Tuesday, February 19, 2013

eTech: The Cloud #oetc13

Unless the unforeseeable happens, my school will be going Google starting next school year.  This meant that I attended a couple sessions about using the Cloud in general and Google apps specifically.  Here are a few takeaways.
  • Microsoft Mesh once was and is no longer. Alvin Trusty, leader of one of my sessions, claimed to have loved Mesh once.  The problem is that Microsoft closed the Mesh doors last week. The obvious conclusion to this is that anything you have saved in the Cloud ought to be backed up somewhere.  It may be the latest rage today and discontinued tomorrow.  (That kinda reminds me of Flash Forward, that really cool TV series my wife and I loved till it died during its first season.)  
  • Wikipedia is the world's largest collaborative cloud site with 18 million contributors. 
  • Wikis are great reporting tools for school.  I've done a number of wikis over the years, and they are great for collaboration and paperless projects.  What I didn't know is that wikis can be saved to your school server, so as to not be reliant upon the Internet. 
  • Protopage is another cloud-based site.
  • Code Academy is an online tool to help you learn code...something I'm very interested in doing. I'll be returning to this site soon. 
  • OurMedia is a podcast creation and storage site which may also come in handy in the future. The home page also gives links to Creative Commons sites, which I'm realizing more and more are important to be using rather than Google Images.
  • Flickr allows up to 300 mb of photo uploads each month for free. 

Here are some Google Apps thoughts.
  • Google Voice gives you a free online phone number. I've had a Google Voice number for years but have done nothing with it.  It was originally suggested to me as a way to give a valid phone number without giving out your real phone number. 
  • Google has a power search academy to help you learn how to use their flagship product most effectively. 
  • Google Music allows you to store and play up to 20,000 mp3 files.  That's a lot of music.  For free.
  • If you ever want to get your stuff back (see Microsoft Mesh above) Google has a method for data liberation, which means they are committed to my content staying my content. 
You can find a lot more interesting information at Alvin Trusty's session notes page

I also attended a session with Eric Courts about security and safety using Gmail. In order to be a Google Apps user, you must have a Gmail account.  that makes sense, but it also means that you'll be assigning email addresses to your students. In high school and even middle school, this isn't a huge concern, but should elementary students have an email address? I've known for a while that email can be turned off for younger kids, but I didn't know how.

I like sitting in on an Eric Courts session because he shows you how it's done.  Many session speakers are like the car salesman who will take the thing for a spin with you and show you what it can do.  That's nice, but Eric is the mechanic who throws open the hood and shows you how to do it. He took us into the inner workings of settings to show us all sorts of goodies.

Students can be put in groups and given many rights and privileges with those groups. (Helpful hint: Put the graduation year in the student's email address. It helps with organization later.) Want to block an entire grade from using email completely? No problem.  Want them to have the ability to only email teachers? We can do that. Want to give them only freedom to email within the school system? Yup.  What about the student newspaper group? Can they have access to email out to touch base with people outside the school system?  Of course.  There are a number of other things you can do, and it would be helpful to read through his notes linked above.

As a parent of a preschooler who may one day be at a Google school... I'm glad to know that these restrictions are possible and easy.  

Before signing off, can you do me two favors related to the Cloud?

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