08 February 2013

Flipping and Blending with Free Tools

I just got a mass email requesting presenters at our district technology conference in August. Now that I've applied, I thought I might go over it in a blog post to help organize my thoughts, just in case they ask me to present.

I only wish I had copied and pasted the description I drafted up for the application. I think it went something like this:
Learn about free website creation and blogging, screencasting, assignment delivery and submission, and other tools to help you flip and blend your classroom. Tools include Weebly, Google Sites, Screencast-o-Matic, Edmodo, DROPitTOme, Google Forms, and more.
Would you sign up for my class? Read on.

I'm not sure if the presentation was supposed to be 30 minutes or 50 minutes. I think I'd prioritize based on what I thought was the most useful tool, in my opinion, and provide a handout that summarized them all. Not all of this could be covered in 30-50 minutes.

Weebly/Google Sites—for Teachers
I haven't yet decided which I prefer: Weebly or Google Sites. Last semester I used the latter, this semester I'm using the former. So far, there are few differences. It's easy to embed YouTube videos on my Weebly site with a simple "Custom HTML" box. For some reason, I could never get that to work on Google Sites. Files are also easier to share on Weebly, with the link to the file being wherever you want it. On Google Sites, the file link had to come at the bottom of the page. (Of course, you could get around this by linking to files elsewhere if you knew what you were doing.) A final pro for Weebly is its themes, which are much prettier and dynamic than Google Sites'.

In Google Sites' corner, you have a more robust Feed tool. I had a Blogger blog that I would post announcements and assignments to, and my Google Sites homepage showed the last few posts including pictures. The Feed feature on Weebly is pretty lackluster. Google Sites, being Google, is also built for sharing other Google services, in particular the calendar. It was easy to insert the calendar into a page, whereas with Weebly you have to create a Custom HTML piece and embed it.

On my website, I have a page for every unit in every class I teach. Those pages have descriptions of nearly all the assignments they're supposed to do. Most of those assignments have links to video tutorials. This is where the blending comes in with my class. With all the assignments posted, they can move quickly through tutorials and complete assignments at their own pace. My time is better spent not showing stuff, but giving individual help.

The most-visited link on my site, though, is DROPitTOme (see below). Essential for any and all assignments done on a computer. (Unless I replace it all with Edmodo...)

Weebly—for Students
For students, Weebly is the way to go. Google requires you to authenticate with a phone number if you want an account, as far as I've tried. Our district even has Google email but it's limited in the other Google services that come with it, including Sites, so they'd have to create a separate account. Another account issue that Weebly helps is that you can set up student Weebly accounts through your teacher account. 40 come free, and for more it's quite affordable (about $1 per student, so if you're a lab teacher you can cover it with class fees). That way you can moderate comments if necessary.

Students in my class use their Weebly sites as portfolios. They post their work on their sites on different pages. One class also has a web design unit, so they have to design a favicon, a logo, and headers that match the theme they choose, in addition to their portfolio. Eventually I'll have them blog on their sites, but I haven't decided how to roll it out yet.

I love Screencast-o-Matic. If you teach anything that requires using a computer, it's the simplest, quickest way to create screencasts. (A screencast is just a video recording of your computer screen, especially useful to demonstrate software.) You will need a ~$20 headset to easily record your voice. Other than that, you don't even need to download software if you don't want to. You can upload your video to the Screencast-o-Matic hosting service, upload to YouTube, or save the video as an mp4 to your computer and upload it to whatever site you want. I have to save the video and upload it to YouTube at home because of our lovely district block of YouTube. I just find that YouTube can handle 30+ computers streaming videos better than Screencast-o-Matic can. No offense, S-o-M, I still love you.

Anyway, as mentioned above, I post videos of how to use software. I haven't decided what is more beneficial between posting a video that shows how to do an assignment and posting a video about how to use different tools, which they then have to translate into completing the assignment. I'm leaning toward the latter, but it's probably something you'd have to do gradually.

Another use for S-o-M would be to simply record yourself giving a presentation. This would be an easy way to flip the classroom if your curriculum works best through presentations. However, the free version of S-o-M has a 15-minute limit. I sincerely hope no student has to watch a video of a presentation for anywhere near that long.

Something I once saw, but have yet to try myself, is to have students create screencasts. It would be a great way for them to solidify knowledge, having them teach it to someone else. It would also probably be useful for them to present if they're not ready to face an entire class, or if you don't have time to have the entire class watch every presentation.

I'm still new to Edmodo, and honestly I haven't actually tested it on real students yet. Nevertheless, there are a few features that get me somewhat excited about it:

  • Students don't need to sign up with an email. All they need is your class code. If they do share their email, they can get notifications, which is nice.
  • You can embed YouTube videos to your 'library' and then easily share them with groups of students. The best part is that they open in a separate window without going to the YouTube site, therefore eliminating potentially hazardous ads or comments.
  • You can post assignments, which come with due dates, that students can turn in right there in the same place, either with a link or a file or both.
  • Students can ask questions to the group, or even comment on assignments themselves. The teacher or another student could respond, and then when other students come to ask the same question, they already have a response waiting for them.
  • You can grade these assignments right there in Edmodo, which then automatically puts all their scores in a neat grades page. While grading, you can post comments about their work.
  • Because of these features, you could completely eliminate the need for most other tech I mention in this post, including Weebly/Google Sites, DROPitTOme, and Google Forms.
  • Students can share how they felt about an assignment through an emoticon, including frustrating, interesting, fun, boring, etc. This gives the teacher an idea about the student morale.
Many teachers have upwards of 200 students per day, so grading efficiency becomes top priority. While Edmodo would keep all the student submissions in one place, it is a little time-consuming to go through them all. When I fully blend my graphic design class and work through Edmodo, I'll post a single assignment for the entire unit. Students will have chosen which small assignments to complete during the unit, and upload them all (files and links) in their submission. My grading would take a long time, but doing it all at once would help streamline the process. I could maybe even just give the students a game or movie day while I use the class time to get two weeks' worth of grading done all at once.

This bare-bones application is a simple way to have students submit files to the teacher easily. It creates a folder on your Dropbox called "DROPitTOme" and all files submitted end up there. I have my students name their files with their period number, last name, first initial, and assignment name. For example, Zach Morris in 4th period turning in his "vector" assignment would name his file 4-MorrisZ-vector. That way, the computer automatically organizes the files by period and last name, ready for grading.

Grading can go especially quickly if you have an iPad. You can open your Dropbox app and just scroll through files, most of which can open directly in Dropbox. No need to open Word and Acrobat and Picture Viewer.

Google Forms
While DROPitTOme is great for file submission, some assignments are better submitted with links. This is where the simple tool of Google Forms comes in.

In my multimedia class, for example, students create video games on Gamestar Mechanic. I found that the easiest way for them to share their games was to send me a link through Google Forms. I can arrange their responses by last name in the resulting spreadsheet and simply click on the links in there to go try out their game. I also use it for Codecademy grading. They get points for the number of exercises completed. That data is seen on the "View my profile" part, and I realized that you can simply send someone a link to your profile.

Another use of the Google Form is an online disclosure form. Parents can go to your website, find the form, fill it out, and suddenly you have a spreadsheet of parent information rather than a stack of crumpled papers. I'm sure other teachers have found a variety of other uses for Google Forms. Those are the basic two that I use.

Oh, and these forms can be embedded directly in your Weebly or Google Site.

iPad Apps
The iPad doesn't do much to flip the classroom yet. I think its, or any tablet's, biggest contribution to flipped/blended learning would be for the video and internet consumption. Regardless of class, students would have full-time, instant access to helpful media.

But for many teachers whose curriculum isn't software-based, there are a few apps that would be perfect in place of screencasting. These are like recordable smart boards that you can write on, talk into, and even throw in pictures and videos. Since I haven't really used any yet, all I can do is tell you what I've heard of so far:

  • Educreations
  • Explain Everything
  • Screen Chomp

I still use my iPad for class, just not necessarily to flip or blend:

  • Class Dojo—Track behavior and give out points for other things. Includes a random student feature.
  • Dropbox—I already mentioned it. Using the app is a perfect way to grade DROPitTOme submissions.
  • Smart Seat—Create simple seating charts and take roll. I mostly use it to create random seating charts for me.
  • Zite—It's not a classroom app, but it feeds me articles about subjects I'm interested in, including education, gamification, and blended learning. I also use it to find articles in the subjects I teach that students could read and respond to.

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