When tech fails

We all know that effective teaching and training require the ability to tap dance, so to speak. Since we all know that our sessions don't always go as planned, we’re prepared to work around problems that are bound to come up against. Here is a list of some of my favorite tools for those awkward moments.

Online solutions:
Issue   You cannot physically get to the meeting- Solution  Google Hangouts, Skype.
Since most professionals already use video conferencing tools, these services can keep you connected no matter where you are. I prefer Google Hangouts, since you can work on meeting notes together simultaneously while you meet.  

Issue   The projector bulb burns out- Solution   Screen leap.
Screen leap is a free online tool that allows you to project your computer screen onto a web page. Give your participants a simple link and they can watch your presentation from their own screens. It works on smartphones, too.

Issue   MS Office fails or is unavailable- Solution  Google apps, Zoho or Office.live.com.
These all have great word processors. Office Live will allow you to edit the documents properly and Google will convert your documents (albeit with severe formatting issues).

Issue   You forget an important file- Solution  Chrome Remote Desktop or Screenleap.  
Use one of the many Remote Desktop Platforms available to connect to your computer from afar.

Issue   Laptop failure- Solution  Chrome + Google suites.
This can save you as long as you maintain your important files in Google Drive and use online tools. As long as you sign into Chrome, you'll be able to bring up any tabs you had open on any other device. If your laptop dies while using Chrome, you can grab any other device and seamlessly continue where you left off.

Hardware solutions:
Issue   No Wireless - Solution  Simple wireless access point (WAP) and an ethernet cord.
For around 40 bucks total, this is a great way to get around those uncomfortable connection issues. As long as you can plug your ethernet cord into an active port, you’ll be fine. These are also great for hotel stays. Its usually free to use their wired internet, so you can plug in your WAP and create some free wi-fi.

Issue   No Speakers - Solution  Cassette tape adaptor.
Since most schools and many venues have large stereos or other speaker systems that still have working tape decks, its a good 10 dollar investment.

Issue   You completely lose access to technology.  Solution Paper, manipulatives and you.
I like to keep a few low tech solutions on hand just in case. I have a print out of my presentation for my own reference and a stack of one page handouts for my audience. For K-12 audiences, I’ve always had some hands on materials as well. Finally, I always make sure that I’ve gotten to know my audience ahead of time. With a little preparation, I can be engaging and informative without my tools. My presentation may not be as compelling, but I won’t leave the group high and dry.


Make images interactive, free

There are an astounding number of places for students to go to get information they want. However, while the online universe can be a rich source of information, the educational potential of the internet is not in what can be consumed. The greatest power of online learning lies in what students can create.

One of the most useful free tools for useful, creative student projects is Thinglink. The idea is simple. Upload a picture, then make it interactive. See the example below.

The site designers had students in mind when they created it. You have the option of creating student groups and registering your students so that they don't have to. Once you have a log in set up for your students, they can go in and start annotating images as a way of explaining what they know about a given subject.

This tool has an amazing number of uses. Here are a few ideas:

  • K-12
    • Elementary- Students can label the pictures they take themselves. 
    • Middle- After completing a poster, students photograph it. Then they add tags explaining what it all means. 
    • High- Students create online reports for history, literature or science. They include interactive pictures. 
  • Professional development- Upload images of items your team needs to learn about. Add relevant information in the form of text, video or links to other pages. 


Chromebook remote support

Once you start using Chromebooks in your Google Apps district, you'll start having people call you about issues. Your clients are out there and you are, well, somewhere else. You'll want to find some way of providing support for your users from a distance.

A temporary fix would be to have a couple of spare Chromebooks on hand. It takes under a minute for a student to grab another computer, start it up and log in. Whatever issue that other device was having is inconsequential as long as there is a spare on hand.

Of course spares aren't always available. One option is to use Google Hangouts which have a remote desktop feature that would allow you to reach across the distance and offer a helping hand. Of course, if you're giving students access to Google Hangouts, you'll be opening up an entirely new set of issues surrounding privacy and student safety. Its a tough call.  (Please don't confuse this with the Chrome Remote Desktop App.  That won't work with Chromebooks. Ironic, I know.)

There is always the option of using a third party remote desktop application like AccessToGo. Depending on your firewall's settings, the particular brand of Chromebook you've procured and your bandwidth this may or may not work for you.

The take away message is this: Don't count on the kind of simple and dependable remote support you've seen from Apple and Microsoft. Chromebooks are going to be a different animal altogether.


Edit video on Chromebooks with WeVideo

Image of LaptopChromebooks are becoming a popular choice for schools around the US. Some teachers, though have expressed concern over what seems to be limited functionality. After all, if you can only produce content online, how are teachers supposed to do things like video creation?

WeVideo is the best tool I've found to give kids the tools to create, store and share video projects. This is primarily because it's free and it publishes videos directly to Google Drive. Note the use of the word "publish" instead of "save". Here is how it works: You create videos on their servers and are then given the option to publicly publish your video to the internet. In the free version, all videos are public by default. Once you publish the video to your Google Drive account however, making it private is simple. Just adjust the Sharing settings as you would with any other file. Keep in mind that if you have any privacy concerns, you'll have to be careful to adjust the sharing settings to every video you produce.

This option to save to Google Drive is important. First, it gives you immediate control over who may see your students' videos. For example, share the videos with parents, but prevent anyone else for seeing them. You'll also have a simple way of managing all those video files that come in. Put them into folders and organize them in a way that makes sense for you. The Google Drive app provides even more power. With it, those videos can be streamed (without being saved) to mobile devices. If you have the app yourself, you'll be able to take video with a smartphone and simply upload them to your Drive account. From there, you'll be able to edit them with WeVideo.

There are other video editors out there that are both free and produce a decent final video. Thus far, all of them have fatal flaws. Consider Youtube editor. The final result is in Youtube's proprietary format which means you have to use a third party application to download the video. Possibly more problematic is that Youtube is blocked in many school districts, so this wouldn't even be an option. Other video editors store your finished product on their own servers which may be fine. However, they just might reserve the right to use your video as part of their promotional material. "Free" accounts often come with some strings attached. So give this a try and let me know what you think.