Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Power of Disconnecting

This may seem strange coming from a blog titled Anderson Edtech.  It may seem strange coming from a man that embraces, encourages, and does his best to implement technology into lessons and life.  However, I am a firm supporter of the power of disconnecting every now and then.  

Throughout our world, we see the impact of technology and connectedness, the good and the bad.  I have almost always focused on the power of good with technology, but I want to take a brief look at the negative impacts of technology.  

You've seen it, probably so much now that you may not even notice it.  You are at the grocery store, a restaurant, a place of worship, and to keep a child occupied, the parent gives them a tablet or their phone.  I have been guilty of this at times.  However, I hate being "that parent".  I find that with my own children, the more I let them use their devices, the more they become attached to them and the more of a struggle it is to take them away and it becomes a fight.  That is why I try to limit my kids' screen time as much as I can. 

For me personally, I am also guilty of too much screen time.  I find myself at times mindlessly scrolling through Twitter, occasionally scrolling through Facebook, and reading the news.  And what do I get from this?  About 5% actual learning opportunities or things that make me smile, and about 95% of scrolling through garbage or becoming angry reading the news. 

For these reasons, I believe that I need to disconnect more often.  My kids need a model of seeing their father not constantly on a device and for my own mental stability, I need to get away from my devices.  Disconnecting gives me more time with my kids, gets me away from the negativity on social media and the news, and I feel more energetic from not staring at a screen.  So what do I do, and what can you do, to disconnect more often? 

Set Your Phone to Airplane Mode:  Most of us always have our phones on our person, whether it is in a bag or purse or in our pockets.  And most of us constantly jump at the slightest sound or vibration coming from our phone to see what we are missing.  To get away from the distraction, I set my phone to airplane mode for most of my workday.  My phone is still on, so it is a quick switch from airplane mode if I need to use it for a quick call or text, rather than powering it down completely and having to wait to power it back up if I need to use it.  Not only do I find myself turning to my phone less, but it saves on my battery, only using about 5% over the course of several hours, versus up to 50% if I leave it on standard mode. 

Turn Off App Notifications:  For every app we download, there is usually some kind of notification that you can receive from the app, ranging from banners, notification dots/numbers, sounds, vibrations, etc.  While many of the apps you download ask to allow notifications, you most likely won't get anything from the app.  However, the biggest culprits of your attention because of notifications are your social media apps, news apps, and messages.  To get away from them, turn off some, or all, or the notifications.  I have turned off all notifications for Facebook and Voxer, all of my news apps, and I have turned off some of the notifications for Twitter.  Sometimes, I end up missing some things that are time sensitive because I don't think to check the app without a notification, such as a message from Ryan O'Donnell a while back in Voxer that asked if I was going to the Nevada football game; the message had a picture from the parking lot of Mackay Stadium as he was preparing for the game and I didn't get the message until about 12 hours later.  However, I find myself doing less mindless scrolling, reading, and listening, especially on Facebook, because I have turned off many of the notifications. 

Log Out of Your Social Media Accounts:  When is the last time you had to type in your login credentials for your Facebook or Twitter account?  I honestly can't remember, my phone saves it so whenever I open my app, it's open and available.  If you have to type in your credentials, would you if you knew you were doing it simply because you were bored?  Logging out of a social media account, or deleting the app temporarily, will cut down on the time you spend on the app.  Facebook as a deactivate function where you can turn off your account for up to a week.  Whenever I have done that, I have found that I haven't gone back to Facebook for nearly two weeks.  I like to deactivate every now and then, especially when something happening in the world makes Facebook extra toxic (think election season or the debate of guns shortly after yet another mass shooting, which is another issue that I won't address here).  While I have never done it, you can also deactivate a Twitter account, however, if you don't log back in within 30 days, your account will be deleted permanently (at least according to a quick search of Twitter's help page). 

Set Up Do Not Disturb Mode:  Most phones have a setting called Do Not Disturb.  Using this setting, you can set up hours in which no notifications, including phone calls and text messages, will come through.  I have mine set up from 9:00 PM to 7:00 AM.  However, maybe you are concerned that you will miss an important call or text.  You can do a couple of things.  If you are expecting a call or text, you can temporarily turn off the setting; on my Pixel 2, it's a quick swipe down from the top to the Do Not Disturb symbol and pressing it.  Once I want to turn it back on, I simply swipe down and press Do Not Disturb again.  You can also set up exemptions for specific numbers.  For me, I have a handful of contacts that are exempt from Do Not Disturb that I have identified in the settings.  You can also set an exemption where if the same number calls twice within 15 minutes, the call will come through. 

Set a Reminder to Wrap Up Your Work:  We are all guilty of it: working on something, saying we are going to wrap up by a certain time, but go way over the time.  While I don't do this routinely, I have set up alarms using my Google Home to alert me when I should be done with whatever I am doing.  I especially will use my Home when I am playing my mini Nintendo (if you don't have one, it's preloaded with 30 games, I hacked it and added 25 more, and I also have the Super Nintendo version).  I will get lost playing Super Mario Bros., Blades of Steel, Contra, or whatever it may be; next thing I know, I have wasted almost 2 hours!  When I know that I may be on the games for a while, I will simply say to my Google Home across the room, "Hey Google, set a timer for 30 minutes."  When that timer goes off, I finish the level where I am at, save my progress, and turn it off.  Don't have a Google Home?  Use Siri on your iOS device, use Alexa on your Amazon device, set an alarm on your phone, or a calendar reminder.  There are a variety of ways you can alert yourself, use whatever you feel most comfortable with. 

With the Thanksgiving holiday coming up, I am looking forward to disconnecting even further.  I will be traveling to my parents' place to enjoy the holiday with my parents, sister, brother-in-law to be, a cousin and her husband and kids, and of course, my wife and kids.  While I will be taking my laptop to work on a presentation for an upcoming conference, I fully intend to set timers to limit my work so I can enjoy my time.  I may even turn my phone off and stash it for a day or two because the people I would normally need to contact will be there in the flesh.  Either way, it is my intention to enjoy my family, lots of food, some beers (I'll be sure to share anything awesome on The BeerEDU Podcast), and getting away from my technology for a few days.  I hope that you do the same!

Until next time... Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Google Slides Extensions & Add-Ons

In the words of Kasey Bell and Matt Miller of The Google Teacher Podcast, Google Slides is the Swiss Army Knife of educational technology tools, a tool that goes way beyond simple presentations.  That being said, there is a bevy of extensions and add-ons that pair with Google Slides to make it work even better for you.  While this is not an exhaustive list by any means, here are a few of my favorites that I use on a regular basis when building presentations, visuals, and activities in Google Slides.  

A sample of what you get with the
Pear Deck for Slides add-on!
If you have ever met me or read previous posts in my blog history, it is not a secret that I am a big fan of Pear Deck.  However, for the uninitiated, Pear Deck is a program that turns ordinary presentations into interactive ones that incorporate live questions and other formative assessments, designed for 100% student engagement.  Pear Deck has teamed up with Google and released a couple of great add-ons and extensions in recent months that make Pear Deck even better!

Pear Deck for Google Slides:  This is an add-on that is accessible via the add-ons menu in Google Slides.  Rather than creating presentations on peardeck.com, Pear Deck is now fully functional with Google Slides.  The add-on includes numerous slide templates for the beginning of class, during class, end of class, and critical thinking.  Want to make your own interactive slides?  The Pear Deck add-on allows for that as well, giving you numerous options, such as multiple choice, text response, and if you have a premium account, Draggable and drawing slides!  And while I am certainly biased as a Pear Deck Certified Coach, I firmly believe that the premium account is 100% worth the results of 100% student engagement.  Download the Pear Deck for Google Slides add-on through Google Slides, and learn more about Pear Deck at www.peardeck.com.

Sometimes, you need a random, unrelated gif in your
presentation.  Thanks, Giphy for being awesome!
Pear Deck Power Up:  If you are like me when building presentations, you love to put in animated gifs to emphasize a concept or bring a little humor to the content.  In the past, if trying to put a gif in a Pear deck presentation, it either would not upload into the presentation or it would freeze and turn into a static image file.  With the Pear Deck Power Up extension for Google Chrome, now you can place your animated gifs into a Pear Deck presentation!  But wait, there's more!  Not only do your gifs work, but animations you have built into Google Slides and any videos that are embedded that you want to autoplay will also work exactly as they are intended to!  To use the extension, you simply add it to Chrome and whenever you present a Pear Deck presentation, the extension will automatically go to work for you!  Get this great extension here!

Screencastify for Google Slides:  If you are into screencasting, you are most likely familiar with Screencastify.  If not, Screencastify is a free extension that you can add to Chrome that allows you to record your screen with voiceovers.  For a yearly fee of about $25, you can get the premium version that allows you to record longer videos, make edits to your screencasts, and a host of other options.  One of the best things about Screencastify is that your videos automatically save to a folder in Google Drive when you are done.  If you aren't using Screencastify yet, go ahead and add it to Chrome here.  Once you have done that, you are ready for the add-on for Slides!

The add-on is the definition of convenience and time-saving!  Once you add it from the add-ons menu in Slides and open it, it brings all of the screencasts that you have created into a side menu.  From there, with a single click, you can add your videos to a Google Slide!  While this is possible without the add-on, it takes a few more clicks to get your videos to your slide.  And who amongst us doesn't want to save time? 

Closed Captioning for Google Slides:  This is a relatively new feature that I have only used in testing trials; I have not used this in class or in a presentation to teachers yet.  However, from what I have seen using the tool thus far is amazing: when you switch a Google Slides file into presentation mode, your options for advancing slides, notes, pointer, and now, closed captioning!  When you turn on closed captioning, Slides will display what you are saying during your presentation on the screen.  Now, this isn't perfect, it makes its fair share of mistake.  It also cannot distinguish between two people talking, and if you have students near your computer microphone that are speaking, it will pick them up as well.  However, for those that may be able to see you and your presentation but not necessarily hear you and for students that are deaf or hard of hearing, this is a great new feature to accommodate your students! 

Look for this icon!
Explore Button:  This isn't an extension or an add-on, but it is something that I rely on almost daily in Google Slides.  In the bottom right corner of Slides, there is a button that looks like a speech bubble with a star in it.  When you click on this button, it opens up all sorts of greatness!  It will show you what your slide will look like in a different slide layout for starters.  Then by using the search function, you can search for articles and websites on your search criteria, images, and even your Google Drive.  With the click of a button, you can add links of the websites, images, and open files in your Drive where you grab items to put in your Slides file. 

Look for this too!
Calendar, Keep, & Tasks:  Again, another feature that isn't an extension or add-on, but a useful tool nonetheless.  Along the right side of the screen when you open Slides will give you small icons that link to Google Calendar, Keep, and Tasks.  Calendar and Tasks, when you click on them, open up your Calendar and your Tasks.  This is useful if you have put reminders or events in your calendar that you may want to put into your presentation.  As for Tasks, it is very similar to Calendar.  There isn't a way to drag anything you have in Calendar or Tasks into Slides, but if you need to see items there, you don't have to open another tab to open Calendar and Tasks.  However, the Keep function is very useful.  In Google Keep, you can save notes, images, links, and so much more.  When clicking on the Keep link in Slides, it opens your Keep notepad up along the right side.  From there, you can drag items directly into Slides without copying and pasting.  This is especially useful for those moments when you are out and about and think of something great to put in a presentation but you are unable to at the moment.  You simply make a note, then drag it into Slides at a later time!

Photos to Slides:  When doing a little research for this post, I stumbled upon an add-on called Photos to Slides.  It had the Google Photos logo, so I clicked on it to see what it was.  When installing this add-on, it allows users to upload albums from Google Photos into Google Slides, where Slides automatically creates a slide for each photo in the album.  I did a test run with it, and in about 2 minutes, it created a presentation of about 50 slides, one photo per slide!  I can see a running photo gallery by using the publish to the web function in Google Slides, I can see a teacher uploading photos of historical sites, geometric shapes in nature, and so many more possibilities using this add-on!  My experience with it is very short, but I'm definitely going to try this add-on more!

Hopefully, you gained something new about Google Slides out of this post.  Feel free to share other add-ons, extensions, or creative ways that you use Google Slides in your life by a quick comment, a tweet, or an email!

Until next time... sorry, I couldn't resist another relatively unrelated gif (with a hard G)!