Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Before You Embed That Gadget or Badge or Infographic...

Last week I received a panicked email from a reader who was having problems with her classroom blog. She reported that dialogue boxes were popping-up whenever someone visited her blog. That's usually a sign that there is some malware hidden in the code of the blog. So I used an laptop that I keep around for these kinds of things and took a look at her blog. Sure enough, as soon as I visited the site a bunch of dialogue boxes popped-up on my screen.

As I looked at the blog I saw an educational game gadget embedded into the sidebar. There was also a countdown calendar embedded into the sidebar. The countdown calendar was one I had seen in a lot  of blogs so I didn't think that was the problem. The game gadget was from a service I hadn't heard of. I asked the owner of the blog if she could remove it. She did and the pop-ups went away.

Embedding gadgets into a blog can be a good way to enhance what your blog offers. That said, some gadgets seem harmless can cause problems for you. Before you embed a gadget or badge consider its source. Is it from a site or company you've never heard of? Does the site itself have a bunch of pop-ups appearing? If so, those could be good signs that the gadgets they're offering are suspect too.

On a similar note, a lot of companies like to get bloggers to embed badges that say something like "top teacher blog." Before you embed that badge consider its source. Is it coming from a site like "Best Online Degrees?" If so, they're giving out those badges as a part of their SEO strategy. Dan Meyer wrote a great post about those kinds of sites, I highly recommend reading it. I'm not saying that you shouldn't put up a badge if you've been recognized for something, just consider that badge's source and whether or not it is being given as recognition or as part of an SEO strategy (spoiler, sometimes it's for both purposes).

Infographics are widely used for SEO purposes too. I have at least two per day emailed to me. The next time you have an infographic emailed to you or see one that you want to embed, take a look at who created it, who is hosting it, and who it links back to. For example, one that has been sent to me twice this week is titled, "How Technology Is Changing the Classroom." It looks like a decent infographic. But I took one look at the embed code and saw that it was linking back to an online degree scam site. Another I received this week is titled, "White House History." When I looked at the code for that site it linked back to an online rug and carpet store. Needless to say, neither infographic will be appearing on my blog.

Monday, March 30, 2015

A Handful of Ways to Publish Audio Recordings

Over the last month, basically since I published this post, I have received a bunch of emails from teachers asking about ways to publish their audio recordings/ podcasts. Here are the methods and platforms that I've been recommending.

Publishing your podcast through iTunes will probably give it the best opportunity to reach a large audience. People are familiar with the process of subscribing to podcasts through iTunes which will help you help them subscribe to your podcast. The drawback to using iTunes to publish your podcast is that the set-up process is confusing the first time you do it. WordPress can make the process a little easier. But if you're only publishing occasionally or only looking to share your audio recordings with a specific audience (let's say students, their parents, and perhaps another classroom or two) then you might be better served by using a simpler method of publishing your audio recordings.

AudioBoom and SoundCloud both offer options to upload recordings made and saved on your computer even if those recordings weren't made using their services. Both offer the option to create a channel to which people can subscribe. Both offer the option to embed your recordings into blog posts and webpages. And both services allow you to upload a picture to accompany your recordings. AudioBoom limits each recording to ten minutes. SoundCloud doesn't limit your individual recording lengths, but does limit you to two hours of total time before you have to upgrade your plan or delete old recordings.

Google Classroom and or Google Drive are options if you're just concerned with sharing audio recordings with a specific audience. Google Classroom will limit your sharing to members of your class while Google Drive could open your sharing options to a larger audience. Create a public Google Drive folder and upload your recordings to it. From there your audience could download the recordings to listen to on their laptops.

Dropbox or Box. Both services will allow you to host audio files. Like Google Drive, you could use Box or Dropbox to create a public folder in which you make your audio files available. Place a link to folder in a prominent place on your classroom blog so that people visiting your blog can easily find your audio files.

Register for Two Free Webinars With Me

People who are subscribed to the Practical Ed Tech newsletter got this information yesterday. I apologize to those who are seeing it as a repeat.

This week I am leading some free webinars for teachers.

On Tuesday I will be giving two short (30 minutes) presentations as part of Simple K12’s afternoon of webinars on Google Apps. My presentations will be on search strategies and workflow tips. My presentations will at 2pm and 3pm Eastern Time. You can learn more and register here.

On Thursday I will be hosting a free webinar on the best backchannel and informal assessment tools for teachers. This webinar is based on my popular in-person workshop of the same name. This is going to be an interactive webinar so come ready to participate. The webinar will be held at 7pm Eastern Time. Registration is limited to the first 200 people. Click here to register.

Thursday’s webinar will be recorded. You do not need to email me to get the recording, it will be posted on FreeTech4Teachers.com and included in next Sunday’s Practical Ed Tech newsletter.

Neither of the free webinars listed above carry any graduate credits or certification. My online classes on Google Apps and Blogging do offer graduate credit options through the Midwest Teachers Institute.

ExamTime Changes Names - Still Offers Good Review Tools

ExamTime is a service that provides a bunch of good study tools for students. Over the weekend ExamTime changed its name to GoConqr. Students will be able to use their ExamTime usernames and passwords on GoConqr. GoConqr will offer the same options as ExamTime did for creating and sharing flashcards, building mind maps, and tracking your own study habits.

The next update to the ExamTime mobile apps will the reflect the new GoConqr name too.

In reading ExamTime's blog post about their name change it wasn't exactly clear what motivated the name change or if anything significant will change in the service. I guess we'll find out soon enough.

Note: the ExamTime website is still live, but when you try to sign into an account you will be redirected to GoConqr.

Convert PDFs to Google Docs to Differentiate Instructional Materials

This is a guest post post from Brenda Doucette (@doucetteb) of EdTechTeacher - an advertiser on this site.

Recently, we discovered a feature of Google Drive that has changed how we prepare and access materials and resources for our students. As we attempt to make all curricula digital and thus make it available to all students, the idea of using PDFs was always a problem. PDFs are just not editable in most situations, and this was an issue when it came to modifying and differentiating documents. Adobe Acrobat was our “go to” application for this type of conversion, but it was costly and often hard to come by in an educational setting. Note: We still use Adobe Acrobat for complex projects or documents that do not convert well in Google Drive. With the most recent update to Google Drive, OCR (Optical Character Recognition) capabilities are better and easier than ever.

Here is how it works:
  1. Open and sign into Google Drive
  2. Upload a PDF document to your Drive
  3. Right-Click on the document once it is uploaded.
  4. Choose Open with>Google Docs
Convert PDFs to Docs

The original PDF remains in your Drive and a new, converted document is created. You can open your new document and rename, edit, annotate, share, etc. just as you can do with any other Google Doc, Slides or Sheets. This works best with PDF documents that are clear and mostly text-based. Tables, images and formatted text can be a bit of a challenge for Google Docs (images and tables tend to end up on one page and text on a separate page), but I am sure it’ll get even better and easier in the next update.

To learn more about differentiating instruction and working with Google Apps, EdTechTeacher will be offering a variety of hands-on Summer Workshops in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay Area.