24 February, 2016

Day 1 at ASB Unplugged: The GAFE Pre-Conference

Greetings from the hot hustle and bustle of Mumbai, India where I'm fortunate enough to be attending the American School of Bombay's Unplugged Conference.  For those of you who don't know, the American School of Bombay (ASB) has a world-renowned reputation for its commitment to innovations in teaching and learning, which include best practices on tech integration among other areas.

One of the key reasons why I'm here is to liaise with a group called the International Research Collaborative (IRC) with whom we've forged a partnership over the next two years to help us better measure and evaluate the impact of our Connected Learning Programme on teaching and learning.  The conference is a chance for partner schools to share their data, analysis and subsequent actions so that we may all learn from each other.  We haven't collected our survey data yet (coming in April 2016), but there is plenty to take away from other schools' experiences.

Aside from these meetings, there are also class visits, student-led exhibits, workshops and hands-on tech sessions taking place, all of which I'd like to share with you throughout the week.  I'll curate some of the best tools, resources, and ideas I've come across and share them with you through these blog posts.  If you read about something you'd like to explore in more detail, say a nifty new tool you'd like to try with your students, just drop me a line and I'll be happy to go in more detail when I return.

Aside from the blog posts, I've set up a public Google Drive Folder to dump photos and videos, rough notes, etc.  Feel free to check it out.  You can also follow the conference via its Twitter handle (@asbunplugged) and/or mine (@hackingb).

For now, let's get on with the highlights from the day's events:

Google Apps for Education (GAFE) Pre-Conference:

Day 1 was Pre-Conference day and I attended the Google Apps for Education (GAFE) sessions led by Chris Betcher (@betchaboy) and Ken Shelton (@k_shelton), two highly talented, and thus decorated teachers.  Here are some of the highlights:

Google MyMaps:  not just for Geography

Looking to have your students map out the famous battles in a war?  Perhaps you'd like them to visualise the migratory route of birds, butterflies, a group of people or a character in a novel?  Maybe you have a spreadsheet full of geographically related data you'd like translated onto a map.  

With Google MyMaps, you can do all of the above and more right from your Google Drive and as easily as creating a Google Doc.  What's more, maps can also be built collaboratively like any other Google file.

Give it a go by going to your Google Drive, selecting New, scrolling down to More and selecting Google My Maps.  Once there, you can drop pins in various locations, add pictures of the landscape (or of anything else for that matter), add lines and shapes over regions, map out routes and directions and add layers of different types of data.  The potential grows exponentially when you have spreadsheets of geographical data as it is easily imported and visualised on My Maps.  Here's an example of one I built today on levels of air quality in different parts of India.

My Maps has loads of potential across all curricular areas and I can't wait to explore this further across the school. 

Amazing Add-Ons to Docs, Sheets & Forms

One of the chief criticisms I hear about Google Docs, Sheets and other GAFE tools is that they lack functionality compared to Word, Excel and the rest of the Microsoft Office Suite.  

While this may be true, GAFE tools are more limited, they do provide a lion's share of the functionality students and teachers need for most work and allow users to build in those missing features, or completely different ones altogether, through a feature called Add-Ons.  Anyone who has tried Doctopus, Goobric, or Flubaroo knows the power of add-ons for simplifying and automating processes like providing targeted and timely feedback to students.

To explore and get add-ons, simply open any Google Doc, Sheet, or Form and find Add-Ons from menu bar at the top of the screen.  Select Get Add-Ons and start exploring.  

Some of those add-one we explored today that would be absolutely essential for any teacher and student:

Google Docs
  • EasyBib:  Simplifies the process of citing various sources in different citation formats.
  • Table of Contents:  Makes navigating long documents easier by generating a table of links that allow you to scroll back and forth between different sections of content.  As long as your document has headings and sub-headings, the Table of Contents feature will generate links to help you through a doc.
  • Speech Recognition:  Students may find it easier to get their ideas out on paper via speech-to-text tools.  Google Docs has a native Voice Typing feature built into the Tools tab on the menu bar, but the Speech Recognition add-on does a much better job of translating accents and transcribing foreign languages. 
Google Sheets
  • Autocrat:  Autocrat allow you to merge data from Google Sheets with any Google Doc and, if you have email addresses in your Google Sheet, send an email copy of the merged Doc either in a Doc or PDF format!  This is such a powerful tool with so many applications - for example, you could generate and send personalised certificates of achievement for your students.  

Check out more resources on how to use GAFE by visiting Chris Betcher's awesome site -

Lessons in Poor Social Media Use:  The Story of Justine Sacco

Lastly, we briefly reflected on our collective responsibility as teachers to educate students on the importance of projecting healthy, positive images of ourselves online and the consequences of poor online communications.  It wasn't a huge focus of the Pre-Conference, but I know that social media use and digital footprints are important at our school and thus why I'm sharing the following story. 

Above is a link to an article about Justine Sacco, ironically enough a communications director who thought it humorous to tweet racist remarks about others while travelling on a business trip.  Her tweets went viral shortly after she posted them.  Over the course of 4 hours while she was in the air travelling to her destination, her tweets reached millions of people on twitter and got picked up by national news agencies.  By the time she touched down, not only was she terminated by her employer, she was instantly met with throngs of journalists and an angered public.  The story also highlights how difficult its been for her to find other employment and rebuild any credibility since the incident.  

Stories like this should cause us to ban or discourage social media use, because after all, there is tremendous capacity for these tools to connect us, to liberate us, to provide us a voice, and ultimately to do some real good in the world.   That said, Justine's story reinforces our responsibility to teach students and our own children how to use social media in ways that are safe, sensible, responsible and ethical ways.  

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