Geeking Out at #CUE15

If you’re looking for a place to recharge and reconnect, the CUE Annual Conference is the place to be.  Like last year, I had a blast!  It was great to meet new techies colleagues, reconnect with old ones, and share the triumphs and pitfalls of technology integration in the classroom.

This year’s offerings were larger than the last.  There were SOOOO many workshops and not enough time.  In fact, when I set up my Sched, I actually booked two to three workshops for each time period so that if one room was full, I had backup options.  And believe me when I say that I’m thankful for those backup options!

My take-aways from these past few days include…

  • Interest-based learning –> “What matters to you, matters!” – Glenn Warren
  • Voxer is a means to connect & collaborate
  • Finding the citation for an image taken from the Internet is quite easy
  • Bring humor into the situation when someone asks a question that is Googleable (yes, I know that is probably not a word) –> lmgtfy.com
Though this type of conference can be taxing on the mind (there is so much to remember and process…), it was totally worth it when one factors in the relationships built over shared triumphs and frustrations when integrating technology into the curriculum and PD. I left Palm Springs this morning with a heavy heart because I know that I have to wait a full year for the next CUE conference.  Having said that, I am confident that the connections made this past weekend will continue to grow as we reach out to each over over Twittersphere…and perhaps maybe Voxer.  😉

Moving Mountains

This past weekend has been fraught with dreams in which I was unable to control anything around me.  Having a background in psychology and an interest in dream interpretation, I took that to mean that I was internalizing a bunch of stress because I was locked out of my TodaysMeet account that I created using my GAFE credentials.  I previously posted my frustrations because this is not the first time that I have had to go WAY of out my way to get access to a technology tool that in all reality should be open.
And just to make things clear.  TodaysMeet was not blocked by my district’s firewall.  But I was unable to get the password reset email from TodaysMeet because we are unable to receive emails from outside of our domain.  
Because of my panicked emails which I sent to the Powers-that-Be, I started my day with a phone call from our Director of Technology who then spoke with “someone” in IS.  And within five minutes (I’m not exaggerating)…someone from IS called my room.  They wanted to see what was happening on my end.  
It was interesting to watch them work through all of the possible solutions to rectify my problem (we were screen-sharing).  But I know a little about technology, so I tried to troubleshoot things on my end before I sent the email last Friday.  I even troubleshooted this weekend on my home computer using my own network thinking that it was a district firewall issue.
And it was.  
It turns out that the password email I sent last Friday, prompted TodaysMeet to not accept my username/password combination even though I knew it was the right one.  The problem was that my GAFE account could not receive the password reset email from TodaysMeet because they are outside of our domain.
I asked if IS could somehow for one hour lift the ban on outside entities sending to my GAFE account so that I could see if TodaysMeet actually sent me a password reset email. I was told (by two very patient IS techs) that that kind of request needed to go up much higher than them.  They mentioned something about the Assistant Director of IT or even our Cabinet (we’re talking all of the Assistant Supts AND the Superintendent) being the only ones who could approve that kind of request.  
Geesh.  Things were getting serious.
I told the two IS techs that this was an expedited request because I needed the transcripts from my TodaysMeet classes for my CUE presentation.  I told them that it didn’t really matter if I could use my GAFE account ever again with TodaysMeet…I just needed the transcripts.  
They said they would try their best.
About 15 minutes later, my phone rang again.  It was the two techies from IS.  They asked me to check my GAFE email.  
My latest email was from TodaysMeet with a link to reset my password.
What?!?!
So, I immediately reset my password and logged in to my TodaysMeet account.  I finally had access to my transcripts.  I.mean.seriously.  Someone moved mountains for me.  And believe me when I say that I’m so very grateful.  
I have so many people to thank…starting with the two techies in IS (D+G), my principal, the Director of Technology, the Assistant Superintendent, and whomever gave the GREEN LIGHT to let an outside entity send an email to my GAFE account.  
All is right with the world again.
I’m pretty sure I’m going to sleep much better tonight. 

Diggin’ Diigo

I was introduced to Diigo during the last year of my master’s program.  We were working around the notion of curating resources to share with our PLN.  We researched social bookmarking sites and chose the one which we felt most comfortable using.  I chose Diigo.

What I like about Diigo is that I can easily bookmark sites for later review.  It works much better than the reading list on Safari (sorry Apple, you know how much I love you)….but with Diigo I had access to all bookmarks, notations, etc. on all of my devices.

The best part?  I was able to add a bookmarklet to my iOS devices so that I could continue bookmarking to my heart’s content.  You know how that is…you go online looking for one particular thing and then two hours later you realize that you fell down a rabbit’s hole.  But I don’t consider the journey a loss…after all, that’s why I really like Diigo…I can bookmark sites, leave notations, and move on.

I’ve introduced Diigo to colleagues in my district.  I started with my department members, thinking that this would be an easy way to share websites.  But it never took off.  Well, it never took off for them.  I still bookmark sites, but whether they look at it or not I don’t know.

Then at my COE we decided to use Diigo as part of our roll-out of technology tools that supports Common Core.  We started a Diigo group and all teachers who came through our workshops enrolled in our Diigo group.  But after all of that work…it didn’t quite take off either.  Bummer.

But I wasn’t about to give up.  The daily updates I receive from Diigo gives me food for thought.  I like that other tech-minded educators are perusing and bookmarking sites.  Do I consider the Diigo community as part of my PLN?  Heck yeah!

So my next step was to introduce Diigo to colleagues in my district.  For the past couple of years, I have been asked to host a variety of technology PD.  Because of the push for Common Core, I made sure that my workshops featured technology tools that support reading, writing, and digital literacy skills.  Enter Diigo.

I pushed Diigo as a means to not only curate resources, but also as a tool where students could annotate sources.  In addition, I pushed Diigo as a way to build a PLN for teachers in my district.  And it kills me to say that even with a workshop focusing on curating and annotating resources that Diigo still didn’t take off.

Why?

I don’t know.

Whatever the case, I’m not about to give up on a tool that allows users to curate and collaborate on resources.  I’m.just.not.

Next step.

I created a Diigo group for my 7th graders last semester.  Actually I created the group a couple of years ago, but never got around to using it with my students (I suffer from the too many technology tools not enough time syndrome).

I bookmarked primary and secondary sources for them to use for our Japan Unit.  I told students that they could use those sources when working on their collaborative writing assignments in GoogleDocs.  I had about seven students sign up.  And though that doesn’t sound like a lot.  That was seven more students than before.  I told students that this is a tool that they can use beyond our class.  I told them that this type of tool is going to come in very handy as they move into high school and college when curating resources is very important.

Enter new semester of students.

I decided that this time I would post an invite to our Diigo group in Edmodo and invite students to join our group with the intent that this would help them when it came time to do the Level 4 (analysis) and Level 5 (synthesis/evaluation) writing pieces.  This year, my department (both World and US history teachers) have decided to work on collaborative writing assignments with our students.  We’ve been having them use primary and secondary sources long before the words Common Core were uttered.  However, now that we’re a GAFE district…the power of collaborative learning and writing has opened new doors for us.  Instead of having students write in isolation, we’re having our students write collaboratively.  It not only cuts down on the amount of essays that we have to grade, but it also mimics the type of writing that historians do today.  For who writes in isolation?  Well, I’m sure there are plenty who do so.  But all of the writing that I’ve done for publication has been done collaboratively.  We leave comments for each other, sometimes we’ll open a chat window in GDocs…but more importantly, we’re able to work when it’s most convenient for us.  Because of this experience, I decided that we needed to provide our students with this same type of experience and skill-set.

Where does Diigo fit in?  I’m hoping that I can get this semester’s set of students to use Diigo to not only bookmark relevant resources, but also to collaborate by leaving annotations for each other.  There will definitely be a learning curve for me because I’ve never done this before with my students, but this is something that has definitely been marinating in the back of my mind.  Wish us luck!

Foiled Again

My district is the perfect reason why you want your IT and IS departments to communicate.  One hand doesn’t know what the other is doing and doesn’t bother to figure how to work together to give our students and teachers the best learning opportunities possible.

To begin, my district doesn’t have a designated instructional technology department anymore.  We used to.  Before the whole technology revolution.  But when we needed it the most, it was quietly disbanded.  Instead, we have our IS department who are the gate-keepers to the outside world.  Everything that we want access to needs to be run through them.  We have to send them an email, cc our principal and then “someone” in IS will make the determination if that site is worthy to be unblocked.  I get that we need to have a firewall.  I also understand the need to have filters on our content…after all we are a K-12 district.

But here’s the frustration.  We are a GAFE district.  Hold your applause.  It took a few people FOREVER to convince IS (and perhaps our Powers-that-Be) that being a GAFE district would actually be a good thing for the learning process.  (This is not the blog post to go into the nitty-gritty, but let’s just say that THAT was an exercise in frustration.)

But I digress.

Here’s my frustration.  My district’s firewall blocks Twitter.  No biggie.  So do a lot of other districts.  So I found a tech tool that mimics Twitter but without the world-wide audience.  That I could deal with.  I teach middle school…I get it.  Enter TodaysMeet.  I’ve been using TodaysMeet for several years.  I mainly use it as a backchannel to gauge student understanding and learning.  I mostly used it when showing video clips so that all students had a voice.  I found a creative way to get students engaged in the learning process because they could see a live feed of their peer’s responses (enter #hashtags).  In TodaysMeet, I was able to keep transcripts for further review.

Last summer, during our week long PD session for my district, I introduced TodaysMeet as a backchannel for PD and also as a way for teachers to use it in their classrooms.  I received positive feedback from teachers because they saw this as an easy way to engage students in the learning process.

I shared my student work in TodaysMeet at several PD sessions that week.  I continued to tout the benefits of using TodaysMeet at workshops during the school year.  I even used transcripts from TodaysMeet in webinars and sessions that I presented to educators outside of my district.  In other words, I am a fan of TodaysMeet.

Then walked in reality.  I was unable to access transcripts when the TodaysMeet rooms closed.  But the solution was to purchase a subscription (at $5 a month) to have access to all transcripts basically in perpetuity.  I decided that that was the best option since I planned to use these transcripts to not only document student learning but also as something to share in future PD.

Did I mention that I’m presenting at CUE next week?  This is my second year and I’m so excited to share the hard work of my students.  Then came the blow.  I planned to use TodaysMeet yesterday with my students.  I went to set up the classrooms and I found that I couldn’t log in.  I figured, no biggie.  I’ll just have my password reset.  I waited for the email to arrive to my GAFE account.  Nothing.  I had the password reset email sent again.  Nothing.  Then it occurred to me…we cannot receive emails from outside of our domain.

Argh!

That prompted me to send an email to our Help Desk (the gate-keepers) tell them that I cannot access my TodaysMeet account because apparently our GAFE domain “does not support connecting a TodaysMeet account.”  But it used to.  So, really what it should have said was “Your GAFE domain NO LONGER supports connecting a TodaysMeet account.”  Did I mention that I have a paid subscription?  And that I’d been using my GAFE account with TodaysMeet since September?

Door closed.  Shut-out.

Oh, but I wasn’t done.  I sent the email to the Help Desk and received what was probably an auto-generated email with my ticket number and the message that someone would get to me as soon as it is possible.  Well, let me tell you…this isn’t my first time at the rodeo.  “As soon as it is possible” could mean several days or even weeks…believe me, I’ve been there.

I don’t have that kind of time.  CUE starts next Thursday.  I’m presenting Saturday.

I decided to email a couple of people who are higher up than the Help Desk.  My plea was that I’ve not only been using this tech tool all year, but that I have a paid subscription to something that I no longer have access to.  I can’t even cancel my paid subscription.  And perhaps more importantly, I need those transcripts as I planned to use them for my CUE presentation.  I mean…is this seriously happening to me right now?  (I didn’t write that last sentence in the email…)

Just when I think things are finally going in the right direction for my district (technology-wise), something like this happens.  But I’m not giving up.  I can’t.

But for the moment, I’m left waiting.