Saturday, December 7, 2019

The Week in Review - The Most Popular Posts

Good morning from snowy Maine where it is going to be a great weekend for playing outside. When the sun comes up I plan to do some sledding with my kids. Later, we might do a little skiing too. But first I have this week's list of the most popular posts of the week.

Before reading the list of the most popular posts of the week, take a look at this picture in this post. That's a Compaq LTE Lite 4/25 laptop from 1994. One of my students found it in the back of a cabinet in the back of the storage closet in my classroom. We plugged it in and it works! For those who are curious, here's a PDF of the original spec sheet for the Compaq LTE Lite line of computers.

These were the week's most popular posts:
1. Three Google Sites Updates to Note
2. Google Sites as Digital Portfolios
3. Tools to Improve the Accessibility of Websites, Videos, and Slides
4. Two Neat Polling Tools That I Recently Recommended
5. How to Find Historical Comics and Create Lessons With Them
6. Watch the Evolution of Campaign Commercials on The Living Room Candidate
7. A New Version of Easy Accents for Google Docs

I'll come to your school in 2020! 
2020 will be my tenth year of speaking at schools and conferences. Send me an email at richardbyrne (at) to learn more about how we can work together.

Thank You for Your Support!
Other Places to Follow My Work
Besides and the daily email digest, there are other ways to keep up with what I'm publishing. 
  • Practical Ed Tech Newsletter - This comes out once per week (Sunday night/ Monday morning) and includes my tip of the week and a summary of the week's most popular posts from
  • My YouTube Channel - More than 16,000 are subscribed to my YouTube channel for my regular series of tutorial videos including more than 300 Google tools tutorials. 
  • The Practical Ed Tech Podcast is where I answer questions from readers, share news and notes, and occasionally talk to interesting people in education. 
  • Facebook - The Facebook page has nearly 450,000 followers. 
  • Twitter - I've been Tweeting away for the last twelve years at
  • Instagram - this is mostly pictures of my kids, my dogs, my bikes, my skis, and fly fishing. 

Friday, December 6, 2019

A Great Update to Google Sites - Review Changes Before Publishing

Earlier this week I wrote about how I'm having my students use Google Sites as digital portfolios. Right after that I published that post Google announced a few helpful updates to Google Sites. Then yesterday there was another update announced. The latest update might be the best one yet for those who use Google Sites in a collaborative environment.

Google Sites users will soon have the option to review all changes to a site before the changes are published. You'll be able to review the original view of the site and the updated view of the site side-by-side and then choose whether or not to publish the updated view. You'll be able to see who updated the site, what's been added or deleted, what's been moved, and any layout changes before publishing the new look of your site.

This new Google Sites feature is available now to some users and will be widely available in January. Learn more about how to use the Google Sites review feature in this help article.

Applications for Education
The option to review changes before publishing a new version of a Google Site could be a fantastic option to use when students are collaborating on the creation of a website. This could give you and or your students to review changes to make sure that nothing incorrect or inappropriate is published on a classroom website.

Another use of the review changes option in Google Sites could be to apply it to an editing protocol in which a few students will have to review and approve changes before publishing an update to collaboratively managed website.

Firefox Accessibility Options

After yesterday's post about tools for improving the accessibility of websites, slides, and videos I got some feedback from readers who noted that I didn't mention anything about Firefox. That wasn't intentional, it was a complete oversight on my part because I personally don't use Firefox that often and none of my students do either. To remedy that, here's a short run-down of accessibility options that are available in Firefox.

The Firefox users can customize default font sizes, spacing, and colors. These options are available by opening the options menu listed under the “Tools” drop-down menu in Firefox. Alternatively, the options menu can be accessed by typing “about:preferences” (without quotation marks) into the address bar in Firefox.

Other accessibility options for Firefox include using a keyboard to navigate webpages, zooming to enlarge pages, and installing screen reader add-ons. You can enable keyboard navigation from the options menu under general settings. To zoom in to enlarge pages simply hold down the ctrl key then press the “+” key. To reverse that process hold ctrl and press the “-” key. A couple of screen reader add-ons for Firefox can be found at and complete list of Firefox accessibility settings is available at

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Tools to Improve the Accessibility of Websites, Videos, and Slides

We all have different needs and preferences when it comes to consuming the media in our lives. Our students are the same. Some need webpages read aloud, some need different color schemes or fonts, and others need captions enabled on videos. Those are just a few of the things that can be done to improve the accessibility of slides, videos, and websites used in our classrooms.

Improving the accessibility of slides, videos, and websites used to be a lot more difficult than it is today. Here are some tools that you and your students can use to improve the accessibility of media used in your classroom.

Tools to Improve the Accessibility of Websites

Microsoft Edge
If you have access to Microsoft Edge (the default for Windows computers) then should familiarize yourself with Microsoft’s Immersive Reader tool. Immersive Reader in Microsoft Edge can be used to have pages read aloud, to alter the font size and spacing, and to alter the color scheme of articles read on websites.

Microsoft Edge is also available to use on Android and iOS phones and tablets. A read-aloud function is available in the iOS and Android versions of Microsoft Edge.

Mac users aren’t left out of using Microsoft Edge and Immersive Reader. Microsoft Edge is currently (November, 2019) available as a beta product to install on Mac OS. It contains the Immersive Reader functions that are available in the Windows version of Edge. You can find the Mac OS version of Edge right here.

Safari has a “reader view” option that you can find to the left of the URL in the address bar. The reader view menu appears as four horizontal lines. Click the menu to enter reader view. The reader view will lets users change the font style and size as well as the overall page color scheme.

Safari’s reader view is in addition to all of the other accessibility options that are built into the Mac operating system. A comprehensive list of Mac accessibility options is available at

The Chrome web browser can be customized to each user’s preferences regarding font size, font style, and spacing. Those setting choices can be made by typing chrome://settings/fonts into the address bar in Chrome. The choices will apply as the default wherever you go in with Chrome.

You can zoom-in or zoom-out on individual pages in Chrome by simply holding the control key then tapping the “+” key on a Windows or Chromebook keyboard or by holding the command key then tapping the “+” key on a Mac keyboard.

There are Chrome extensions that offer read-aloud capabilities. Read & Write for Chrome is one of the most popular ones for use in school settings. Other accessibility extensions can be found at

Improve the Accessibility of Your Slideshows

Automatic Subtitles for Your Live Presentations
Both PowerPoint and Google Slides offer automatic subtitling tools that you can use when presenting to an audience.

In Google Slides the subtitles appear at the bottom of your screen when you are in full-screen presentation mode. You can enable subtitles by entering presentation mode then hovering your cursor over the lower-left corner of your slides to make the subtitles option appear. This short video provides a demonstration of how to enable subtitles in Google Slides.

PowerPoint gives you the choice of having subtitles appear at the top or bottom of the screen when you are using the full-screen presentation mode. The process of enabling subtitles is slightly different depending upon whether you’re using the web browser version or desktop version of PowerPoint. In both versions the subtitles options are found by choosing the “slideshow” menu. This video demonstrates subtitles in the browser version of PowerPoint and this video demonstrates subtitles in the desktop version of PowerPoint.

Add Alt Text to Your Slides
Alt text, short for alternative text, is text that you can add to images and videos to describe what they are and or what they contain. Adding alt text can make your slideshows accessible to people who use screen readers. The alt text describes what is in a picture, chart, or video that is included in a slide. PowerPoint, Keynote, and Google Slides all provide options for adding alt text to your presentations.

To add alt text to images or videos in Google Slides simply right-click on the image or slide to which you need to add alt text. The menu that appears when you right-click on the image or video will include an alt text option where you can then write a title and description for the image or video. This video provides a demonstration of how to add alt text to Google Slides.

You can add alt text to PowerPoint slides by right-clicking on an image in your slides. One of the options that appears when you right-click on an image in PowerPoint is “edit alt text.” Select that option then write your description of the image.

Keynote users can add alt text to images by selecting an image on a slide which then opens a panel on the right-hand side of the slide. In that panel select the image tab then add your alt text in the description box that appears at the bottom of the screen.

Improve YouTube Video Accessibility

YouTube can be a great source of educational videos to either display in your classroom or have students watch on their own. Fortunately, YouTube offers some easy ways to improve the accessibility of the videos that you use in your instruction.

Enable and Customize Captions Display
You can enable captions on any YouTube video by clicking on the little “CC” icon in the lower-right corner of any video that you’re viewing. This will turn on the automatically generated captions for any spoken words in the video you’re viewing. The default size, style, and color of the automatic captions on a YouTube video may not work for every viewer. If that’s the case for you or your students, you can adjust how the captions are displayed. To adjust the captions display click on the small “gear” icon in the lower-right corner of the video that you’re viewing. Once you click that icon you’ll be able to select “subtitles/CC.” Within that menu there is an “options” menu that you can click on to select the size, style, and color of the captions display. This video will walk you through the process of customizing the display of the captions on YouTube videos.

Edit the Captions on Your Videos
If you’re making original videos for your students to watch, when you upload those videos to YouTube they will be automatically captioned. However, the automatic captions are not always accurate. For example, my last name is always captioned as “Bern” instead of it’s proper spelling of Byrne. You can edit the automatic captions. I’ve outlined the caption editing process in this video.

This post was an excerpt from an update that I'm writing for The Practical Ed Tech Handbook.

How to Find Historical Comics and Create Lessons With Them

A couple of weeks ago I got an email from Docs Teach that featured the idea of creating history lessons that incorporate historical comics. That email sent me to Docs Teach where there is a small collection of historical comics. Since Docs Teach is a project of the U.S. National Archives all of the comics have a record locator that can be clicked to take you into the National Archives' online catalog. It was there that I started to dig into browsing through hundreds of records containing comics and comic books. In the following video I demonstrate how to use the National Archives' online catalog to locate historical comics.

Any document that you find in the National Archives, including comics, can be uploaded to Docs Teach where you can then build online activities for your students to complete online. In this video that I published a few months ago I demonstrate how to create activities on Docs Teach.

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