Wednesday, April 30, 2014

OneDrive - My new friend

Sharing information has been easy and simple with Google Drive and Dropbox, however, my organization has adopted Microsoft Office 365 and OneDrive for Business to protect data and provide consistency for district, school, faculty, and student communication and collaboration.  While I work on the district level to design and develop online learning, I also teach for our virtual high school - to improve my practice and because working with a class of my own keeps me grounded to the essence of education - students.  This time of year our entire district is focused on End of Course Exams (EOCs), Advanced Placement Exams, and the state achievement tests for elementary and middle schools.  
My AP Art History class is entirely online, no textbook for students to review during this crucial crunch time.  While they can review content from the course and their notes at any time, several students were asking for a timeline to support their study efforts.  I spent two weeks walking back through the course from ancient Mesopotamia through the Renaissance, and into contemporary modern art.  The trick was how to best share the document with students while it was being created, and how to allow for some crowd sourcing of content from the class.  A final consideration was the file size, as we continued to add images of master works the document grew beyond the ability to email through our system.  

Microsoft OneDrive provided the best asynchronous means to upload and share the spreadsheet timeline with my class.  At first I shared the link with them through email, but last night after our most recent synchronous study session using Blackboard Collaborate, I discovered an instant QR code creator right inside the system.  By clicking on the three little dots after a document, and then choosing "Share", one is able to "Get a Link" that can be emailed or embedded in our course.  However, there is a little phone icon after the link and clicking on that icon provides an immediate QR code for either viewing or editing the document.  I can't wait to share this with teachers in our district!

Friday, April 25, 2014

The most exciting thing to happen to blended learning since the invention of the blender!

 Khan Academy Blended course
As a long-time blended learning teacher, advocate, and consultant my greatest struggle has always been how best to communicate and support the blended shift in a school or classroom.  Many teachers view blended learning as flipping instruction, or as student use of online resources or purchased instructional programs.  However, true blended learning goes beyond surface level technology integration, it creates a fundamental instructional shift in the classroom.  Even with teachers that "get it" there continues to be the challenge of administrator buy-in and technology support.  The Clayton Christensen Institute's site has been my go-to spot for explaining and introducing those in my organization to the various models and practices current in blended learning environments.  An exciting new resource created in partnership with the Clayton Christensen Institute and Silicon Schools Fund provides a free and open course that anyone can access and complete on Khan Academy.  This Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) provides structured and specific information guiding participants through definitions, models, case studies, practical applications, and in-depth uses of the various models to support stunt growth and achievement.  Click on the image above to see the elegantly designed course and learn more about blended learning.  Happy blending!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The power of infographics

For those of us who are visual, creative, thinkers... data can be overwhelming.  Just picking up a budget spreadsheet causes my eyes to glaze over.  However, great sites now offer professionally created inforgraphics covering a wide range of interesting concepts, topics, data, and ideas.  My favorite of these sites is 

Each week sends out an email with new and interesting info graphics.  Taking a break from current tasks and browsing through the imagery rejuvenates and inspires.

Recently I felt bold enough to try out some info graphic creation of my own.  I've seen some useful tools and templates online, but I wanted something a little more organic and a little less helpful.  HubSpot has a free PowerPoint template with 5 preset graphic styles.  Everything a creative needs to get started and test the waters.
I signed up on their site for the free templates, here is the link: Free Infographic Template on HubSpot.  Then I make a copy of the original, delete all but one of the slides, delete most of the template content, and design away.  I've also found it useful to build in stages, using a separate PPT file to create a section of content and the copy and paste all onto the info graphic template.  Once my design is complete, I save it as a PDF, the open the PDF and export as an image.  To me this is a natural way to tell a visual story using familiar tools and processes.

Here's an example of my first attempt.  This info graphic was used in a district-wide online professional developent training on Common Core, PARCC assessments, and the connection of those to our district strategic plan - MNPS 2018.  You can see how each of the three sections is divided, those were each built separately in their own PPT file and then copied and added to the info graphic file.  Once the major content and imagery was in place, I shared the raw file with my team and had them make changes to text and font, shadows, and reflections to produce a jazzier feel.  The final product was then uploaded in the course and printed off using a poster maker.

We were all rather pleased with the results but were unprepared for the popularity of the graphic.  Several schools have made their own posters of the info graphic, and recently one school even tweeted out an image of the poster.

So, why not give it a shot?  Download the templates for yourself and see what you can do. Just be sure to post in the comments so others can see your amazing info art!