What Makes A Good One-Hour Conference Session?

One of my original blogging philosophies (back in 2004 or 2005) was this: if I wrote something for work or school, I would post it to my blog (if it were relevant and worth posting). In my flirting with NaNoWriMo and DigiWriMo this month, I’ve realized that much of my best writing (and most of my writing of any kind) is happening in email. I sometimes write emails that border on minor manifestos, and I’ve kept an eye out for when I sense that happening, and then cut and paste the relevant portions into a document for potential blog posts. Here’s part of a message I wrote to one of the local hosts of an upcoming Google Apps for Education Summit. It captures some of my philosophy on what we’re looking for in a one-hour professional development session at the summits.

In general, we’d like to connect directly with the presenters as much as possible. A key element to the success of these events has been our vetting and managing of the entire program – it is not a conference with random sessions submissions. That being said, we would love your feedback following any local auditions you arrange. Your opinion would be very important to our decisions and direction – we do rely heavily on our hosts for helping to vet the “local talent.”

Also in general, our main criteria is that people leave a session informed and inspired. We focus most on raising awareness, but also want them to leave empowered to take next steps – and we know that a successful hands on experience can be key in making that happen. So we do encourage hands-on sessions, but that can be a “play along” format as easily as a “complete this activity” format. We typically don’t do “how to” sessions, though. Any attempt to do an activity in an hour should be bite sized, and easily differentiated for different skill levels. An ideal session might have a 10 minute interactive overview, choices for a 30 minute hands-on activity, and another 10 minute interactive “wow, look what you can do” demonstration. We also encourage welcome and reflection activities as the bookends to each session. But often a series of “wow look what you can do” moments each followed by “now you try” can be very successful in the hands of the right presenter, especially if supported by moving anecdotes, examples, and inspiring ideas. So we don’t put many requirements on our presenters. Instead, we ask them to share what they are most passionate about sharing – and only invite people we are confident will know how to deliver this magic. :)

There are certainly many other answers to the question of “what makes a good one-hour conference session” but this excerpt addresses one of the answers that has worked for us… and worked for me, both as a participant and an organizer. Naturally, I’d love to hear comments on these thoughts – and on what you think makes a good one-hour conference session – here on the blog. Please participate below. :)

What did I learn? Search Google News Archives

I wrote (most of) this on the plane ride home after the Google Apps for Education New England Summit last week…

If I’m going to blog publicly, I can ask myself… what did I learn this weekend? I usually learn something new at each summit… from dropping in on sessions, or from good questions asked in my own sessions… or, of course, from new tools or features released since I last ran my sessions. :)

Thanks to an attendee question, I relearned how to search the Google News Archives using the new interface. If I post this to my blog, I’ll have to re-record a new video of it. It’s awesome. In short, though, you can now access the Google News Archives by simply visiting Google News, and clicking on the drop down arrow in the search box. One of the options is to search in the archive – and you can limit your search by date as well.

Here’s the video… my first screencast using my new Linux laptop. I used RecordMyDesktop to create an ogv file and then uploaded it directly to YouTube. I forgot to turn up my audio input first… and YouTube seems to have crunched the resolution down pretty far, but considering I wasn’t up for a second take, I’m pretty happy with how it gets the point across. :)

Given my difficulty in articulating what else I’ve learned this weekend, I think another take away is this: I’ve got to make it more of a priority to spend substantial time in the other sessions in order to learn something new each time (and to take advantage of where we are, and who we are with). It will also help me have an even better idea about how each presenter runs their sessions and how the events are going. Right now I stick my head into every session (when I’m not presenting) to see how it’s going. I busy myself taking pictures (as unobtrusively as possible)while I get a sense for how the energy in the room, but I don’t usually stick around for the content. Most of the content is of course familiar to me, but I still pick up nuggets here and there, and there’s no doubt in my mind that the speakers at these events have vastly different experiences and expertise from mine – that I could benefit from if I put more time into listening.

That being said, I did learn A LOT this weekend, but not necessarily about educational technology. I continue to learn a lot about business… and about people (and organizations)… and about myself. These things just might not be appropriate for an educational technology blog. Depending on the reflections, though, they might work here (it is an “and life” blog too after all), or they might work on a separate blog – or perhaps on an anonymous blog. Or perhaps only in a private file – in a hidden directory on an encryped drive. I’ve been doing some journaling too. ;)

Back to Blogging: NaNoWriMo & DigiWriMo

Tonight I’m reflecting on the power of writing – and on the power of blogging. I thought it might be appropriate to share some of it here.

For the last three years I’ve had my eye on National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo). The writer in me has looked on with jealous interest as over a hundred thousand people each year attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

I once wrote a great deal of fiction, science fiction actually – and perhaps ironically, a great deal of poetry as well (which eventually became song lyrics during the years of 1996 to 2003). Sometimes I think the work I do now is also something like a marriage of these two genres, but since starting my Ph.D. in 2003, I haven’t written a new song… or new poetry… or a story (at least not a complete one of any of these). I sometimes thought I would write more again when I was done with the Ph.D., but that hasn’t turned out to be the case. Of course I still write. I wrote a 215 page narrative for my dissertation. On many work days I easily spend 6 hours or more writing email, planning documents, etc. – and many more hours than that writing tiny bits of whatever as I complete my work at my keyboard. But it’s very different.

So each year, NaNoWriMo captures my attention. I consider doing it, but I back out due to my workload. This year, I decided that it was more important to practice the spirit of it than to stick to the 1667 words a day (which would take me about two hours… time I don’t have every day). For now, I’ve settled on 30 minutes… and I’m not even holding myself to doing it everyday. So far my record has been abysmal, but… I’ve written more this November than in any of my previous “attempts.”

Most of it has been false starts and most of it has been crap. I’ve really struggled with what to write (or more accurately, I’ve struggled with committing to writing something). I started two stories. I started a blog post. I started a more personal journal. And I broke out my two book outlines for Educational Technology books (one based on my workshops over the past ten years, and one on based on my vision for what schools could be today).

Naturally, I’m questioning whether or not I want to write fiction at this point in my life. I love the idea in the long run… but in 2012, for the most part if it’s not family or work, I’m not doing it… and it seems hard to write something (oh I don’t really mean this, but) frivolous… something that doesn’t directly support my goals. I still fancy myself a science fiction author (with rejection notices to show for my early efforts – so I am a “real” writer in that sense), but it’s been years… and it may be a few more yet.

That being said, I may still benefit from something less structured than writing a book in my professional field. That doesn’t exactly help me “write things out” or explore other parts of myself. I find myself ripe for discovering a twist on NaNoWriMo… Digital Writing Month (DigiWriMo), which encourages writers to produce 50K words – in any digital medium. More importantly, it encourages writers to play with the medium (and most importantly, the effect) of their words. Anything online counts – blogs, twitter, wikis, etc.

This happens to correspond pretty closely with my long ignored goal to blog more regularly again.

I won’t have the time for 50,000 non-work related words in November… and I won’t spend the nearly 2 hours I used to spend on most “true” blog posts. I won’t even write for 30 minutes a day, and I won’t even post everything I write. But, I could actually write 30 minutes (or more, as usually happens once I’m rolling) on most days. And if I keep that up through to the end of the year, I might really have something to show for it… or even lots of little somethings, since I’ll certainly journal things I don’t post – and I may even write some fiction (perhaps for my two little boys).

It turns out I’ve had a very healthy approach to annual resolutions (or more accurately, habit changes) the past few years… and I’ve often used November and December to “try out” changes before committing to them for a year. It’s in keeping with the “lean learning” or “lean living” philosophy (as in “lean manufacturing” or “lean start ups”) of “testing early and often.” In any case, after trying this for two months, my hope is that writing 30 minutes a day might be something I’ll feel comfortable committing to in the new year.

30 minutes can be a long time if you’re just writing. This post was written in about 20… after I screwed around deciding if I would compose in wordpress or a Google Doc… and after updating plugins and themes on my wordpress blog. :)

One of the reasons I’ve chosen to focus (primarily) on blogging as the form for my writing this month (and perhaps beyond) is that I’m a big believer in (and evangelist for) connected writing. Durring my dissertation, I found the writing experience was much more powerful and valuable when I posted what I was writing to my blog than it was when turn it in to my advisor. And I continue to see that the value of my writing for others grows over time when it is shared. If any piece of writing is searchable and discoverable online it may be “accessible and useful” to others. It may help like-minded people to connect… and it may help those of differing opinions (or different resources and experiences)to challenge each other – and to grow. Even though I’m sure I’ll journal some personal things, too, I suspect I’ll find the same is true with this new writing process. If you’ve read this far, I hope you’ll share your own thoughts in the comments below.

And maybe you can weigh in on whether or not I’m really just avoiding committing to a 50K word project that requires actual planning – and avoiding putting myself on the line by writing something so substantial that others will actually judge.

More soon…

Nexus 7 Tablets Given a Test Drive by Second Graders

By Second Grade Teacher Julie Stewart

Anytime a class set of items enters a classroom, there needs to be an organized method to monitor them.  I realized that our new tablets could be managed just as easily as anything else in my classroom.  I would just use the classroom student identification numbers I assigned the students on the first day of school.  This would ensure that each student would always get their own tablet.  (I will let you know why this is so important to me in a later post.)  I made labels with their last names and ID numbers.  I took a photo of each box with their last name and number.  I then attached the labels to the back of the Nexus 7 tablets.  After attaching the label to the tablet, I took a simple colored dot with the ID number written on it and attached that to the box.  (This was cheaper than using label tape!)  This allowed me to store the boxes and remember which tablet belonged with which box and have a file stored with this information.  Beth and I also opted to leave the clear plastic film on the tablets to help protect the screens for as long as possible.  We figured that this was better than nothing for the time being.  We shall see how long this packaging film lasts as our cheap screen protector!

After getting the tablets marked with ID numbers and handed out to their new owners, we were finally ready to get started!  I gave the students a brief overview of the Nexus 7,  how to turn it on, and basic care and handling.  Since the students had already set-up their Google accounts the week before the tablets arrived, it was so simple to have them enter their information after turning them on. Oh, there were a few who had to try it a couple of  times, but it really was easier than I thought it was going to be.  The only minor glitch was when it came to the step where the wireless security code needed to be entered into the tablets to allow for an internet connection.  I realized that I had to put that information into each tablet myself!  It happened to be our lunch and recess time, so I was able to get it all done by the time the students got back to class.   Needless to say, they were pretty happy that I had every tablet ready to go.  Their excitement was pretty high at this point.

After all of the start-up steps were completed, they were ready to take their tablets for a test drive.  The first thing they wanted to do was visit was Google Earth!  It was a simple and easy first task. Their first couple of stops on their virtual trip was their house and our school.  Then one of the students suggested that we visit different countries.  It was not long before most of them were gathered around the world map in our classroom and found the places they wanted to see.  By the end of the class period, I believe that every continent had been visited by my classroom travelers.  This proved to be a very exciting virtual field trip.  I think the most exciting moment that I captured in a photo was when two students found out that they could visit Paris!  It was a great teacher and student moment!

We definitely had a great first lesson with our new tablets.  Our test drive was a huge success!

Second Grade Teacher’s Dream Fulfilled With the Arrival of the Nexus 7 Tablets

Cross posted at blog.EdTechTeam.com.

By Second Grade Teacher Julie Stewart

It is just about a year ago when I told Beth Mossholder, our resident Google Certified Teacher and technology teacher, that I was going to try to find a way to get tablets into my classroom.  Little did I know that I could actually make it happen!  After attending the Google Apps for Education Rocky Mountain Summit this past August, I knew I had to get the 21st century into my classroom for more than just one day a week when my class had a technology class.  When I saw the opportunity offered from the Ed Tech Team to place Nexus 7 tablets into the hands of students for a pilot program, I knew this was my chance to make this a reality.  I applied and am now thrilled to be part of this amazing journey that has already opened the world up to my students.

September 24, 2012 marked the beginning of this amazing journey for my second grade class with the arrival of our classroom set of Nexus 7 tablets.  We had been following the shipment via UPS with their tracking system, so when we saw that they were in Colorado at a UPS depot just miles from our school, the class could hardly sit still!  The school office was alerted to make the phone call once the truck arrived with this very special delivery.  Beth and I knew our world was about to change in a matter of hours.

The phone finally rang with our much anticipated phone call.  I quickly got the students to line up; how I managed that I will never know!  I went two doors down from my classroom to get Beth as my second graders followed me like little ducklings all in a row.  We started to hurry down the long hallway when hurrying suddenly turned into something similar to running.  The chatter of  happy voices disturbing every classroom along the way was priceless!  Little faces peered out from behind classroom doors as we made our way to the school office.  We were greeted with a smiling UPS delivery man with the special delivery from the Ed Tech Team!

This had to be the best day ever for my second graders!  The addition of these tablets is going to change the way my students learn this school year and beyond into their futures.  The 21st century has arrived in my classroom, and I cannot wait to see where it takes us.

Thank you, Ed Tech Team, for making a dream come true.  Our journey has just begun and what a ride it is going to be!


New Laptop, Phone, & Service: Open Source, Unlocked, & Contract Free

UPDATE: I buried the lead… by switching from AT&T to StraightTalk I’m basically getting my new phone AND laptop for FREE. :)

Wow. I exhausted all the possibilities and finally settled on a new laptop, phone, and phone service. I’m going all open source, unlocked, and contract free. :)

Laptop: ZaReason UltraLap 430

Phone: Google Galaxy Nexus by Samsung

Service: StraightTalk Unlimited (Month-to-Month)

BTW, I’ll save more than $1000 over two years by leaving AT&T… plus another $1400 since I’ll be canceling my MiFi as well. I can buy a new phone whenever I want! (This made it easier to say no to the Samsung Galaxy SIII for now, as did the promise of Jelly Bean sooner on the Nexus… not to mention the Nexus was half the price unlocked. I really wanted to do the SIII on Credo for $199, but the two year contract at AT&T like prices turned me off despite Credo’s social mission.)

Also, the laptop has double the RAM of a Maxed out Macbook Air, and more SSD storage than possible with a Macbook Air… for over $300 less. And, I found great looking alternatives to all my favorite Mac Apps, including TextExpander and FlyCut. Oh, and they’re all free.

These are still not inexpensive purchases, but I feel like it’s money well spent… I was out the door for 15% less than I would’ve been with a maxed out Macbook Air and a basic iPhone 5. And with the savings over time with the cell plan, I basically just got my new phone and computer for FREE!

I guess I buried the lead, eh?

And of course I’ll be sharing my experiences switching from OS X and iOS to Linux and Android… and I’m looking forward to finally walking the open source talk. :)

Learning with Google+ Hangouts OnAir

Yesterday we hosted a Google+ Hangout OnAir to promote the Google Apps for Education California Summit in Santa Clara, July 12 & 13. Our special guests were Day 2 Keynote Speaker Dan Russell, Ph.D. , spotlight speaker Rushton Hurley, and committee members Jim Sill and Molly Schroeder. Each of them shared a brief bio, and then a tip or philosophy from the session(s) they’ll be leading at the summit. It was a great Hangout, and I think, a great taste of what it will be like to be at the summit with all of these people – and hundreds more like them. We hope you’ll join us.

But more importantly, this Hangout was also a great learning experience.

For those who need to be brought up to speed… Google+ is Google’s new social network (coming up on a year old publicly). A Hangout is a feature of Google+ that lets up to 10 users video chat simultaneously. It also allows screensharing (and other add on “apps”), making it a powerful tool for learning. An OnAir Hangout is also broadcast for other viewers (who can leave text comments to interact with the Hangout participants) and recorded for future use. The OnAir feature is still only handed out to celebrities, public figures, and Google+ users with many followers. I received my access from the Google Apps EDU team.

In any case, this was my first true Hangout OnAir, not counting a few “tests” and a conference session I “streamed” at CUE last month. I tested this a few times before the real thing in the afternoon, and lesson one was the reminder that tests are good, but there’s no substitute for real experience. Increasingly, I’m of the opinion that this is the best way to learn, though… by doing, playing, failing, and then reflecting and sharing your experience. :)

So, I usually do a Hangout on my Macbook (three years old, but recently refit with a solid state hard-drive making it ridiculous fast), but I’ve had even better reliability with the Chromebooks in my office. So, I tested it out by hosting the Hangout OnAir on a Chromebook… only to discover that I couldn’t share my screen! I then joined the same Hangout from my Macbook and was able to share my screen. Initially I thought this was because the host couldn’t share his screen, but for the real thing I ran it from two Chromebooks and discovered that you can’t screenshare on a Chromebook (right now). I’ve since tested this… I can screenshare on my Mac regardless of whether or not I’m the host of an OnAir Hangout… and I can’t screenshare on my Chromebook no matter what. I read online that this feature was missing on Chromebooks last summer when Hangouts launched, but that by November it was working well on Chromebooks. I suspect the recent UI update to Google+ has sidelined this feature on Chromebooks once again. Hopefully it will be back soon. In any case, I still used my Mac to make my screensharing presentation during the Hangout (I was logged into the Hangout from two machines at a time during the whole event… first two Chromebooks, and later a Chromebook and a Mac.)

Unfortunately, we also had other issues – and not just the usual “my mic isn’t working, let me rejoin” type issues. Soon after the session started and I handed it off to other speakers, the tab hosting the Hangout on the first Chromebook froze. No big deal. The Hangout persists… but I lost the ability to force focus onto a particular speaker (usually Hangouts do their best to feature whoever is speaking at the time… and having others mute their mics really helps cut down on chair shuffling noises shifting the focus of the video… this is an old school video conferencing problem… but OnAir Hangouts allow the host to click on a particular speaker to force focus onto them). What happened in this case, though, is that the focus got stuck on me, even while Dan and Molly were speaking. Then part way through Molly’s talk it jumped to Jim, and I’m not sure why. The focus remained on Jim throughout the rest of the Hangout! If memory serves, the focus was shifting well during some of the live event (for me at least), so I’m not sure why the recording turned out this way. In any case, this is why it’s a blog post about learning now, and not something we’re promoting more for it’s own sake. :)

Happily, learning by trial and error (and “lead learning”) was something of a theme of the discussion during the hangout. John Hall, a potential attendee at the summit, joined us and let us know he was just learning about Google+ Hangouts, and I assured him that so were we. (I even mistakenly said I’d just learned that you can’t screenshare as an OnAir host.) Jim had to pull the “cooking show” maneuver to show off a finished product of a demo he tried live but didn’t come together in time (he was sharing Google Calendar . And even Dan tried to show me a trick in Google Books, which wound up not working… but it led us to discover another that did.

Incidentally, I also just learned that YouTube’s increasingly awesome online video editor is limited to only 15 minute clips, so I couldn’t annotate this video, by say, adding this link directly in the video: http://ca.gafesummit.com

Also, JUST NOW I tried to launch another Hangout OnAir (to test something) and wasn’t able to until verifying my YouTube account (via SMS). My account is now able to upload clips longer than 15 minutes. Apparently I was able to do that yesterday via Hangouts OnAir, but it appears I can now do that even through YouTube’s upload interface. Cool.

I hope this post might be helpful to some of you… and I hope many of you might consider joining us at the summit in Santa Rosa this July 12th and 13th.


And if you’re in the Rocky Mountain region, you might consider joining us for a similar event only minutes from the Google Office in Boulder Colorado on August 2nd and 3rd: http://co.gafesummit.com


We’ve also got summits planned for 2012-2013 in Mexico City, New Zealand, Hawaii, Australia, Singapore, the UK, and elsewhere around the US and the world. Each of these includes speakers and support from Google – and the potential for touring local Google Offices. Be sure to subscribe to this blog for announcements and updates, or follow us on Google+ and Twitter.

More soon…

Thank You

This is an excerpt from a response I wrote to a thread of messages between some of my colleagues and friends who recently connected at the CUE conference. What I wrote, though, applies to so many other people, I thought I should share it here as well (especially since I wound up alluding to the title of this blog, the first place I began to connect with a new sort of community, which might be called my PLN, but has certainly become much more).

This was definitely a special CUE conference… and our shared events have been increasingly so for me in recent years. This feels similar to the sort of connections you might be lucky to make in school, but we’re all geographically distributed already – and this won’t be “over” when we all “leave.” Our remote connections also make our limited times together that much more special… and I love that our “reunions” are spent making new memories. #climbingcue #cabanacue #latehikecrew etc…

There’s also something special about having chosen or found each other, rather than simply being brought together by circumstance (at a school… or home town, or workplace). It’s amazing how much I respect each of you (and so many others in our community) as professionals, as educators, as learners, and as people… and I’m grateful for the opportunity to have a more personal relationship with so many of you.

It seems to be a lesson I need to keep learning, but many of you have helped me rediscover the importance of the “and life” element of our work. In short, you make me feel good about being human. “Thank You” is an apt title for this thread. I’m very glad to have been included.

And I’m thrilled to end this message with: More soon…

For some readers of this blog, I’m very much talking about you (or perhaps you’ve experienced this with different people). For others, this might serve as yet another example of the potential power of a Personal Learning Network (PLN). In any case, please share any comments or responses here – or via email. And, as I used to end so many of my early posts, thank you for reading.

Image Credit: woodleywonderworks

EdTechTeam at CUE 2012

The EdTechTeam has just finished a busy week at the Computer Using Educators 2012 Annual Conference. Many of our workshop resources are available for free online (under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license). We hope you’ll use these, and share them with your colleagues and students.


Let us know in the comments if you have any questions about these workshops – or anything to add to the resources.

And, of course, contact us or fill out the online request form if you’re interested in bringing these workshops to your organization or your region.

Incidentally, I was particularly excited about my own sessions… both were new and both went very well:

What Do You Want to Learn? 20% Time in Education

Google Certified Teachers Share: What’s New From Google for Education