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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Tips for a Successful Google Apps Training Session

This evening I wrapped-up the final section of my Google Drive and the Common Core webinar series. (I'll be offering it again in March). Some of the participants in the webinars were people who will be going back to their schools to train others. Toward the end of the webinar I offered some tips for setting up those trainings. I've published these tips before, but it never hurts to share them again.

Get everyone using the same browser (preferably Chrome).
Not all browsers support every feature in Google Documents. Not surprisingly, Google Chrome does support all features of Google Documents and Google Drive. For that reason it is preferable to have all participants in your training sessions use Google Chrome. Google Chrome automatically updates whenever a new update is released by Google. A day or two before your training session send an email to all participants asking them to install Chrome if it’s not already installed on their laptops.

If getting all participants in your training session to use Chrome is not an option for you, at the very least stress to them importance of having the latest version of their preferred browsers installed. Not only is this a browser security issue (older versions of browsers are more susceptible to security threats) it is a Google Documents functionality issue. The latest versions of browsers support the most functions of Google Documents. For example, as of this writing Google has officially ceased supporting Internet Explorer 8.

Finally, regardless of which browser you ultimately have participants in your training sessions use, have them all use the same browser during your training session. Initially, this might be uncomfortable for some participants, but by the end of the day most people will be comfortable with a different browser. Having everyone use the same browser will make your day easier. When everyone uses the same browser if there are unexpected glitches or problems they will likely be the same for everyone in your training session. Solve the glitch once and you’ve solved it for the whole group for the day.

Laptops vs. iPads vs. Android tablets
Unless your training session is specifically about using iPads or Android tablets, the best way to introduce new users to all of the Google Documents features is to have them use a browser (again Chrome is preferable) on their laptops. You can certainly have people bring their iPads and or Android tablets to your training session, but make sure that they know that not all of the features available in a desktop browser are also available in the iOS and Android apps.

When I have participants bringing iPads or Android tablets to one of my workshops, my preference is to have people try all of the features of Google Documents in their browsers before moving to their tablets. This way they have exposure to all of the functions of Google Docs. Then when they move to their tablets they can clearly see the differences between the browser experience and the tablet app experience. 

Five essential Google Drive skills to teach:
1. Open and Edit Word Files in Google Drive.
If you're just beginning to transition to Google Apps from Microsoft Word, the chances are good you will have old files that you want to bring into and work on in Google Drive. Click here for the detailed directions on how to do this.

2. Create PDFs in Google Drive.
Sometimes you don't want a document to be easy to alter. Or you plan on printing it and want it as a PDF. Click here to learn how to create a PDF in Google Drive in three easy steps.

3. Use Google Documents Offline.
For those times when you don't have an Internet connection and you want to work on a document, having offline access enabled is the only way to go. Click here for directions on how to enable offline access to your Google Documents. 

4. Give Yourself More Room to Work in Google Documents.
If you're using a laptop that has a screen of 13" or less there will probably be times when you want more white-space to work in. This little trick will give you about another inch of viewable document.

5. Create and Organize Folders.
Do you want to have more organization in your Google Drive account? Then you need to know how to create folders and move files into them.

Put the Reading Rockets Reading Tip of the Day on Your Blog

This afternoon I was a panelist on a webinar hosted by AdLit and Reading Rockets. My contribution to the panel was to talk about using technology and social media to connect with parents and students. At the conclusion of the webinar the hosts ran through some of the things that AdLit and Reading Rockets offer. One of the things that I grabbed onto immediately is the Reading Rockets Reading Tip of the Day widget.

The Reading Rockets Reading Tip of the Day widget does exactly what its name implies, it provides daily reading tips. The widget can be installed in your blog or website.

Applications for Education
The Reading Tip of the Day widget could be a good addition to your school blog or website. The widget provides a tips that parents can reinforce with their children at home.

Use Edcanvas in Edmodo for Visual Organization and Sharing of Resources

Edcanvas is a well-designed service for organizing and sharing digital materials with your colleagues and students. I was impressed by the service when I reviewed it earlier this month. This week Edcanvas launched an Edmodo app. Now you can use and share your Edcanvas content within your Edmodo community.

Take a look at what Edcanvas does in the 38 second video below.



Applications for Education
It was already easy to share your Edcanvas content with colleagues and students. The addition of the Edmodo app gives you another way to easily share with the students in your Edmodo community.

The Importance of Data Portability in Web Services

Image Credit: Thomas Hawk
All week I've been writing blog posts about downloading the content from your blogs in order to have an offline copy of your blog entries. Writing those posts reminded me of the importance of the importance of data portability when using web services.

I use a lot of web services in my daily life but all of the services that I use for important information have the option to download offline copies of my files and data. This option is something that I look for when considering using a service for important functions. My recommendation to anyone that uses online services for important work in their schools is to make sure you can take your data whenever you want. Using an online grade book? Make sure you can download those grades whenever you want to. Bookmarking your favorite online resources for your lessons? Check to be sure that you can export a copy of those bookmarks. Some services make this easier to find than others. For example, Google has Google Takeout that you can use to export content from all of your Google services at once. Evernote, which I used for a long time, has the option but you'll have to search their help pages to find it.


The bottom line is this, if you're using online services to host important information for you, get in the habit of backing it up to an offline file. That way if something happens to the service you will still have your important information available to you.

Update, planning for data rot:
I'm sure that many of you have had someone walk up to you with an old floppy disk and ask, "can you help me open this file?" Now that is happening with CDs too. Last weekend when I was ice fishing with a friend who teaches biology he complained that the publisher of his favorite biology interactive wasn't sending out updated CDs anymore because they were replacing the CDs with an online option requiring a login. This is indicative of a larger pattern that we're seeing and that is the end of CDs for software. Along with that we're starting to see fewer computers shipping with internal CD drives, particularly in the laptop market. If you're using CDs to store information that is important to you, you might want to start looking at other storage options either online, on an external hard drive, or a combination of both. I use Google Drive, Box, and Seagate external drives for my storage needs.

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