tried classroom connections before and had engineers working with schools in California on adaptive learning software to customize to individual students.




Everyone Should Be Coding

I wrote earlier about the "Hour of Code" and about how coding is a subject not often taught in schools (at all levels) or taught in isolation and to only a small percentage of students.

Students and teachers are sometimes moving into coding via other projects, such as a makerspace and playing with things like an Arduino board or robotics that require some coding knowledge. But a lot of coding education is occurring outside of traditional school settings.

Code.org has a search tool to find computer science classes in your area and my searching around New Jersey didn't turn up as much as I would have guessed.




NJ





Coding bootcamps are intensive, accelerated learning programs that teach beginners coding skills, but the "coding academies" like General Assembly, Galvanize, and the Flatiron School are much more. 

I know someone is reading this and thinking "Why do I or my students need to learn to code?"  I might answer that you don't know what skills will be necessary for your future work, but knowing something about coding could be part of that skil set. Of course, that is very close to the answer I got from my 8th grade algebra teacher when I complained that I would never need algebra to be a writer or English teacher.

These coding bootcamps and academies have only been around for about five years, although there have been computer science classes and programming courses in schools and for-profits for more than three decades.

Bootcamps can vary in length from 6 to 28 weeks, with the average at about 10 weeks long. Code schools teach a broader technical curriculum. It might include Full-Stack Web Development, Data Science, Digital Marketing, UX/UI Design along with teaching coding languages like Ruby on Rails, Python on Django, JavaScript, and LAMP Stack.

Ones that are intended for adults are usually making their money by offering courses aligned with or even in partnership with an employer network.

In 2015, it was expected that the number of graduates from such programs would be 16,000. Not an enormous number, but more than double from 2014, according to a recent survey by Course Report.

Almost none of these are accredited and so students enrolled are more interested in skills than credits or certificates. However, some of these students would probably be interested in using those courses towards a college degree if it was offered, as is the case with many college certificate programs that are usually part of their continuing education or adult learning programs. These can include courses that lead directly into graduate degree programs.

College tuition isn't cheap and these outside bootcamps and academies aren’t cheap either. A summary of the Course Report survey notes that the average cost of the courses is more than $11,000. There are about 70 of the programs in the United States and Canada today.

Last March, President Obama announced an initiative, called TechHire, to train Americans in technology jobs. Among other things, the effort encourages people to enroll in coding boot camps.

Boot camps have the potential to complement computer-science departments’ curricula and degrees, but most colleges are not comfortable in these partnerships, although they do often work with individual employers looking for customized training.

I am particularly interested in the growth of programs for our younger students that use coding both as a critical thinking builder and as a way to learn coding in order to do other STEAM projects.

The vision of many of these groups is based on the belief that computer science and programming should be part of the core curriculum in education, alongside other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses, such as biology, physics, chemistry and algebra.

Here are some resources towards that goal.

Code.org – This nonprofit foundation website is a great starting point for coding novices. It shares lots of useful online resources, apps and places to learning coding. 

Scratch was designed by MIT students and aimed at children ages 8 to 16 as an easy-to-use programming language. Without using lines of code, you arrange and snap together Scratch blocks of code. 

Stencyl  is software inspired by Scratch's snapping blocks system that allows you to create simple games for iOS, Android, Flash, Windows, Linux and Mac. There are paid pro plans that come with advanced functionality. 

Khan Academy is best known for its math tutorials that often look like games, but it also has basic programming tutorials and students can learn to build graphics, animations and interactive visualizations.

CodeAcademy is an interactive website that has a gentle learning curve and teaches kids basic code through fun and simple exercises that feel like games.

Hackety Hack this quick download allows you to learn Ruby, an open-source programming language that's easy and intuitive. 

Code Monster is  particularly good for kids learning as the Code Monster shows two adjacent boxes - one showing code, the other shows what the code does. As you play around with the code with some help from a prompt, you learn what each command does.

No one knows how old you are when you use these sites, so all you curious adults should feel free to use them as a way to get started - an then share them with your own kids in school or at home.

 



 


Walking Around the Edge of the Google Graveyard

graveyardA lot of people panicked at the end of 2015 about stories in the media about Google planning to kill the Chrome OS that runs Chromebooks. Well, not kill, but merge with their Android operating system.

One group that would be hurt by that is schools. Many schools have invested in Chromebooks as an inexpensive platform for student computing. Purchases increased in the past two years due to the tech requirement for districts needing to administer the computer-based PARCC exam as part of the Common Core State Standards.

Some people have predicted that the Chromebook is headed to the "Google Graveyard," a virtual place filled with projects that the company launched, promoted and then pulled the plug on.

Do you remember Jaiku, Knol, Picnik, Reader or Wave? They are just a few of the big and small projects moved to the graveyard. The real tragedy is when educators invest time and effort, if not money, into building programs around any piece of free software or service, only to have it and their program fade into the tech sunset.

Well, that's not the case with Chromebooks, according to a Google blog post saying that it is still committed to Chrome OS.  "Over the last few days, there's been some confusion about the future of Chrome OS and Chromebooks based on speculation that Chrome OS will be folded into Android. While we've been working on ways to bring together the best of both operating systems, there's no plan to phase out Chrome OS."

The company has said before that it had plans to merge Chrome OS and Android. (In June 2014 at it's Google I/O conference, they showed an example with a beta method to run Android apps on Chromebooks.)

Still, the sunsetting of technology and in this case the sunset kills of Google products and services can wreak havoc in a school or company that relies on them.

Still, I am encouraged by Google's constant search for new thing and services. I recently read about Fluency Tutor™  which helps teachers to help struggling readers by making reading aloud more fun and satisfying. It is especially for struggling and reluctant readers, as well as students learning English as a second language.

Students record themselves reading and then share with the teacher, but in a way that is separate from the pressures of reading aloud in class. When I taught middle school, it was apparent very quickly which students dreaded having to read aloud in class. I knew that the experience was important to their learning, but also saw the pain it caused some kids.

Fluency Tutor works best for schools using Google Apps for Education (GAFE) as it integrates with Google Drive and Google Classroom. It works with most online content, so it can be used along with other online instructional programs.

Let's hope that if teachers implement it, it survives.


Making Space for DIY Innovation on Campus




This week I will be at the NJEDge.Net Annual Conference whose theme this year is Rethink Refresh Reboot.- three things you should get from any good conference. NJEDge.Net is a non-profit technology consortium of academic and research institutions in New Jersey. It supports its members in their institutional teaching and learning; scholarship; research and development; outreach programs; public service, and economic development, and provides our broadband statewide network.

I'll be doing a 2-hour workshop on "Making Space for DIY Innovation on Campus" with Danielle Mirliss from Seton Hall University and Emily Witkowski, from the Maplewood Public Library.

We deliberately avoided saying "makerspaces" in the session title for two reasons. One, people who have heard of the term immediately envision a very techy room with a 3D printer and scanner and lots of computer parts, and although that does sound like a makerspace, that's not all the spaces we are talking about. These spaces can have hand tools, wood and fabrics, sewing machines, laser cutters and many other devices and tools. And they might be called innovation spaces, fabrication labs, rapid prototyping centers or hackerspaces.

These places over the past decade have increasingly increased as community spaces offering public, shared access to high-end equipment and guidance to using them.

You can work with technologies like desktop fabrication, physical computing, and augmented reality in these do-it-yourself workspaces. Naturally, the first subject areas to build and use makerspaces in schools were the STEM areas, but we are also interested in the way they are being used in for applications and research in the humanities and arts.

Our workshop will offer information on creating, branding and maintaining spaces on campus, in libraries or in the community. We will also show examples of DIY projects and discuss their applications to the classroom, and participants will try a hands-on activity.