Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Google Apps, Extensions, and Add-Ons

I absolutely love Google Chrome.  Chrome can do so much that other browsers cannot approach.  Firefox is alright.  Safari, it's ok.  Internet Explorer... really?  I haven't even tried Microsoft Edge yet because I'm so convinced that even if it's an upgrade from Explorer, it still won't be too great.  Does anyone want to bring back Netscape?  That might be better than Explorer, in my opinion.  But I digress...

My favorite thing about Chrome is all of the great applications, extensions, and add-ons that you add to the browser to enhance your browsing experience.  At last count, I have over 40 extensions added to my browser and countless apps and add-ons to Google Docs, Sheets, and Forms.  Slides, unfortunately, does not have add-ons yet.  I'm sure that at some point in the not so distant future, some genius is going to develop an add-on for Slides and we will have those to choose from as well.  Whatever it may be, an app, an extension, or an add-on, they all make my life simpler and more efficient.

If you are reading this, most likely, you already know about these.  You probably have tons of them yourself, and I'm sure you could share something awesome with me that I don't know about yet.  If you do have something, be sure to post something in the comments, tweet @SocStuEdTech, or send an email to anderka1@nv.ccsd.net.  I always am looking for more of these, because I love saving time and making my life easier.  For the sake of the rest of this piece, I want to share one of my favorites for each category.

One of the biggest issues that I face sometimes is that I want to convert a Google Doc into a .pdf file.  This is where the app DocuSign comes in.  The main purpose of the app is to create .pdf forms and share them out to have users sign.  While I don't need to have people sign documents often, it's definitely a great feature I may need to use in the future.  For now, I simply use the program to upload a Google Doc, convert it into a .pdf, set the fields that I want to be able to edit, and finish.  It saves the .pdf forms in its own folder automatically created in Google Drive and allows for users to open the form and edit away.  If it is a form that I know I am going to regularly use, I simply make a copy of it, do what I need to do with the form, rename it, and save it to another folder in my Drive.

My new favorite extension is more of an add-on than it is an extension.  You will find it in the Google Chrome Web Store like you would any extension, but it works in Google Docs like an add-on.  If you were to look for it in the add-ons menu of Google Docs, you would not find it.  This extension is called Draftback.  I came into this extension when I was looking for a plagiarism checker.  One downfall of Google Apps is that there isn't a free plagiarism check (yet).  My school uses turnitin.com, but then I would have to either have students submit work through there or copy and paste their work over to check for plagiarism, which was something I wasn't interested in doing.  Draftback is NOT a plagiarism checker.  However, what the extension will do is create a report with a running total of all edits on a document (one edit is equal to a keystroke; if I ran the extension on this blog, I would probably have close to 5000 individual edits, or even more).  It will also create a report that shows when a student started working, when they finished, and how many edits were made during the session.  Since I have shown my students this program, plagiarism off of each other has been cut significantly.  I still need to look for copying from outside sources, but I don't have the problems of copying off of each other anymore.

I was definitely tardy to the party on this one, and many were stunned when I mentioned the add-on that I had never used it, but I use it so much, I cannot help but share it out.  Doc to Form is exactly what it sounds like; this add-on allows you to convert a Google Doc into a Google Form quickly and easily.  Previously, it would take me upwards of 30 minutes to copy and paste info from a Doc to a Form.  Now, that process is down to about 5 minutes.  It allows you to create fields that are text-based, multiple choice, dropdown, and checkboxes.  The only downfall is that it only allows you to create a 10 item form from the Doc.  However, for a small donation to the developer (as little as $3, and a link is posted in the help section of the add-on), you can have the limit expanded up to 50 items.  This really came in handy when I was creating my semester exams back in December.  Find this add-on in the Google Docs add-on menu by entering "Doc to Form".

Periodically, I will post more of my favorites.  Please share any favorites that you have.  If you share something that I try and really like, I'll give you a special shout out in a future post and tweet.

Until next time...

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A New Beginning

In 2005, I embarked on my life as an adult.   While many of my friends stayed home for a couple of years to go to the small community college while saving for bigger things and eating their mom's cooking, I ventured 250 miles away to live in the dorms, eat ramen and Chunky Soup, play some football, try to talk to women, and go to school on the side.  Five years after leaving home, I ventured even further from home, packing a truck and moving 2000 miles away to Las Vegas to start my life with my then girlfriend Mary and teach social studies.  Eleven years later, here I am...

A lot has changed in 11 years, some glaringly obvious, others much more subtle.    I've actually lost weight since then, earned two more college degrees (Master's in Education and Educational Specialist in School Administration), got married, had two kids, and grown from a terrible teacher that could barely tie my shoes to somebody that I hope, in the eyes of all of the kids that I have had over the years, I have inspired and guided to great things.  It has been 11 years of ups and downs, growing pains, emotional pain (til we meet again Cody, my brother!), the building of tons of professional relationships and sincere friendships, and watching thousands of kids walk into my classroom on their way to walking across the stage at graduation.  I will cherish the good, the bad, and the ugly, but now it is on to something different.

A few weeks ago, I learned that my district was going to be hiring more digital learning coaches.  For years, I have built myself into a technologically savvy teacher, a leader in my school, and a presenter on a multitude of ed tech topics.  The digital learning coach was something that I felt would be perfect for me.  While no longer working in the classroom with students, I would still get to teach by working with teachers to help them incorporate more technology into their curriculum.  On top of that, the job requires that one participate in professional development on a regular basis, something that I love to do.  This job almost seemed too good to be true!

After discussion with my family, colleagues, and friends, I determined that it was a no brainer and that I had to at least apply for the job.  I was qualified, I would enjoy working with teachers and technology, and even though I still love my job teaching social studies, a new job may be refreshing.  The application process was standard; a letter of interest, a resume, references, and brief answers to a series of questions about different responsibilities of a DLC.  The interview was where it was going to nerve-wracking and, in my case, slightly awkward.

My interview was with a panel of three individuals.  Nerves are natural, but I knew that I was prepared for the interview, so I wasn't too bad going into the interview.  What made it slightly awkward was knowing one of the panel members professionally.  To protect his name, I will call him "Bob".  Bob coordinates the digital learning coaches and several other technology related programs within our district, including a series of weekend "mini-conferences" where teachers can learn about various ed tech ideas.  I have presented at several of these conferences and worked with Bob on several occasions.  To see him on the panel was a good thing and a bad thing.  It was great knowing that he has seen me in action before and has an idea of my capabilities, rather than going in blind trying to impress somebody.  At the same time, since he knows me, it raises the bar that much more.  What if I stumble and fall flat on my face (figuratively, if I managed to fall on my face from a sitting position at a table, I would have much bigger problems on my hand)?  Regardless of my feelings I felt like I had nailed the interview and then had to play the whole "hurry up and wait" game on whether or not I had gotten the job.

Meanwhile, I have also been taking the leadership preparatory classes so I can be eligible to enter the administrator's pool.  Once I am done in May, I can apply for a dean and/or assistant principal position.  If I am offered the DLC position, what does that do for me?  I can't drop out of the program, not after I am 3/4 of the way through.  At the same time, do I even apply for the pool?  It wouldn't be fair to accept the DLC job, then two months in, say "See ya suckers!" and take an admin position.  The dilemma (a good one) began to build.

In the end, about a week ago, I was notified that I was accepted and I was offered a job as a digital learning coach.  In the week or so leading up to the notification, I contemplated what I really wanted.  In the end, I decided that working as a DLC would make me a better administrator down the road.  I submitted the paperwork accepting the position.

Accepting this job starts a new chapter in my life, a new beginning.  I am really looking forward to working with technology more and sharing my love and expertise of technology.  I am going to miss my job in the classroom, you cannot replace that.  But in the end, I am taking a step forward in my career, and I will still have that influence that I have always had on my students.  Challenges await, but I am ready to take on the world!

Until next time...