Summer improvements

Source: Plik:Wikinews collaboration logo.svg

Finally, summer vacation is in full swing around the country. Well, as far as I know no one is still waiting to begin break. That word "break" is a bit of a misnomer for many of us in education since summer is really a time for us to reflect on learning outcomes and use the data to alter instruction for the coming year.

A great way to work collaboratively on data interpretation is by using Google Spreadsheets. Collaboration is an important part of data interpretation since it requires us to infer what has worked and what needs to change. Software, algorithms and spreadsheet formulas are great for doing math, but they'll never give us the explanations or guidance we need improve outcomes. No, that takes human intervention. With Google Spreadsheets, you can upload any Excel document that contains assessment data. Once it's uploaded, change the privacy settings to Anyone who has the link can edit. Email that link to your colleagues and you can all start sorting through the information together. There is no need to have a Google account, they just need the link you've provided. 

If your colleagues do have a Google account, then you have an even better opportunity to work with the data- Google plus. While continuing to collaborate on the Spreadsheet, up to 10 people can video chat about the information through Hangouts. Essentially, you'll be having a virtual PLC which saves everyone time and gas money.

This summer, don't just work solo. Get together with others in your department over a Google Spreadsheet and come up with some great ideas. You'll be sure to see great results in the coming year. And, hey... you'll also have something to brag about to administrators.


DIY LMS or get one pre-made?

I've been wondering about Learning Management Systems (LMS's). How exactly is learning management different from teaching? Yes, I know all of the discussion about online content storage, assessment creation and data tracking. All of that really just begs the question, though. After all, in a typical teaching situation, there is a person who serves as a repository of information (supplemented by a textbook) who gives out assignments and keeps track of how students are performing. An LMS is really just a way to do all of this digitally. 

Since an LMS is a digital "teacher", can't we as teachers just make our own LMS? And are formal LMS's performing any better than ad-hoc systems? I've read quite a bit on both sides of the argument. So far, I'm not wowed by the pre-fab products. A well designed system can provide students with the essential items. First, they'll need review materials (videos, presentations, text) to understand an idea. Next, is a way to work with the material socially or alone so that learners understand ideas rather than memorize facts or phrases. This is typically done by assigning some sort of assignment. Finally, the system also has to have some way to assess students and share that assessment data with the students in a secure and sensible way. Usually, this is in the form of a gradebook. 

I've put these ad-hoc LMS's together using Google tools and a bit of hard work and they've performed pretty well. The biggest challenge (besides creating the actual learning material) was to decide how to organize everything so students could easily find what they wanted to quickly and easily. However, since all LMS's have a very similar design, it wasn't terribly difficult to get it to work about as well as Moodle or Blackboard. The most important thing I did was to keep the system consistent with what I did in the classroom. I think if a teacher does that, any LMS is as good as the next. 


Gmail and ESL

Update: Gmail now available in Latin American Spanish
Originally posted by Chris Yang, Product Manager, Translator Toolkit

It has taken Google a surprisingly long time to provide translation services for Latin American Spanish (LAS) emailers. As teachers, we have been working with LAS communities for years and communication between English speaking teachers and non-English speaking parents can be tricky. Now that we can translate our emails into LAS, parent-teacher communication just got easier.

Google hopes that by making Gmail available in many languages, more people will be able to share their culture and knowledge with others worldwide. Spanish is spoken by more than 300 million people in the Americas and the Caribbean. The Latin American Spanish version of Gmail is designed to be a closer match to the expectations of Spanish speakers in the Americas. You can select Latin American Spanish as your default language in Settings: