Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Microsoft Office Specialist: Associate

Microsoft Office Specialist: Word
This week, I had the opportunity to site for the Microsoft Office Specialist exams from home. Normally, these tests require you to make an appointment with a physical testing center. Due to social distancing requirements, they have modified the exams to allow virtual tests. The tests were completed on a virtual computer with a live proctor on the other side of the account.
Microsoft Office Specialist: Associate 
Microsoft Office Specialist: Powerpoint
Thanks to an amazing organization out of Australia, I was able to sign-up and participate in these virtual exams from my home in Pennsylvania. Even better, the normal price tag was removed and the exams were free during the conference. I registered and took three exams: Microsoft Word, Microsoft Powerpoint, and Microsoft Excel. By passing all three exams, I also received a fourth recognition: Associate.
Microsoft Office Specialist: Excel

When you teach computers, these industry certifications are something that you often speak about with your students. Rather than just write "I'm proficient with Microsoft" passing these exams give you verifiable proof that you are indeed proficient with the software. The company that runs the exams on behalf of Microsoft works with many schools to become verified testing locations and offer site licenses rather than individual test fees. This allows schools to offer the exams and certifications to their students during computer courses throughout the curriculum. 

By finally taking the exams for myself, I learned a lot about the certification process and requirements. I also realized that I wither know more than I thought about Excel, or the expert test which I didn't take is what I really think about when I say "I'm not good at Excel." Next time I find an organization offering the exams for free, I may try the expert level. For now, I'm happy to be able to officially say I'm a Microsoft Office Specialist Associate. 

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Confessions of a Green Screen Newb

 I have a confession to make. I love green screen effects when done correctly, but I cannot do them correctly (yet). Today I making a video to introduce myself to the Education Exchange. Since the conference in Australia got postponed in February and turned digital this month, everyone is introducing themselves online. I thought it would be fun to make a short video of myself "traveling" to my home office/computer.

I took my green screen out to the car and started to record my plan. I knew the glass would have a reflection, so I rolled down all the windows. Sadly, the glass wasn't the issue. The lighting was. Since the lighting caused many shades of green to show in the green screen, the chromacast couldn't remove them all. After many tries, I gave up and instead created an outtake video.

I assume the issue was the lighting, but there are other factors that could had caused this issue as well.

  1. My green screen is wrinkled and therefore the fold makes cause the variation in greens.
  2. My green screen is thin and therefore the light can get through it easily. If I was using a thicker "black out" curtain type material, it would probably work better for controlling the light.
  3. I was outdoors so I couldn't control all the external factors.
  4. I should probably have added multiple layers in my editing software to remove the shades of green. Will that work? It's how I sometimes fix the same issue in still shots. Note to self: try re-editing the video with additional layers.

Green Screen Before and After
I also notice when I do pictures, I often have a green halo around my subject. Around the hair is the worst offender. Although it doesn't look wrong around the hair in this example, here is a before and after that shows the shadows I was referring to before. You can see that between my arm and body the shadows make the screen darker. In a still shot, it's easy to remove the multiple shades of green. Now to just figure it out for the video.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Don't Be Brand Loyal, Be Student Loyal

People know that I wear many hats:
  • Google for Education Certified Innovator
  • Microsoft Innovative Education Expert
  • Apple Teacher
  • SMART Educator
  • and more coming soon...
So it really bothers me when people say "we can't do that because our district uses [fill in the blank]." No tool is all powerful. Each has its own purpose, pros, and cons. On top of that, most of the major companies are now playing nice and its easier than ever to switch between products. For example, SMART now connects to Google Drive and Microsoft Teams. Do not force your teachers or students to use a product because it's your favorite.

It reminds me of an analogy I heard a few years ago from a keynote speaker. He compared learning Ed Tech tools to cars. When you're learning how to drive, you are not learning how to drive a Ford or a Toyota, you are learning how to drive a car. The skill of driving should be relatively the same no matter what car. I know I personally feel a little awkward when I drive my sister's sedan after being in my SUV, but I can still drive it. "But Cori, what about a manual vs automatic transition? See this analogy proves you can't switch back and forth." Yes there are differences. We can play devils advocate all day, but that's not going to help our students.

Technology tools are like the cars in that analogy. If you teach a student how to type, they can type in Word or Google Docs. Same for copy and paste, formatting paragraphs, etc. The skill isn't different. There just might be small changes such as shortcuts or where a menu is located. Some programs are missing features, others add features, and still others claim to do the same thing but are completely different.

In Fast Company, an article was recently published about Google Classroom which led me to writing this post. 
Google has aggressively positioned itself as edtech’s leading player, and fashioned its “Google Certified” credential as a signifier of digital know-how. Unfortunately, that strategy has created a generation of teachers loyal to the tools in its product suite, rather than a generation of teachers capable of flexibly using technology to navigate the biggest disruption to education in over a century. (full article)
This article touched on my main point. When a school tells me they can't do something because they're using a specific suite of tools, I remind them that different tools serve different purposes and not all area created equal. I have been a long believer in using what works for the specific project, not being brand loyal. I also feel that students need to train/learn on multiple platforms so they can be ready for the ever changing technology that will be in the real world. If students only know how to use Google Docs but walks into a company that uses Microsoft then we as teachers have not probably prepared them. 

Interested in learning more? Come join us in November at ISTE for a virtual panel "Best of Both Worlds: Google and Microsoft can Co-Exist" where we will have a group of educators with both Google for Education Certified Innovator and Microsoft Innovative Education Expert titles sharing how they utilize both suites.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Google for Education Enterprise Features Leaving Basic Accounts

Remember a few months ago when Google extended advanced features to all users in G Suite for Education? Today is September 30, 2020 which means those advanced features are going away unless your school pays for premium access. So what does this mean for you? If your school uses the basic G Suite accounts, the following things will change: 
  • Meeting Size: 250 participants (premium), 100 participants (free)
  • Live Streaming: up to 100k viewers (premium only)
  • Recording to Google Drive: premium only
If you are losing these features, there are some free alternatives to consider. These are not perfect options, but they are free. Please check with your school's administration before doing anything to make sure you are following local policies for student privacy and protection.

If you want to record your class session or meeting, Google Meet will no longer have the option directly. You can however use a screen recording program such as Loom. Loom's education license is free and offers some great features. When you record, make sure you have checked "use system audio" to record the sound from your Google Meet call. Otherwise, you will see the video and only hear your own microphone, not the other participants.

As you know, when you screen share on a Google Meet, your screen changes and the screen's format will change. Or if you go to open up the participants/chat columns, the screen will change. I recommend if you can, use a spare computer to record. Just join the call from the second device, turn the devices mic and camera off, and hit record. This will record the Google Meet as a passive participant. If you don't have a second device just be aware of what is showing on your screen as you record.

Live Streaming
There are options such as Stream Yard which is very user friendly. The free version will leave a "Powered by StreamYard logo in the upper right corner of your stream and recording. It will connect to YouTube, Facebook, or other platforms to stream but can be set as private and/or unlisted so that it's not publicly available. Most other live streaming options will also require you to share the live stream via a third party. Additional limitations of the free version of Stream Yard include limited participation of guests.

I'd be happy to help you and your school find free alternatives to these premium features, so please leave a comment or DM me if you have any questions.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Video Conferencing: Things to Consider

Zoomed out? Tired of Teams? Sick of meeting on Meet?

At this point, you probably spend more time with your students virtually than in person. Add in staff meetings, webinars, and the majority of your work day is now on video conferencing software rather than face to face.

So now comes the bigger question... Are you using the camera and microphone built into your computer or did you go out and try to buy a camera and headset only to find out they're sold out everywhere. Even Amazon is having trouble stocking the popular/recommended products. Having the right equipment won't make you any less tired from web conferencing but it will help improve the experience for you and your students.

Whatever hardware you choose for your video conferencing software, make sure you practice using it and get comfortable before working with your students. Practice a few times to make sure you connect the hardware correctly and know where in the software settings to change it. Good luck!

Part 1: Camera

After weeks of using my computer's camera, I realized how annoying it was to position the computer where I could have a decent camera angle AND still use my computer. I finally decided to spend some money on an external camera, but at that point they were already sold out everywhere. So I looked at the features of the sold out camera and decided to try and find one that listed similar features.

Image Source: Slash Gear
Image Source: Slash Gear 

When I was doing research, I learned that most cameras now advertise 1080p but it's really the FPS (frames per second) that matter. 30FPS is the lowest you want because anything lower will look like a flipbook with lag in the motion. 60FPS is what most streamers that do video games and such look for but it's probably overkill for a teacher using web conferencing so don't panic if you only see 30FPS advertised. The final thing you want to look at is field of view. There isn't really a "best" in terms of field of view, but just know it's the angle that the camera can see.

The camera I originally bought cost $30 on Amazon during a lightning sale. I decided to try it because worst case, I'd return it for a refund. The image quality was decent but the sound was awful so I did in fact end up returning it.

Prior to publishing this post, I magically found one of those recommended cameras in stock at Target and bought it. This Logitech C920 is sold out everywhere, including Logitech's website. On eBay, it's going for around $150 due to supply and demand so I was shocked to find it in stock for under $70. Check your local Targets, Walmarts, etc. because people often forget about those stores for electronics and you might get lucky too.

Part 2: Microphone and Speakers

Although you may be tempted to buy a fancy looking microphone, I actually recommend against this for video conferencing. If you choose to go the microphone route, you'll still need earbuds or headphones for your speaker. Otherwise, you'll get feedback from the microphone "hearing" the speakers. Some of the really fancy microphones will have built in features to reduce that feedback but you will end up paying more. The easiest way to prevent the feedback is to use a headset where the input and output for sound are in the same device.

Image Source: Amazon

One recommendation that I've seen floating around many teacher sites lately is to look at buying a gaming headset. This suggestion has a few benefits for teachers.
  1. Gamers tend to wear them for long periods of time so they're designed for comfort.
  2. They have good sound quality since gamers tend to be picky (in a good way).
  3. They seem to have plenty in stock right now.
While you may be considering a bluetooth connection so you are not tethered to your computer, remember that if you will be on webinars for long periods of time, some bluetooth devices won't have a long enough battery on a single charge. Wired headsets do not require charging to continuously work. Although some computers are short on USB ports so know your device before deciding on a sound solution.

Part 3: Displays

It doesn't matter which video conferencing software you're using. at some point, you're going to have so many windows open on your computer that you can't see everything. It's very easy to attach an extra display to your computer and expand what you are looking at. However, don't go out and buy a dedicated computer monitor. All you need is an HDMI cable (and perhaps a dongle depending on your computer). That's right, an HDMI cable. Plug your computer into a television, switch the TV's input, and volia. You are ready to use your TV as a temporary display. 
Screen shot Windows 10

Depending on your computer the method will be different, but all computers have display options so you can either mirror or expand your display. For the purpose of display real estate, you'll want to expand your display. This will allow you to act as two screens are one large screen. You can drag and rearrange windows to the different screens so that everything is visible. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

My Goals for Professional Growth

Back in January, I attended a workshop while at Microsoft about marketing yourself. It was all about how to stand out. I originally signed up to attend the session for the headshots, but realized it was much more than that. While most professionals have a non-school portrait looking image, that's not the only thing that makes people stand out. So does content.

Cori Frede, Headshot
My headshot
This week at work, I learned they want to create a marketing campaign around the professional development/training department, also known as me. I'm learning a lot from the marketing team including how to grow my own brand, not just the company.

So now, I have some goals for 2020/2021 related to personal growth.

Goal 1: In the past, I wrote blog posts when something truly impacted my professional career. Now, I plan to write at least one blog post here per month, at least for now. Eventually trying to up that to a weekly post. These posts can be something meaningful related to teaching, or even just a favorite tool.

Goal 2: Grow my YouTube channel. This will also start as a monthly goal, but hopefully grow further. The videos on my YouTube channel are all "how to" tutorials for educational technology softwares. I tend to focus on softwares that are free for teachers so that they can easily incorporate what I am showing into their teaching.

Goal 3: Post weekly to Linkedin. Previously, I only posted to celebrate professional achievements. I learned this is the wrong way to do it. I need to be more active and engaging regularly if I want to have engagement for those big events. These weekly Linkedin posts will include sharing meaningful articles about pedagogy and educational technology. It also means that I will try to interact more with what other people post, not just reshare interesting posts.

Goal 4 (eventually): I want to try and co-author a book. I just can't decide right now what topic is meaningful that I can provide new insight to. I feel that most of the topics I consider myself to be an expert on already have tons of published books. Therefore, part of my networking goal is to find someone with similar interests and expertise to collaborate with on this effort. Two heads are better than one after all.

There you have it. My professional growth goals for 2020/2021. Some will be easier than others, but my hope is that I continue to grow since my transition from classroom teacher to educational trainer.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Virtually Back to School

2020 has turned into one of the craziest years. As teachers around the country are preparing to return to a modified version of school, the goal is the same. Continue to help students learn and grow. The goal has never changed, just the delivery.
Table comparing classrooms from Spring 2020 to Fall 2020.
Source: Educators Navigating COVID-19
Together Facebook group

Throughout the summer, I have worked with teachers in many school districts as they prepare to go from "Crisis Response" to "Virtual Learning" for the start of the school year. When schools first closed in March 2020 as COVID-19 started to spread, many teachers and students went into survival mode. When schools were unprepared to provide all students with the tools they would need at home, they couldn't continue expecting all students to complete the work in the same way. This is why many schools changed to a pass/fall system and didn't track things like attendance.

As we move into the new school year, schools had the summer to plan ahead and prepare. Many school districts used the funds from CARE Act to purchase 1:1 technology that could be sent home with students. There are still a ton of inequalities out there such as Internet access, parent involvement, IEP adaptations, and more. However, from what I've seen schools all over are striving to best serve their students in this time of uncertainty.

Many companies and organizations have stepped up to help schools. Companies such as Google, Microsoft, and more have been offering free webinars all summer. Organizations such as ISTE, CUE, PAECT, and more have also been running series of webinars to help teachers prepare.

I will leave you with this adorable video that the Reading School District made for their first day of in-service. Such a great message for everyone.