Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Gator Radio Experience Turns 1!

October 29th will mark the one year anniversary of our first live broadcast when our high school student webcasters were joined by colleague and friend, Doug Symington, to talk about political topics in the context of the 2008 US presidential election (our first show with Doug is archived and posted online here). Many of you know that I am a school technology coordinator and that one of the projects I've been involved in is helping our students to create their own live, student operated Internet radio station known as the Gator Radio Experience.

While Year One of this project was quite exciting and ground breaking for everyone involved, year two is turning out to be an excellent growth opportunity in its own right. We now have veteran students from the first year of the project mentoring our project newcomers. They are teaching each other how to work a back channel to keep the show flowing. The webcasters mentor each other on strategies to use during technical glitches and they continue to be supportive of one other during situations of failure and success (the way they encourage each other in the back channel is a wonderful to see!) They help each other out with their delivery by reminding everyone to keep a slow to moderate pace of speech. This apprenticeship model of youth teaching youth continues on November 3rd when we are joined live by the four Gator Radio Experience alumnae who are now freshman in college. We look forward to their return to the mic to share with us and contribute once again to the GRE!

Our youth webcasters have talked to people of all ages from around the globe. While I don't have any hard data to support my hypothesis, I can't help but think that our students have developed their soft skills and cultural intelligence in meaningful ways. I know for certain that they are improving in their ability to ask relevant follow up questions of our show guests (this is an incredibly difficult skill, especially so in the medium that we use).

Like Jeff Lebow of Worldbridges says, I hope there are thousands of other Gator Radio Experience live youth webcasting projects out there in the very near future. Imagine a network of youth Internet radio stations from around the world that links up to play music together or share their thoughts on the latest global political, environmental and cultural issues.

I would be remiss to finish this post without thanking a host of innovative and creative individuals who have supported this project in many different ways (including joining us live for many of our broadcasts). I won't mention names because there are too many folks who have helped us out, so instead I'll send a virtual THANK YOU to the entire Worldbridges community and sub-communities for their support of this project. Your kind words of encouragement and assistance with this project have been great. I also want to send out a big thanks to all students, teachers, administrators, and parents at my school who have supported this project in multiple different ways.

So let's celebrate a fantastic first year of this project and please join me in wishing the Gator Radio Experience a Happy Birthday!

A few things that you can do to help the GRE celebrate our birthday:

1. Join our GRE Fan Page at Facebook
2. Subscribe to our blog via email or RSS
3. Follow us on Twitter
4. Help us find guests around the globe that would be willing to have a conversation with us about the things they are interested in and passionate about.

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Stanford Center for Innovations in Learning - Site Visit

On Thursday, October 8th, a team for faculty, students, administrators and board members visited the Stanford Center for Innovations in Learning over on Stanford University's Campus. Our goal was to observe the advanced learning spaces that the folks from the SCIL built in Stanford's Wallenberg Hall. The teaching and learning spaces at Wallenbergy support a wide range of instructional methods from a very teacher-centric, instructivist approach to a more student-centric constructivist, collaborative learning approach. The spaces and furniture are both very flexible, which allows for a wide range of learning experiences to be carried out in these areas.

We would like to thank Dr. Helen Chen and Bob Smith of Wallenberg Hall and the Stanford Center for Innovations in Learning for taking out the time to spend the entire afternoon with our team two weeks ago. 

Here are a few of my thoughts and reflections from our team's visit to Wallenberg:
  • The technology and tools that were most compelling to me had nothing to do with digital resources. The moveable furniture and the huddleboards stood out to me as the most interesting technologies at the SCIL. The furniture and and huddleboards are manufactured by Steelcase. Listen to many of the Stanford instructor video comments at this link. Scroll to the bottom and hear what Tina Seelig says about the instructional spaces.
  • A few of the rooms featured glass walls on one or two sides. The glass in these areas is used as a writing surface by students and teachers. Quite clever.
  • A couple of the rooms had sliding glass walls that allowed the room to open up into the hallway corridor-these glass walls were opaque and I noticed that these are being used as white boards as well.
  • The rolling tables are also foldable so that they may be tucked away to the side of the room for people to sit on the floor, stand around a white board, etc. I believe the tables featured at this portion of the Steelcase website are the ones that we saw. A variety of surfaces may be ordered for this table, including one that writable with whiteboard markers. Ballpark cost on the tables is around $1200 USD ea.
  • Here is a link to the Steelcase page on Huddleboards. If I could purchase only one thing from the SCIL for use here at my school (including any digital presentation tools), this would be the tool that I would buy. These boards may be hung on a board, set on a floor or table, etc. They are highly flexible team collaboration tools. They allow for writing on either side of the board as well.
  • Steelcase Cachet Chairs - SCIL paid less than $300 per chair seven years ago and they are still in excellent shape. My guess is that they'll be able to last another 7-8 years. Compare this with the typical lab chair that we pay $125 for in schools...these chairs tend to age fairly quickly and aren't nearly as comfortable as the Cachet Chairs.
  • The commons areas featured booths with noise dampening panels. The booths are moveable so they may be positioned by a white board or anywhere else in the commons areas.
  • It would be awesome to purchase a some of this furniture from Steelcase and try it in an area of our library or a lab space that becomes free of computers when we move to a laptop learning model. We could also put some huddleboards in the room as well...this would allow us, for very little cost, to construct and develop a model classroom for interested teachers and students to try out.
Short little video with some photos and clips from our visit:

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Livescribe Pen Playing the Piano!

One of our students was in The Office yesterday and she just grabbed our Livescribe Pen and began experimenting with it. Here is a short little video of what she did with the pen:

The Nueva School's "Gifted Learning Conference...Education for the 21st Century" - Reflections

I had the good fortune to attend this one-of-a-kind learning conference at the Nueva School in Hillsborough, California, on Friday, October 16th. This was a two day conference and my school sent several middle school teachers to attend sessions on Friday. By many miles, this was one of the best learning conferences that I've had the opportunity to attend. It was an incredibly busy and packed schedule which I appreciated. The first session started at 8:30 am and I went solid until John Seely Brown's session ended at 5:00 pm. The social and reception after JSB's session turned out to be wonderful opportunity to reflect with colleagues and even a Castilleja school parent, and also to chat with some of the presenters. Click here to view a few pictures from my experience.

Neeru Khosla : Textbooks 2.0: Textbooks to Flexbooks
Neeru is the founder of the CK-12 Foundation, which is dedicated to providing high quality, no cost textbooks to schools. I happened upon this organization last fall after I found out that one of our students, Megan Conn, interned with them during the summer of 2008 (see Megan's article about wikipedia and her intern experience online here ). Since I learned about CK12 I've been seeing it referenced in the various online communities that I participate was just fascinating to hear Neeru present the vision of CK-12 and the Flexbook project. Flexbooks are essentially digital textbooks that have been seeded with content by content area experts. They go a long way in addressing the major weaknesses of traditional texts (eg-weight, expense, dated information, a one size fits all user experience, etc). Flexbook texts goes through an extensive 4 month peer review process before the content gets "locked." Any teacher may then login to the CK-12 site and either use the material in its existing state or mashup various components and parts from the range of texts to form her own text. She may even incorporate information of her own by using the built-in, WISWYG editing tool that is incorporated into the system. As you might expect with a name like "Flexbooks," they are extremely flexible and allow teachers and students to access the content in a variety of ways including online via a web browser, PDF download, and various eReaders. They are in the process of developing software that supports online note taking/annotation and the content will also be directly useable in various learning management systems like moodle (it is useable in Moodle now as a pdf, but I believe the future will bring tighter integration).

All Flexbooks are released under a Creative Commons Share Alike license, which means the spirit of collaboration and sharing is a cornerstone of this project. I think there is so much potential with the CK-12 foundation's open source Flexbooks and I'm excited about the possibility of having our school community members, including our students, contribute in some way in the future (CK-12 foundation is in Palo Alto, which means they are basically a neighbor of ours).

David Levy : No Time to Think
The opening line in the program description of this session is,
Thanks to the proliferation of information technologies, there is less time to think-and to relate to others and to the world-than ever before.
Due to this description, I started out by thinking this was going to be a bash session on all things social media, Web 2.0 and the Internet. I turned out not to be neither an indictment nor an endorsement of the potential of networked learning and participatory media technologies. David Levy is an technology philosopher from the University of Washington and I appreciated his balanced look at why we no longer have "No Time to Think" in the "More, Faster, Better" culture that most of us subscribe to in the US. He couched this talk in terms of a historical industrial age thinking that we have yet to grow out of...we still largely have systems that reward efficient and speedy output.

I agree with David's thesis...I've long believed that the best way to develop our social-emotional intelligence and knowledge of how things work is through a wide range of play with others in multiple different contexts. We leave very little time for play, exploration, discovery and tinkering in our culture as it stands change this and bring back a sense of play into our schools and society?

David referenced many resources during his talk, but these were the two that stand out from my notes:
Linda Burch and Matt Levinson : Education Kids and School Communities in a 24/7 Digital World: Safe, Savvy, and Respectful
Linda Burch is from Common Sense Media and Matt Levinson is an administrator from Nueva School. Matt started the presentation by talking about some of the problems that his school community experienced in the first few months of their laptop learning program last year. The school didn't anticipate that there would be such a large number of complaints from families about laptop use in their home. I was impressed with Matt and his school community's response to focus their efforts on community education of all stakeholders, including parents, teachers and students. They very easily could've looked to easy technology solutions like the installation of software filters on student laptops instead of the more powerful and meaningful work of community education. Matt's anecdote about some of their early challenges is something that I'll bring back to the Castilleja Community immediately as we prepare for our own laptop learning model. Matt then passed the wheel over to Linda who talked about the digital citizenship curriculum that Common Sense media has built-while I find the curriculum to be enticing because it isn't fear based, I do worry about any such curriculum being used as a crutch and panacea for teaching youth to be effective users of digital tools and resources. We can have the best curriculum in the world in this area, but if students see adults (teachers and parents alike) talking/texting on the cell phone while they are driving and misusing social media, then the education component really doesn't matter. Modeling innovative, creative and effective use of digital tools has to be something that all adults begin to take more seriously if we are going to expect our youth to do the same.

Lunch Panel Discussion: Trends in 21st Century Education Panel with John Seely Brown, Neeru Khosla, Robert SternbergYves Behar, moderated by KR Sridhar 
Several lunch time panels were offered on Friday and I wasn't disappointed by my decision to attend this session. Robert Sternberg called for new assessments to change teaching, JSB talked about the importance of  EQ and CQ (emotional intelligence and communication intelligence), Yves Behar touched upon the importance of the unique contributions of various members of a collaborative team, and Neeru Khosla talked about the exciting potential of customized and personalized learning. It was a fascinating lunch time panel and I even had the opportunity to sit in the audience next to Carol Dweck!

David Kelley and Kim Saxe : Hands-on Design Thinking Workshop (Two-hour workshop)
This two hour workshop took place in one of the coolest learning spaces that I've seen in a school. Click here to see some of the pictures from the shop that Nueva has built to integrate design and design thinking into their school culture. We went through the entire design process that Nueva uses with students...what was interesting was to find out that Nueva rarely has students design something for themselves. They typically design for others which helps develop empathy and a design mindset that moves beyond personal interests-David told a story during our reflection period about a time early in his career when he designed a new toothpaste dispenser for Crest. The folks from Crest asked about the design and he said something to the effect of, "I really like it." Crest responded that they didn't really care if he liked the design, but was more interested in whether or not millions of people would like it. This was an ah-hah moment for David in his career and I'm glad he shared it because it really highlighted that the design process is partly about developing empathy as a way to understand the needs of others.

John Seely Brown : Learning through Tinkering

What a way to round out this most excellent day of learning. I'll drop in a few of my Twitter posts from this session as a way to summarize my highlights from JSB's talk. My Tweets are italicized while my added any follow up thoughts that I have are standard formatted

According to John seeley brown "Virtual study groups are just as effective as face to face learning." See me note at the end regarding this face to face version of JSB's talk and the webcast version from a few weeks ago. The questioning going on in the virtual session was much richer and more meaningful than that which took place in the face to face session. This isn't a negative slant on face to face at all, but merely a suggestion that each medium has strengths and weaknesses.

Dewey would be ecstatic with open source software development methodologies. JSB described how open source software development is rooted in software development is all about sharing, collaboration and the social construction of knowledge. Contrast this, JSB says, with his computer science program which was all about proving that you are the smartest coder by making your code complicated and difficult to follow.

The Internet has given rise to the pro-amateur class . Told great story about networked astronomers.  This is indeed quite true. We see this playing out in many different forms, with regular people being able to do things that simply wasn't possible prior to the Internet. Amateurs can run their own radio shows, blogs/journals, podcasts, music channels at Myspace, etc.

"...we need to be able to regrind our conceptual lenses..." in the 21st c. --- -John seeley brown Unlearning, learning, changing and retooling on a regular basis is a must in an environment of increasing change. JSB also said that if people feel as though they need to go back to school for training and learning we will have lost the game...I agree.

The new version of the golden triangle: inspiration, intuition, imagination. All surrounded by a sense of awe

Eq and Cq more important than IQ (social/emotional intelligence and communication intelligence). JSB Couldn't agree more...while raw brain power is helpful, the ability to interact and communicate with a wide range of people is exceedingly critical. 

JSB just talked about the value of ePortfolio learning. Nice to receive that validation from JSB. JSB told the story of how he used to observe and architecture class and the participants were always sharing their work by pinning it up on the walls in the classroom for others to see and interact with. Periodically the instructor would provide feedback on a draft and this would serve as a learning opportunity for everyone in the class because each member was so closely linked to one another in the learning process. JSB then went on to talk about the value of creating our own personal dashboards or ePortfolio mashups to better understand what everyone in the community is learning.

JSB's talk was essentially a repeat presentation of a webcast he did a few weeks back with Steve Hargadon on the "Future of Education." Click here to listen to Steve's conversation with JSB. While it was a conference highlight of mine to see JSB speak in person, I have to say that the audience Q and A and overall participation was much deeper and richer in the virtual session conducted via Elluminate. Measuring the difference in audience engagement and brain activity between the webcast format and the live, face to face format would make for a truly interesting study. Judging by the level of questioning and participating amongst session participants, I would surmise that there was greater brain activity in the Elluminate session...but this is only a hunch and awaits scientific study by someone out there!

At the end of the presentation, I asked JSB if the following question, "Schools have all sorts of institutional momentum in place that make it difficult to build a culture of learning through tinkering. With that said, where are the easy opportunities in schools for doing these types of things." JSB's response was after school programs and the "edges" like clubs, extra-curriculars, etc. He talked about working the edges and then over time the edges will actually become the core of what we do in schools.

A few other thoughts:
-An incredibly well run, organized conference by Nueva. Kudos to the Nueva team.
-It was great to see youth from the school involved in all sorts of ways from technical support to greeters and providers of directions.
-I wish I would've attended the Thursday session as well...I'm under the impression that participants observed students engaged in design challenges and the like.
-My wife attended Bob Sternberg's session and said it was outstanding...missing his session may have been my only disappointment of the day. I'm intrigued by the alternative admissions system at Tufts that he is spearheading-essentially they are attempting to quantify creative thinking during the admissions process. Apparently this new admission process is beginning to bring in more student diversity to Tufts.
-The green design of the school is awesome. The school composts, recycles, has several green roofs and a solar PV system. Click here to view a picture of the school's Cafe with a green roof. What a wonderful educational opportunity for Nueva students to learn first hand about the clean tech industry.
-Play is clearly an important part of what Nueva does...this was evident in the 15 or so outdoor play areas that the students have access to on campus. Dewey's dream is clearly alive and well at Nueva.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Livescribe Pen - My Initial Thoughts

LAS VEGAS - JANUARY 10:  The LiveScribe Smart ...Image by Getty Images via Daylife
I like low budget, low tech, simple tools that have a powerful impact on learning. This is why I've become a fan of the Livescribe Pen. I used it to post the handwritten and abbreviated version of this post below.

For some people the Livescribe has the capability to be a wonderful tool for taking notes, recording notes, and recording audio to go along with those notes. I emphasize some, because while I'm excited about how this tool can empower learners, it isn't for everyone. Some people will prefer to record notes on a computer/wireless device of some sort, some people will prefer to use the collaborative notes created in a wiki/shared document, and some people will prefer to write their notes with a pencil/pen and paper. Some will even be interested in all of the above. The fact that the Livescribe syncs up the audio with the animated notes makes it super useful for people who need both visual and auditory reinforcement for some learning situations/contexts.

The Livescribe Pen has many potential applications for use as a supportive learning device. Below are a few examples of how it is currently being used at my school and how it might be used in the future as well:

-One high school student that I'm aware of right now is using it primarily for note taking. A few of her teachers allow her to record audio so that she can review the class with animated notes supported by audio.

-We'll soon be using it as a mathcasting tool for students. I see it being used by students to create scripted mathcasts, but I also see it being used spontaneously in class. Say a student comes up with a new way to think about a problem...the teacher can just say, "Livescribe your thinking," and it can immediately be posted to the community learning space as an object for others to interact with and build upon. Alternately, if a student is really struggling she may "Livescribe her thinking" for others members of the classroom community to weigh in on.

-One of our junior students will be using it to conduct an ethnographic observation and interview of a community member as part of an english class project (click here to see some of these from last year). Last year we had the students use portable microphones for this purpose along with written notes...this may turn out to be a helpful little tool for the project.

I certainly wish the Livescribe pen allowed the line thickness to be modified so that the animated notes were easier to track, but all-in-all, this is a powerful little tool.

Visit the livescribe community at to see the other innovative and creative uses of this supportive/assistive learning tool.


Livescribe note samples (I only included the animation or audio is sure to visit the livescribe community to see examples with audio and animation).

I have to say that the process of handwriting this post with a pen was LABORIOUS to say the least...I forgot how much more efficient it is for me to keyboard in comparison to handwriting. But again, I know this is a personal preference and others will prefer different note taking mediums.

Part I:

Livescribe Post
brought to you by Livescribe

Part II:

Livescribe 2
brought to you by Livescribe

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Google Wave...What is It??

I've been Tweetering and Facebooking about Google Wave since my educator pal Rob Rowe sent me an invitation. So far I really like as we've known it certainly has its flaws and Wave attempts to build an architecture that helps address these weaknesses.

Take the 2 minutes and 15 seconds out of your life to learn more about it through this clever video:

Go Google! Go Wave!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Students Sharing a Google Document with Teachers - A Tip

Google Doc WordleImage by NedraI via Flickr
A few weeks back I was pretty excited because one of our high school language classes used our "new" Linux lab (not really new as the computers are circa 2002, but this is our first year using Ubuntu Linux in a lab)-this was the first time that we had an entire class of students using this space! But I was even more excited about an idea that we stumbled upon. The students were using the lab to do one of their weekly writing samples in their Spanish language class with their teacher, Carolina Morouder. Typically speaking the students used MS Word and then printed their paragraph at the end of class as a way to hand in their work. Because our linux lab is not connected to printers, we had the students start a google document and then quickly share that document with Carolina. As a result of the work being shared with her, there was no need for the students to print. Using google docs, Carolina was able to leave feedback on each student's work. I started to think about what would happen if each time every student in this class shared a google document with Carolina as a way to turn in a writing sample for feedback. Then I started thinking about how Carolina has several classes. This would result in a fair amount of chaos in her google documents space. In order to solve this problem, we decided for the next writing sample that these students would work in the same document that they already shared-this would alleviate the need for the students to share a document once again and it would prevent Carolina's google document workspace from filling up with several short documents from each student. The next time the students work on their writing sample they would open the same document that they already shared, set their cursor in at the top of the document, enter down a few times to create some space (and maybe even insert a horizontal rule), and then start writing at the top of the document. Over time, this document would become chronologically ordered with the most recent writing samples at the top of the document.

Finally, as time goes along, students may organize their single writing sample with a table of contents and the bookmarks feature in google docs (this feature is AWESOME).

I published a sample of what this could look like in a google docment by taking three posts from this blog and pasting them in a google document. I added a table of contents and bookmarks and here is what it looks like.

Just as a side note, I don't believe Carolina has carried on with this method (which is totally OK!) I was happy that she tried this, however, because it lead to a pretty excellent strategy for information organization and management.

Finally, I think this fits in with student ePortfolios so very nicely. Imagine at the end of the semester/school year if the students made a copy of their google doc writing samples in Spanish class, and then selected a handful of items that they wanted to place in their ePortfolio. Great possibilities here!
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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Sixth Grade Mathcast #2

Our second "Mathcast" created by a team of sixth grade students at our school is embedded below. My wife is our new sixth grade teacher and I'm impressed with her willingness to deploy teaching strategies like this (and she also is using a variation of Darren Kuropatwa's student scribe post method).  Our first published mathcast from two weeks ago has over 200 views already on YouTube, proving once again, that the Internet is the most poweful publishing platform that our classrooms have ever seen (if this video was published on a DVD it would be luck to be played 10 times).

This is only the second mathcast and I can't wait to see the clever and creative strategies that the students use in the future for these videos! Kudos to our youth mathcasters!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Google Apps for Education - Rating Our Transition - The Mistakes

Google Docs Paper AirplaneImage by colin_n via Flickr
So in a previous post I shared what went well with our transition to Google Apps for Education from Firstclass. I would say that we did many, many things well, but we did make some mistakes. In the spirit of openness, transparency, and a hope that someone out there will learn from our mistakes, let me elaborate on where we failed here in this post.

Some data about our transition (may be helpful to compare to your transition for scale):
Number of accounts transitioned from Firstclass to Google: 550
Number of faculty/staff accounts: about 125
Number of student accounts: about 425
Years our school had used Firstclass: I believe around 10

1.  We made promises we couldn't keep - Particularly in the area of Firstclass conference replication and data migration. Firstclass has this tool called "Conferences" that some of our users really liked. Prior to the transition we told people that Google Sites along with mail groups would give them the same functionality. The truth is that Google Sites doesn't do the same exact thing that Firstclass conferences, yet we promised folks that they would. Secondly, we promised that all data would migrate over, including calendars, contacts, and mail. We made a big mistake here. Firstclass is so horribly broken in terms of IMAP and other systems standards that it simply wasn't possible to automatically migrate sub-folder mail content from firstclass with the push of a button. In retrospect we should've tested data migration more thoroughly prior to announcing that mail content would be migrated over from the old system to the new. Don't make promises you can't keep if you are heading in this direction.

2.  DNS Preparation - we were ill prepared with new DNS entries up and ready to go for all of our new services. There were a few times after our cut date where our new mail address wasn't working a matter of act, it still isn't working, but thanks to Adam Contois we have some hack in place that does a quick re-direct internally.

3. Calendaring confusion - I can't say this is a mistake because we truly didn't anticipate that our entire organizational calendaring system would move over to Google Apps Calendar. Firstclass' calendaring is fairly wretched and we were using FinalSite's calendaring system which we purchased as a part of their web CMS. I don't think anyone who managed our calendars was particularly satisfied with Finalsite as the calendaring solution, so when Google Calendar came around we had some folks who were eager to try it out. Calendaring seems to be a real challenge in most organizations, and when we moved to Google Cal we didn't quite have our arms around how we were going to implement this as our organizational calendaring system. Luckily we had several folks step up (Mid, Dana, Katherine, Shannon) to build an excellent solution for our calendaring needs-they created an entire Google Site in our network that has all of the various calendars that our folks may elect to subscribe to.

We also have had some difficulties with the use of using Google Calendar for scheduling some of our resources like computer labs and rooms. We're still trying to figure this out at the time of this post and if we arrive to a solution I will share it out here.

4. Document Sharing - we didn't expect so many of our folks to use google docs to share information, which is absolutely great! However, many people are using Google Docs instead of sending attachments or placing the message right in the body. This is causing a bit of "Google Doc" fatigue. Google docs are great for collaborative writing, but when it comes to simply passing along information that you'd like people to read, attaching a document or placing the text in the body of the email is completely fine (or simply publishing the doc to a URL and sharing that URL is another good route). I'm going to create a little help document that helps people decide when they might consider sharing a google doc vs. sending a standard attachment. This isn't a huge deal, but some of our folks are experiencing a little Google Docs fatigue.

5. Network mail groups - we have way too many network mail groups. We have nearly 60 or so that we brought over from firstclass. We should've probably thinned this list down to a few dozen or so when we transitioned, but it proved easier said than done. I'd imagine as time progresses we'll only keep the highly useful ones around.

6. Client software for mail access - prior to the transition we talked to our folks about how they could use various mail clients like Mac Mail, Thunderbird, Outlook, etc. It is true that this is possible, but as a school tech department it is difficult to support all these various client software programs. We now have a policy that we only support web access to email...folks are welcome to configure a client, but they are pretty much on their own if they go this route.

7. Mobile support - we should've been clearer about how we were going to support mobile access. Outside of providing links to help documents and video tutorials that show users how to configure their iPhones, Blackberries, etc, we really don't have the bandwidth to support all of these various mobile platforms that are represented in our student, faculty and staff community. Luckily mobile access setup of Google mail is really easy, so we really haven't had to offer a great deal of high touch support for mobiles.

8. Under-estimation of support during for the transition - While we did have a transition support team of 8 faculty and staff or so, looking back it would've been best had we doubled that number with an appointed transition expert in each department. I'm a big believer in empowering community members to help each other out and our transition team went part of the way in making this happen.

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Castilleja "PeaceTube" Project

From October 15, 2009-November 15, 2009 our school community is going to be engaging in a little project where we find videos on the topic of "Peace" over at YouTube. The idea is to collect relevant videos and then vote on our favorite videos during the first full week in December. The videos receiving the top 5 most votes will be played during our school's "Global Week" in early January of 2010. Below is the teaser video for this project. If you'd like to contribute any videos having to do with the theme of peace, please submit the links via a comment at this blog post and we'll be sure to include them in the voting in December (we'll credit you as well during the process).

Peace is our theme of our Global Week celebration in early January...please think of 'peace' as an extremely broadly defined concept as you surf could relate to environmental sustainability, inner peace, spiritual peace, historical peace movements, community building projects, etc.

Google Apps for Education - Rating Our Transition - The Good

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...Image via CrunchBase
Well, it has been almost 4 full months since my school fully transitioned away from the Firstclass email system to the Google Apps for Education suite. In a series of posts over the next few weeks I'm going to share what we did well and what we wish we could do over. Today I'm going to start with what we did well during our transition (not to gloat, but we did do many things well, hence the ridiculously long post). As a side, I want to say that I'm incredibly impressed by how our users are making use of this network so far. We have some faculty and staff members piloting the use of ePortfolios with Google Sites and many other wonderful things going on as well. For seven years I worked at a school that used Microsoft Exchange and last year I used Firstclass at Castilleja. Without any hesitation, I can say that Google Apps smokes both of these platforms in terms of easy of use and collaboration potential (note how I didn't even mention anything about Google Apps being free and these other platforms costing a serious amount of money in terms of annual licensing, hardware, and IT staffing/management ;-)

Things we did well in our move to Google Apps for Education:

1. Youth helpers - We solicited the assistance of our students before, during, and after our June 15th, 2009 cut date and they were a tremendous help. In April we asked interested high school students to serve as "early adopters" of the new system. A handful agreed to transition to the system early and their participation was key. Some of these students even configured their mobile devices to access mail which they really appreciated. These early adopters gave us feedback and helped us tune and further customize our support materials that would be critical during the larger roll out.

We also had one of our student summer tech department interns create a series of screencasts to help support students throughout the transition. Ultimately these screencasts turned out to be more helpful to our faculty and staff members. Screencasts in general have been of immense value in getting the word out and providing support materials to our users.

2. Faculty and Staff Early Adopters - In addition to asking students to be early adopters, we also asked our faculty and staff to join in as early adopters last April and May. Once again, having these early adopters in the new space and providing feedback to us turned out to be immensely valuable on many different levels. We created weekly "Early Adopter Newsletters" for the 20 or so early adopters. This newsletter series helped keep people updated on our progress with the overall transition.

3. Transition Support Site - We created a transition support site that served as a repository for our support docs, tutorials, screencasts, etc. I'm not sure how many people used this site, but to this day is has served as a nice little portfolio of our transition. I'm glad we "ate our own dogfood" and used a Google Site to manage and organize these support members. Dave Girouard, who manages Google's Enterprise business worldwide, actually commented on our transition site in this Twitter post.

4. Faculty and Staff Transition Support Team - We created a support team of roughly 8 faculty and staff members who helped in many ways with our transition. In addition to creating support tutorials and attending a few meetings to help prepare the community for the move, they also contributed to a series of workshops we offered for our school community in late August. I greatly appreciate the hard work and contributions of all who participated on this team.

5. Workshops - Speaking of workshops, these turned out to be incredibly helpful for many of our staff and faculty members. We offered one on June 16th and three in late August. We basically went through each component of the network (mail, sites, calendar, doc sharing) in these workshops. They were each about 2 hours in length and participants were quite appreciative of these learning opportunities.

6. Faculty and Staff Dashboard Start Page - Thanks to the outstanding work of our Director of Technology, Steve Taffee, we have an awesome faculty and staff start page/dashboard. Google Apps networks certainly can be a bit messy when you first start out, and having folks set something like this as their home page can really simply information access for your folks. Here is a screenshot of what ours looks like (this dashboard was created with google sites and is permissioned to be visible only by users who have authenticated to the network). We created a dashboard start page for students too, but so far most of them don't really use it.

7. Activating most/all of the services - We activated pretty much all of the services for our student, staff and faculty users. This includes mail, sites, docs, contacts and contact sharing, mobile/cell phone access, calendar, and chat. We enabled other services including a custom URL generator (kinda like tinyurl) and Google's Moderator platform as well, but for some reason we can't configure our DNS internally to get these tools to work inside of the school's LAN. We also checked an option in the control panel that allows new labs and features to be available to users in our network. This gives our faculty, staff and students access to an ever evolving, powerful set of applications that allow them to collaborate, share and communicate in ways we couldn't have imagined even a few years ago. Our users love the gmail themes and labs. It is my belief that if you make powerful tools available to people and expect that they will do creative and powerful things, they will rise to the occasion (alternately, if you lock things down because you're afraid users might do something bad, they will engage you in an unending cat and mouse game that you cannot win). I'm glad to be at a school where we have liberal user policies that demonstrate trust and faith in our community members.

8. Custom login page - This was created by the handy work of our system engineer, Adam Contois (no, you can't hire him--in addition to his excellent work with python and the custom apps he has built for our google network, he is needed to push mobile lab carts around our campus ;-) You may view our login page here. Along with providing a school branded login point to these services, Adam also configured this application to allow administrators to sign in as other users (I believe this was all managed and configured with the Google OAUTH API). Being able to sign in as other users to help support is absoultely INVALUABLE. We did have Adam join us on the Edtech Brainstorm at in June of 2009 to talk a little bit about some of the cool customizations he built for our network. Listen to the recorded audio from this conversation online here. Adam likes a good challenge and his work with our Google network and the other academic learning systems that we have in place (Linux lab, Moodle, Open Source client software deployment, etc) is greatly appreciated!

9. Research and development - We worked extremely hard on R and D with this network all of last year. Last year we activated the docs sharing component of the network and the students and teachers who used this really liked it (especially for things like collaborative scripts for movies, podcasts, etc). A year of using the network for document collaboration only really helped us learn the ins and outs of the system. We also spent time researching integration with Moodle and building our custom login page and experiementing with OAUTH. We dabbled with LDAP user directory integration, but at the end of the day we deciced not to enable this as our LDAP system wasn't in the best shape. Speaking of Moodle and Google, we were pretty psyched about the possibility for using this, but at the end of the day we decided not to go this route because we didn't want our non-teaching staff members to access their mail by going through Moodle. We also didn't want a scenario where access to  mail became dependent on our Moodle network...we figured that Google's uptime would be better than our own Moodle network. But we still do think it is pretty cool that users could authenticate into moodle and then easily access the Google network from the google apps block in Moodle.

10. Development of a "pilot google apps network." In order to do much of the aforementioned R&D, we setup a "pilot" Google Apps network (the domain was "") This allowed us a sandbox space to test, evaluate, play, explore, destroy, and discover new things. Google allows you to do this free of charge and I recommend to any organization who might be transitioning to Google to deploy a pilot network.

11. Networking and sharing - We spoke with people all over the place via telephone, social networks, etc. We linked up with several other independent schools who were thinking about transitioning away from Firstclass to Google Apps and we shared ideas in an online forum. We even hosted a webcast at one point to discuss strategies. We spoke with the lead IT manager at UW-Madison's Alumni network. UW-Madison had just shifted their mail services away from some proprietary application to Gmail and his advice and sharing of experiences was very helpful (I can't find his name, but when I do I will update this post).

12. Conference calls with our transition support reps from Google Education, Cindy and Austin, were extremely helpful as well. Google gives away transition support for free...this basically means that they dedicate a representative who is available via email, phone, google voice, etc up until you flip the switch and actually transition. They were extremely helpful in providing us with documents and suggestions to help ensure a smooth transition. We had basic questions regarding data ownership, reliability, data mining, advertising, security, etc-before we got too far along in the process we had answers to these questions-it is important that you do the same because people in your organization who are skeptical about outsourcing email will ask these questions and may event try to to spread FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt). We aggregated much of the documentation and answers to our questions from google early in this process over at this wiki.

13. Installation of a Moodle virtual learning network to work in tandem with Google Apps. We installed Moodle at the beginning of the 2008-2009 network for faculty members who want a true virtual instructional environment that allows for assignment submission and grading. I mentioned above that we decided against the full google-moodle integration, but even having Moodle available for our teachers to use has been great.

14. Enabling of Postini Spam Services - Right now google is giving away Postini spam services free of charge. When we switched to Gmail we did see a fair amount of spam slipping through Google's basic spam service. After enabling Postini, this ended. 

15. Student user name method -We used the last two digits of student graduation years + first initial + last name for student user names in the network. This means that Sara Smith from the class of 2020 would have a username of 20ssmith. This has made it really easy for administration, searching for students in the network, building contact lists, handling conflicts with users having the same name, etc.

16. Enabling mobile access for all users - I mentioned that we enabled almost all possible services above, but mobile services have been great thus far. Many of our users, including students, are configuring their various mobile devices to access their information in the network.

17. Transparency - We were transparent from the very beginning when we were floating the idea about possibly switching from Firstclass. We talked about this at committee meetings, with student groups, and we gave separate presentations at our all-faculty and all-staff meetings last spring. Our Transition Support site was, from the first day, made available on the open web and wasn't closed in any way. Throughout the process we solicited suggestions and feedback. By the time the final decision was made by our administrative leadership team, we had the support of the overwhelming majority of our school community. We even recorded our proposal presentation to our faculty and posted it for those who couldn't be in attendance. I feel as though by being direct and transparent we were able to build some positive mojo for this move.

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