Creating VR via Video Conference

I’ve just pressed SUBMIT on the 2nd of 2 Google Expeditions tours that I created with some Grade 7 students for Google Expeditions #LoveWhereYouLive BETA tour creating project.  This project was fascinating for me on many levels, but over the past two days of finishing up the project, I’ve been reminded of the power of technology to leverage learning in rural areas. beta process 2

The setting: The class that was joining me in this adventure is made up of grade seven students in two locations taught via video conferencing. To drive directly from one school to the other takes about 1.5 hours. If I drive to either school from my location it takes about an hour.  In total there are about 12 students: seven at one site and five at the other. These two groups usually only see each other via video screen so there was lots of excitement last week when we all joined together on an overnight adventure to take 360-degree camera footage and supporting regular pictures at some sites of cultural and historic significance in southern Alberta. Our school division has a set of Virtual Reality viewers and we use Google Expeditions extensively; we are excited to be able to create some Alberta content and hope that it will be published for others to use.

The marvels of technology: So after the field trip, we have the task of working to do the hard work of scripting and processing pictures and moving all of the pieces into the tour creator. All of this separated by great distances. This is where the marvel that is Google comes in. We had all twelve students working in eight documents where they were scripting and adding links to pictures. The Social Studies teacher and I, from different sites, were able to check in and provide guidance to all students. Additionally, all three sites were connected by video conference. It did take some work to get all students into the required incognito Chrome browser and then logged into the @dryeraseacademy.net account to actually create in the tour creator. The first day, of course, was the hardest, as logging into something new always is, but it was easier on subsequent days. It was a great lesson in resilience for students as we had some tour creator crashes along the way and work had to be re-done.

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Padlet: Premium Panic Put to Rest

Less than a month ago, I wrote a passionate ode to Padlet for my college pre-service teachers who really didn’t seem to “get” Padlet’s adaptable uses for the technology-infused classroom.  Over the past year, I have fallen in love with Padlet again and again as they have added so many great new features; it has morphed significantly since I began using it in 2012 when it was still called “Wallwisher”.padlet 2

So, you can imagine my dismay, when an email from #DitchThatTextbook, a blog that I follow, was advertising a podcast called, “What to do now that Padlet isn’t free”.  I went into panic mode, as I use Padlet quite frequently in a number of settings – with my high school students, college classes, PD sessions as an Instructional Coach, as well as many other general uses such as mini-travel blog!

When I finally logged into my Padlet account, I did heave a sigh of relief, as I read Padlet’s “Dear User” letter. They informed me that I had a limit of 53 free Padlets, and my current count was only 50. So, I could sign up for the Premium version at $8.25/month, or just keep my account under 53 Padlets.

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I’m sure you can guess which I chose! And honestly, it was pretty easy to delete a dozen ‘stale’ Padlets from courses that I haven’t taught in a few years, or class duplicates.

Check out the podcast by #Ditch That Textbook’s Matt Miller, as he explains some rationale behind Padlet’s move to Premium.

 In the end, I applaud the number of features that Padlet has maintained on their free side. Unlike recent pay increases from companies like Thinglink.com, who have made it nearly impossible to use with students without bucking up the cash, Padlet still has a giant “free” learning playground.

Something new: BETA student creation of VR Google Expeditions

Screen Shot 2018-03-25 at 8.05.52 PMUsually, when I have applied to be a part of a new Beta program, the response is that it is only available for residents of the USA (like when I applied to be part of Google AR[Augmented Reality]). Not this time! After bringing Google Expedition experiences to over nine hundred students in the past four months in Prairie Rose School Division, I was quite surprised when we were essentially “short-listed”, instead of the “thanks but you’re not from the USA” response. I had planted some feelers with Mr. Duchsherer’s Social 7 video conference class of Schuler and Jenner students in the off chance that this became real — good thing!

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30 VR Viewers inside MAX

 

So now we have a lot of planning to do. The big goal is to provide some Canadian content for Google Expeditions. Every time that a Social Studies teacher contacts me to do VR with their class, I hope that they are not teaching a year that is predominantly Canadian content! There are bits and pieces, but not many great fits for our Alberta Social Studies curriculum.

Some early ideas include historical and cultural sites within a three hour drive: NWMP Forts MacLeod, Whoop-up, Walsh; Medicine Hat teepee; Writing on Stone; Cypress Hills; Empress elevator; teepee rings. Perhaps we even do a Prairie farm and Ranch topic?

Lots of decisions and planning ahead!

Be sure to “Follow”this blog to follow along on this exciting journey!

Padlet reinvents itself…again

Every semester in my #EDtech class for pre-service teachers, I do a section called Interactive Systems. First they wear a “student hat” where we play with several easy access web tools that increase student engagement and student voice. The next step is creating a few questions in each program wearing a “teacher hat”. Poll Everywhere, Plickers, Kahoot!, Socrative, Wizer.me, Quizlet.live, Peardeck, SMART lab, Spiral.ac are among the sites we explore; into that mix I always add Padlet. padlet 2

Poor Padlet. Because it doesn’t have the ‘game’ feel of several other sites, most pre-service teachers are quick to dismiss it as the one they are least likely to use. Despite the low ranking it often receives, I always keep it on the list as it has capabilities that the others are lacking, AND it is constantly reinventing itself.

Padlet started out as Wallwisher. Its genesis was essentially an online bulletin board where different people at the same link could simultaneously post text and then read what others had written. Although many other platforms now offer the same capability, it was one of the first of its kind. If you have ever gone through the pain of 20, or even 10 different students physically writing a thesis statement on a whiteboard around the room, or even the Smartboard, you too would see Padlet as an astronomic improvement!

Polleverywhere, Socrative, Peardeck and Spiral all can mimic this “instant voice” capability, but the advantage that Padlet has long had, is that students can add images and Weblinks of their own. This means that participants can add research and data for all to access. Students can post a picture of their math solution, their drawing, or their favourite book, and then type an explanation defending their choice, or explaining their methodology.

Padlet is also extremely easy to access; all that is needed is the web link. Teachers can customize the URL to make it easier to type, and Padlet also auto generates QR codes to make getting to the link quick and painless. A few years ago, Padlet added the ability to create classes and have students “join”, just like most other sites. I have appreciated that they have kept the simple web link access available and I continue to have my classes access it without “joining”.

Now for the latest improvements.

  • Students can now add audio and video directly to a post. You could always upload a pre-recorded video, but now you just push the button and record, much like the fast-growing Flipgrid. No more struggling to type on a small phone screen! Great for young learners and ELL learners.
  • Padlet has added a drawing canvas. Students can draw a response, like Spiral, Nearpod or Peardeck. A super cool difference is that you can switch the canvas from a white to black background. Padlet adjusts the colours for great visibility as you switch back and forth.
  • A few months ago, Padlet added the capability to add comments to posts. This makes for a quick hack-blog platform, and is also great when students are using the Padlet board as a research gathering tool, as they can leave comments for one another.
  • You can now change the colour of the background of each post, similar to Google Keep. Think of the possibilities for sorting and ranking!
  • And to add more ranking, you can now ‘like’ or vote on posts. The moderator chooses the type of “reaction”that students will have access to: like, thumbs up/down, 1-5 stars, or a numeric grade

Implementing VR #4: YouTube Playlist

Touring our PRSD8 Google Expedition Virtual Reality set around our vast school division has been quite delightful. The first reactions of the students from K-12 to the virtual world brings a smile to my face every time–as does the grinning teacher,  watching the first reactions of his or her students.   Yet, there is so much more to discover in the virtual reality world than Google Expeditions, especially since it (Expeditions) is so American based in content.

So it was with great excitement that we were able to successfully launch our first YouTube 360 playlist. A school in Oyen wanted to use VR “to do Olympic events” for an Olympic-themed day that they were having. Since nothing of the sort currently exists in Google Expeditions, I knew this was the opportunity that I had been looking for to push myself to try and create a YouTube playlist and use it with a class of students.

It turned out to be a great success, as over 10 groups of 10-13 students filed through our ‘viewing parlor’, took a comfy seat, and launched into our Olympic events playlist: bobsled, ski jump, luge, skeleton, downhill skiing, snowboard cross.  A few teachers even made it through the whole experience!

Watch below as the grade 1 students in Mrs. Roberston’s class experience the thrill of the ski jump!

This particular playlist worked very well for the small groups of students that we had a one time. A downfall to using YouTube is that you have to click quite a few spots to get to the playlist AND get the viewer into “Google Cardboard” mode. Cathy and I clicked all of the buttons each time for each student, as one wrong click, and it takes much longer to get back to the correct place.

A key element to using the playlist was to have a distinct acronym in the title (PRSD8VR). This playlist was the only thing that came up when searching YouTube, which then made it easy to select and save to the “Library”. Once we had put the playlist in the Library of every viewer, it made it much more convenient to launch the playlist quickly.

The Olympic theme certainly made the YouTube playlist a great place for a trial run. Thanks Oyen Public for helping push problem solving!

Implementing VR #3: At a Hutterite Colony!

Classes in our school division have had access to Virtual Reality for 3 school weeks now.  Cathy and I , our PRSD8 Instructional Coaches, have done lots of learning and discovery as we have transported the VR viewers and run VR in seven of our schools so far, and we will be visiting another two schools new to VR this week.  This week I will be posting a few times about our learning curve in this exciting new project.

We had been looking forward to this ground-breaking day since before Christmas. Susan Martin, the teacher/principal of Jenner Colony School had gotten permission from the 20180112_110046_001883888399.jpgschool’s German teacher, Ron, to let the student’s experience the Virtual Reality viewers.  For those not familiar with Hutterite Colony schools, many do not allow any form of technology; that means the teacher cannot even have a computer at the school, and there is no internet or even television. So you can see why we were very excited to bring Virtual Reality to Susan’s colony!  The virtual reality experience would be a spring board for a writer’s workshop for grades 1-3 students on using exciting verbs and adverbs, and a grade 4-6 newspaper writing lesson.

20180112_131127424448441.jpgWe also learned some valuable lessons this day.  In our excitement to bring VR to a colony, it failed to register that a Google Expedition VR experience requires a lot of internet — and we were going to a place without internet.  So it is plain embarrassing to admit that we did not have this epiphany until we were actually in the school building and unpacking the viewers!

As a result of our incredibly embarrassing oversight, we learned a few valuable things:

  • It IS possible to run Google Expedition over a hot spot. (Thanks goodness!)
  • A hot spot can host up to 5 devices at once. With this, we were able to connect the “Leader” tablet and then 4 VR viewers. (Fortunately, this was a very small group of students, so we were able to accommodate all the students, the teacher assistant, the German teacher and 2 additional kindergarten students in 3 sittings)
  • Having two students share a single device is manageable
  • It is actually a really different – and nice – experience to just sit among 3 or 4 students and lead an Expedition

Thanks to Mrs. Martin and her lovely class for such a fun day. We can’t wait to come back – and not just because we got to wear slippers all day! Hopefully we will get to hear what is happening to Dorothy and her adventures in OZ!

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Implementing VR #2: Google Street View

Classes in our school division have had access to Virtual Reality for 3 school weeks now.  Cathy and I, our division Instructional Coaches, have done lots of learning and discovery as we have transported the VR viewers and run VR in seven of our schools so far; we will be visiting another two schools new to VR this week.  This week I will be posting a few times about our learning curve in this exciting new project.

At EBHS this past week, we tried Google Street view for the first time with our new set of VR Viewers. Mr. Wadman wanted his high school art students to get to explore New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and there were no Google Expeditions available.  It turned out that the only way to MoMA was by trying something new!  Google is so great because not only have they mapped streets, but also the inside of museums and tourist attractions–but when the building is empty! If you use an “identified” StreetView upload, (as opposed to a citizen upload), there are no other people standing around–you have the whole museum to yourself!

We started by installing the Google Street View app on all 30 viewers and then making the icon available in Kid’s mode. The high school students were a good starting audience for this experiment as they had to follow instructions very carefully to get to the right Street View gallery. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a way to “favourite” or identify the desired version of StreetView for something like MoMA that has dozens of uploaded options. Fortunately, the art class followed instructions well, and we all got to the same gallery room relatively smoothly.

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EBHS Art students visit New York’s MoMA – Museum of Modern Art , as Mr. Wadman captures yearbook photos

Mr. Wadman created a scavenger hunt for students once they were in the museum; this gave them a sense of purpose as they explored the many different rooms in the museum.

What we have learned:

  • We will be recommending StreetView for junior high and higher. Unlike Google Expedition where the silver button is not a factor, students need to use the button to “walk” or advance their way through hallways and doorways. This takes some time to get used to and would be difficult for younger adventurers
  • A class should start with a Google Expedition BEFORE taking on Google StreetView
  • So far, if a teacher wants to do a StreetView tour, we are advising that they create a scavenger hunt or similar task to help keep students focused and moving through the space — this may change the more we experiment with StreetView

Implementing VR #1: Early Lessons

Classes in our school division have had access to a class set of 30 Virtual Reality viewers for 3 school weeks now.  Cathy and I have done lots of learning and discovery as we have transported the VR viewers and run VR in seven of our schools so far; we will be visiting another two schools new to VR this week.  This week I will be posting a few times about our learning curve in this exciting new project.

Things that we have learned:

  • Google Expedition is a great way to start sharing VR with whole classes; the teacher/leader guides and all students experience the same thing at the same time
  • It is important to tell students ahead of time that they should pull the glasses down and take a break if they are feeling dizzy
  • We have quickly made the rule that students have to stay seated — bottoms in your seats!
  • It is important to give all instructions BEFORE students take their first peek! The first moments when students start to explore is priceless to listen to, and they are so excited. It is not worth trying to interrupt this moment of discovery with any information!
  • Students always want to know what the silver button on the top of the viewer does.  In Google Expedition, it does NOTHING. I tell them to go ahead and push it all they want!

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    30 VR Viewers inside MAX

  • VR eats battery life! We cannot do a full day of Google Expedition with a different class every period – the battery is done after about three sessions of approximately 30 minutes. It even seems we have one or two units that have difficulty keeping a charge — we are trying to pin point them.
  • As teachers search for Google Expeditions to run with their class, it is VERY important to actually download the tour, and then click on each tab to see the images that are available. Often, what sounds like the perfect title, is a boring museum or monument tour.
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First ever Virtual Reality viewing session at Prairie Rose School Division – at Parkside School. Thanks Mrs. Heidinger!

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VR at Senator Gershaw in Bow Island.

Trying Something new: VR & Google Expedition

Google Expedition 1Check out this grand adventure!  This is way beyond Google Cardboard that I wrote about previously! This picture shows 24 of our 30 new Google Expedition viewers waiting to be fully formatted and set up so that we (the new PRRD8 Instructional Coaches) can get them into the hands of eager teachers and students around our division!

There has been lots to do to get this set-up ready to ‘hit the road’.

  • The tech guys have been formatting and securing the phones that go into each of the viewers.
  • Cathy and I have been doing lots of experimenting and app testing to get used to how they work and to decide on some of the basic apps, in addition to Google Expedition, that would be useful for classrooms.
  • We’ve had to buy a smaller wheeled-storage / carrying device to transport them in; the set-up in the picture takes two grown ups to load into a vehicle, and it won’t fit into the trunk of our cars!
  • We’ve also been stretching the limits of our YouTube channel and playlist knowledge as we come up with an expedient way to get additional content to all student in a timely manner when we are not use the actual Google Expedition app.

So, steep learning curve, yes, but a very exciting one! Can’t wait to update with ‘stories from the classroom’ once we are able to hit the road with this set-up!

Won’t that technology be obsolete in 5 years?

In the college course that I teach on technology in education, we spend  the first two weeks learning Smart Notebook software. The previous instructor designed the course that way, and being a Smart Notebook devotee myself, I have followed that part of the outline, at least for the time being.

Although students may have been in classrooms where Smart Notebook was used by their teachers, students themselves have mastered PowerPoint. PowerPoint is safe and familiar. For most, Smart Notebook is a new software that does not respond like a Microsoft product. Many experience frustration as they work their way through the self-guided learning tasks, and if it wasn’t required for a college assignment, many would just give up and revert to PowerPoint, like many teachers before them have done.

In this atmosphere of early uncertainty and frustration using Notebook, one student mentioned how some teacher friends of his had told him that Smart Boards would be obsolete in a few years.

Of course!

Technology is like that! Are we still going to learn Smart Notebook in this course? Absolutely.

The Smart Board technology display is changing rapidly – the part that, when used with a projector, is often just used to show YouTube videos in many classes. Interestingly however, the newest school to open in our city this past September installed Smart Boards.

But the power is in the software — that’s the part that many of my colleagues have never taken the time to get to know, but these students will. Once they can fully create with Notebook and have unleashed its power in their lesson planning, then by all means they can revert to PowerPoint or projecting Word documents on the Smart Board, or whatever new display technology they might have. However, my experience is that for the majority of people, once they take the time to learn the power of Notebook, their view of it as a teaching tool changes.

There are other reasons that learning Smart Notebook still makes sense. In our part if the province, almost all classrooms have Smart Board hardware on the wall and Smart Notebook installed on at least the teacher computers. With oil dropping to $40 a barrel (or lower!) it is unlikely that Alberta teachers will be in line for any significant, system-wide technology replacements in the near future! And when these students graduate with their teaching degree in 2 years, their new classroom will likely still have a Smart Board, as will the classrooms that they do their pre-service teaching in over the next few months.

But mostly….technology changes. When I first started using Smart Notebook 10+ years ago, YouTube was just being invented. Showing a video on my new projector still required a lot of time and effort to capture it in a usable digital file. And it was years after that before we could access YouTube from a school computer.

When I did my teacher training in the early 1990s, the internet as we know it didn’t exist. In one of my mandatory university technology and teaching classes, we had to do a test to prove that we could thread a film projector and another to show that we could create a properly centered overhead transparency sheet. Most of my classmates never did use a film projector in their classrooms, but we all had binders full of overhead transparencies….until we got our Smart boards and projectors over 10 years later.

I did take another technology in education option course at university where I experienced frustration similar to that of my college students experiencing Smart Notebook software for the first time. It was the early days of personal computers and Microsoft Word was probably in its first version. Our prof made us type a document with proper word processor formatting – he was going to view the formatting trail, not just what it looked like when we printed! No more return at the end of every line and return twice to double space. No 5 spaces to tab. We had to do fancy things like bold some words….
It is laughable now, but it was an extremely frustrating endeavor, perhaps more so because it was the first time many of us had used a computer with a mouse! But that frustration of learning how to use a product to its fullest potential was a most valuable experience, as ever since then, I have been a proficient word processor. I’ve worked with many colleagues since who have struggled with Word, now the most basic of teaching tools, because they never really had to learn how to use it. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that many of them don’t use Smart Notebook either!

Yes, Smart Notebook may become obsolete. Or it might be like Microsoft Word and the rest of its Office – virtually unrecognizable from its original version 20 some years later.
That’s the world of technology in education. Ever-changing, but never going away. So we will learn to use today’s most useful tools as they will lead to the tools of the future.