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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Pros and Cons of Using Text Messages for School Announcements

Yesterday, I published a post about the pros and cons of using social media for distributing school announcements. Today, let's take a look at the pros and cons for using text message services to distribute class and school announcements.

The services you might use for sending messages:
For this post I'm going to include not only services that send SMS but also services that simply allow push notifications/reminders on students' and parents' mobile devices. Some of the most popular services for sending SMS and push notifications to students and parents include Remind, ClassDojo Messenger, Google Voice, Class Messenger, Cel.ly, and WhatsDue.

Pros of using text messages for announcements:
  1. Immediate broadcast of messages to large groups of students and parents. Some of these services will let to schedule broadcasting of messages too. 
  2. People have a very hard time resisting opening text messages immediately whereas email is easy to ignore for hours or days. Don't believe me, the next time you receive a text message try to ignore it for one hour. 
  3. Even households that don't have laptops, desktops, or home wireless are likely to at least one person that has a mobile phone to receive text message alerts. The Cellular Telephone Industries Association claims wireless penetration in the U.S. is 104%
  4. You can attach files to your messages to enhance and or explain the larger context of your message. 
Cons of using text messages for announcements:
  1. You have to get parents and students to opt-in to receive messages. 
  2. While great for short announcements like, "school is cancelled due to snow" or "remember your field trip permission slip" text messages are not great for announcements that require explanations. 
  3. Depending upon the service you choose, you may find yourself receiving a lot of replies that should be handled by phone call or in-person conversation. 
  4. Despite the CTIA statistic above, some students and parents won't have reliable access to a mobile device that receives text messages. This is particularly true in communities in which pay-as-you go mobile plans are prevalent. 
In response to my post about using social media for school announcement Jonathan Rochelle brought up a good point about asking students to use social media while at the same time asking them not to use it all the time, like during your class. This same issue applies to text messaging. Whether you use social media or text messaging for classroom and school announcements it's important to communicate to students when it is and isn't appropriate to be using their mobile devices.

As you venture down the road to using social media and text messaging with students it's also important to clearly communicate to parents why you're using these methods to broadcast school information. Think about drafting a letter to parents in which you explain why and how you're using social media and text messaging for communication. Feel free to use some of my pros bullet points as a starting place for that letter. 

Password Alert - A Chrome Extension to Protect Your Google Account

Password Alert is a new Chrome extension that Google released less than an hour ago. The purposes of Password Alert is to alert you to phishing sites and to encourage you not use the same password on multiple services.

Password Alert tries to accomplish its goals in two ways. First, Password Alert will show you a warning message if you type your Google Account password into a non-Google site. Second, you will be encouraged by Password Alert to change your password if you are repeatedly using your Google Account password on non-Google sites.

According to Google's Online Security blog Password Alert will make Chrome save “scrambled” version of your Google Account password. And according to the same post, it only remembers this information for security purposes and doesn’t share it with anyone.

Applications for Education
Google Apps for Education administrators can push Password Alert onto users. Administrators can also set up alerts to be notified when users use their passwords on non-Google Apps sites. Administrators are also able to force users to change their passwords if they use their passwords on non-Google sites. Administrators can learn more about this on the Google Apps Updates blog.

Folks who don't use Chrome can take steps to secure their Google Accounts by using two-step verification, frequently changing their passwords, and avoiding using the same password for multiple accounts.

What is Hotlinking? - Why You and Your Students Should Avoid It

This morning Alice Keeler, Sue Waters, myself, and a few others had a nice Twitter conversation about sharing images online. In that conversation Sue indirectly brought up the topic of hotlinking. When I teach courses on classroom blogging I always talk about how to correctly use images in blog posts. One of the things that I stress in that lesson is avoiding hotlinking to images that you don't own and control online.

What is hotlinking?
In a nutshell, hotlinking is inserting a picture into a blog post through a URL rather than uploading the image file itself to your blog. You can read more about hotlinking on the Simple English Wikipedia or on Host Gator's page about preventing hotlinking to your own work.

Why you and your students should avoid hotlinking.
Hotlinking itself isn't bad if you're only linking to images that you own and control online. For example, let's say that you have a Flickr account to which you upload dozens of pictures that you took. You could use the embed code or the link that Flickr provides to post your images in your blog post.

When hotlinking causes trouble is when you link to another person's image hosted in their account or on their servers. Even if the image is in the public domain you probably don't want to hotlink to it. In fact some services, like Pixabay which hosts public domain images, block attempts at hotlinking. They block hotlinking because when you hotlink you're using more of their bandwidth than if you simply downloaded the image to your computer then uploaded it to your blog.

The biggest concern about hotlinking is not knowing exactly who or what you're linking to. As Sue implied in her Tweet this morning, it is possible that the image you linked to and the image displayed could be changed without warning. It's also possible that the link a student inserts to hotlink links back to site or host laden with malware that could then rain down havoc on your blog.
Click image for full size.

Best practices for using images in blog posts.
  1. Always try to use images that you own and upload to your blog. 
  2. If you don't own a suitable image then look for images in the public domain. Pixabay is a good place to look. Download the image and upload to your blog. 
  3. If you cannot find a suitable image in the public domain then look for images that have Creative Commons licenses attached to them. Photosforclass.com makes this easy to do. Download the image, upload it to your blog, give proper attribution to the owner of the image. 
  4. If items 1, 2, and 3 above didn't provide you with a suitable image then you can attempt to use an image under Fair Use guidelines. Fair Use is a murky water so Fair Use should be your last resort. If 1, 2, and 3 failed to produce a suitable image, repeat steps 1, 2, and 3 until you find a suitable image.

Commenting on Dropbox & Box Files - Alternatives to Google Drive

It is not a secret that I love Google Drive and use it for nearly everything that I do in my professional life. I know that not everyone loves Google Drive the way that I do therefore I also have Dropbox and Box accounts that I use for sharing files. Dropbox recently added a new option for all Dropbox users to comment on shared files.

Now in your Dropbox account you can open a file, write comments about the item in the file, and mention people in your comments. Mentions are created by using "@" and a person's name from your contacts or by simply entering a person's email address. When you mention a person in a comment he or she will receive a notification.
Click image for full size.

Box.com offers a similar commenting functionality. Open a file preview in your Box.com account and you can write comments and or assign tasks to collaborators on the file. The downside to this system is that your collaborators will have to download the file in order to make changes.
Click image for full size.
Dropbox and Box offer a limited amount of free storage compared to Google Drive. But both services frequently run promotions through which you can get more storage by Tweeting, Facebooking, or emailing promotions to your friends.

H/T to The Next Web for the Dropbox update.

Social Studies Teachers, This Course is for You

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History teachers come learn with me, Richard Byrne, and Ken Halla of US and World History Teachers’ Blogs. In Teaching History With Technology we take you through the process of developing engaging, web-based history lesson plans. This course features three interactive online meetings along with a discussion forum in which you can further interact with me, Ken, and your classmates. The class will meet online on July 16, 23, and 30th at 5:30pm Eastern Time.

For $97 you will:
  • Find and use flipped videos

  • Create your own flipped videos

  • Learn how to develop a Google Plus community for professional development and instructional purposes.

  • Develop an online Professional Learning Community.

  • Learn how to draw virtual maps.

  • Learn how to locate and help students locate online primary resources.

  • Find and use virtual tours on the Internet

  • Find and use flipped videos

  • Create your own flipped videos

To give everyone the attention they deserve, registration is limited to 25 participants.

Click here to register today!


Live sessions will be held from 5:30pm to 6:30pm EST on July 16, 23, and 30th.

All sessions are recorded for participants to download and watch whenever and wherever they live.

Questions? Send an email to richardbyrne (at) freetech4teachers.com