New school year, new tech!

While it has been some time since my last post, I hope that all teachers out there have enjoyed smooth beginnings to the school year. Can you believe that we just finished Thanksgiving and are on our way to Christmas? I don’t know about you, but I’m already itching for that next break. The life of a spoiled teacher, right? 😄

In any case, I am always on the lookout for innovative technology to enhance my instruction and/or classroom management. For example, one struggle that many teachers face involves students failing to check homework sites for their daily assignments. Our school currently uses Moodle as its course management system; while I appreciate the ability to post assignments and other important information, I have noticed that Moodle has become a bit too big for its britches, so to speak. The result: students (especially when they are absent) do not log on to ensure they have completed the necessary work. Rather, they email their teachers to find out the status of missed classes and assignments. That said, they often do not check email for important information. Indeed, email slowly is going the way of the dinosaur. However, I read about a relatively new app called Remind (formerly known as Remind 101) that allows students to subscribe to text alerts sent by teachers. In my case, I use the app to remind students of upcoming large-scale assignments (essays, projects, etc.) as well as last-minute changes to coursework. Parents also can subscribe to get the alerts so that they know some of the major work being done by their children. The beauty of this app is that no phone numbers are exchanged! This ensures privacy for all parties and no hint of impropriety. I highly recommend Remind for anyone who works in a group setting and who wants to remind people of events without having to send out a mass email.

Awhile back, I wrote a post about how Google inconceivably broke apart Google Drive and spun off Docs, Slides, and Sheets into separate apps. In doing so, the company did not include basic folder access in the new apps, thus resulting in a great deal of app switching between Drive and Docs, for instance. For me, the grading process became more difficult, and I had thought about going to Office for iPad for the handling of all student work. After some time with Microsoft’s product (and a bevy of enhancements to it), I safely can say that Microsoft’s iPad suite officially is my favorite productivity bundle to use on my tablet. Microsoft has managed to take its full-blown Office suite and make it extremely tablet-friendly; this past Fall, it also made Office available for iPhone. Productivity fans rejoiced! Okay, that might be a stretch, but after it took the Seattle-based company some time to arrive at the party, Microsoft made great strides with its mobile products in a short amount of time. The most recent announcement involved allowing non-Office 365 users to create and edit documents on their iPads and iPhones, essentially rendering the apps free. I slowly am weaning my students off Google Docs and plan on embracing Office from hereon out. You should, too. Kudos to Microsoft for listening to their consumers!

My last tech note is somewhat of a plea: a plea for more teacher-centric apps, apps that make our job easier. For example, if there’s one app most teachers would want, it would be a calendar/attendance/lesson planning app. In all fairness, such an app already exists – it’s called iTeacherBook. I used it to help me track attendance for one of my sports teams but quickly found the app too buggy and lacking in updates. As you can see, the developers have not updated the app in over a year, instead spending their time on the student version (called iStudiezPro). While I understand the need to push the student app (a larger clientele means more money), teachers deserve just as much assistance with their daily tasks. While many corporate task managers are present in the App Store, how about one for teachers that hasn’t turned into a pumpkin?

Keeping on that same theme, I also have to take Blackbaud to task for its mishandling of an app for which I consulted. Our school uses Netclassroom and FAWeb, two products part of Blackbaud’s grading platform. While the web versions function pretty well, other companies have mobile apps that allow teachers and students to input information on the go. For example, if I was at a function and quickly wanted to input grades without turning on my computer, I theoretically could do so with other products, but not FAWeb. Last year, Blackbaud reached out to several individuals (I was one) and asked us to help them develop a mobile app, set to be released this year. Then, just as the app was taking shape, the company shelved it with no explanation or updates. In this day and age, every major educational company should have a mobile presence or run the risk of becoming yesterday’s news. Time to step up, Blackbaud!

Let the Christmas countdown commence…now!

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