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Posts Tagged ‘google

If I had to choose a video conferencing platform for education, I would stick with Google’s offerings. Why? It has a better track record in education and privacy policies for learners [1] [2] [3] compared to Zoom.

I have been forced to use Zoom before, and while the tool was convenient, the company’s statements and claims did not create confidence. It was also designed to work in the office space and not the classroom, so its privacy policies and user protections are barely in place.

Unfortunately, Google Meet languished even when emergency remote teaching was in full swing. So when someone tweeted some upcoming changes to Meet, I was excited.

But the same person did not provide a link to an official source of this information. This was not a responsible move.

About 10 days later, Google officially announced several of the changes represented in the tweet. Google clarified that features like attendance tracking, polling, and breakout groups were only for G Suite Enterprise for Education customers.

Changes to GSuite Enterprise for Education customers: Attendance tracking, polling, breakout groups.

The background blur and/or replace feature is an example of empathetic design. It recognises that students might not be comfortable showing their home environments.

Whiteboarding? Sigh. That is a classroom relic brought into the online space. They are clunky at best — writing and drawing are still not as immediate and easy.

Meeting moderation and attendance taking. This should make administrators, policymakers, and parents happy. But they recreate what Zoom already does and create unnecessary busy work for an online educator.

Consider how an attendance list is something learners can sign on their own time (even as the class is in session). Online attendance and being corralled in a waiting area requires someone to check each student and permit them to enter the online classroom. This is administrative busy work that should be done by an adjunct or a member of support staff.

An educator has already enough to do. An administrator might be worried about physically getting bums on seats and they transfer that worry online. But an educator recognises that physical or online attendance does not mean that the student is also there mentally. S/He would rather focus on the teaching and learning, not the attendance taking.

But I digress.

Hand-raising, polling, breakout groups? These also recreate what happens in the classroom. But they are good for interrupting teaching so that learning can happen, i.e., get the teacher’s attention, taking a pitstop to gauge progress, and provide opportunities to negotiate meaning.

I look forward to the upcoming changes in Google Meet. Unfortunately, I will not get to use all of them (or at all) since many of the agencies I work with have been seduced by the popularity of Zoom.

I do what I can to educate my parters, but if they choose not to listen to me, they get a harsher teacher — Miss Takes. She might offer painful lessons, but they are effective.

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Almost a week ago, I wrote about my plan to embed audio scaffolds for an asynchronous online portion of my class.

Embedded audio in Google Slides.

I created four sections that relied on this simple strategy to provide what an oldish-school distance educator might call telepresence or social presence.

To test its feasibility, I did two main things.

First, I wanted to simulate the use of a wireless hotspot where bandwidth might be an issue. So I visited my resources from two Wireless@SGx hotspots — one was at a library and the other a fast food joint. The audio loaded after a two or three second wait. This was acceptable.

Second, I visited the same resources on a phone. While Google Sites does a great job with responsive web design, I was not sure if the audio in embedded Google Slides would work seamlessly. I discovered that

  • desktop and mobile browsers do not play the embedded audio by default depending on the user’s security settings
  • users need to manually play the audio on mobiles despite my design to let it play by automatically
  • the default slide selection does not work as expected

The last point needs explaining. Sometimes I use the same slide deck across different pages, e.g., slide 1 for web page 1 and slide 2 onwards for web page 2. I set slide 2 to load and play audio automatically in web page 2. However, while this works on a desktop, it does not always work on a mobile browser.

My conclusion: Advise my learners to use a laptop or desktop computer. The experience is optimised for the larger screen and a less shackled web browser.

Presentations are sometimes necessary evils. At worst they are lectures conducted in the name of efficient dissemination of information. However, they do not ensure that students actually learn.

Google Presentation embedded in Google Site.

Instead I am planning on using Google Presentations as a scaffold for semi-self-directed learning during an asynchronous online class. The learning is not pure SDL because I am pointing, telling, and guiding the process. To do this, I am embedding audio cues in the slides embedded in a Google Site.

Video source

The video above provides instructions and tips on how to do this in the latest iteration of Google Presentations. The essential steps are:

  1. Prepare a script.
  2. Record audio instructions as MP3 or WAV files.
  3. Upload the audio files in a shared folder in Google Drive.
  4. Insert each audio file to the slide that requires it (From the menu: Insert -> Audio -> select folder and file).
  5. Test the playback.

I am reminding myself about this old news: The sunsetting of classic Google Sites in favour of the newer version is the end of 2021.

Why the reminder? I have over 50 Google Sites: 44 are classic and 10 are current.

I am making the transition slowly to focus on the sites that I rely on regularly. But the main reason is that each move takes time and effort.

The conversions are not complete and clean. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has exported a website and transferred it to another platform. There are relatively minor issues like font changes and page permissions. But there are also major ones like non-working plug-ins and broken embedded content.

The best thing about the new and improved Google Sites is the WYSIWYG simplicity. It also uses responsive web design so I can author on a laptop and the site will automatically fit and arrange content in phone browser.

The biggest loss in the new Google Sites is page history. Google Sites have wiki architecture at its roots (I reflected on my early adoption of Sites and its precursor). Page histories are fundamental to wikis because they allow users to see what and how a page has changed over time.

This reflects one of my educational philosophies — it is important to see the processes behind a product, not just take a product at face value. In the case of learning, I am not just interested in WHAT my students might learn; I want them to know the HOW and WHY.

Yesterday, I conducted a Google Hangouts (GH) version of my face-to-face module. It was for eight students who had to take a COVID-19 leave-of-absence.

I had to make substantial modifications because the module was optimised for blended learning, not online-only interaction. The changes would take too long to explain here, but I reflect now on the simpler technical and social tips that make the pedagogical path smoother.

Ensure that everyone has a Gmail account first. Everyone being in the Google ecosystem first prevents problems later.

There are several ways to invite participants to GH. For me, the fastest way was to invite everyone was via a Google Calendar update with an automatic Gmail notification.

Do not use the video call option as this limits the number of users to five for those outside the Edu or Enterprise plans. A normal hangout via Calendar or Gmail invitation hosts 25 users and includes the video call anyway.

Google Hangouts screenshot of screen sharing in progress.

GH automatically switches to the user it thinks is speaking. This means that a user’s background noises can switch focus to that user. If you are screen sharing, tell users to mute their microphones. This keeps the focus on your screen share by preventing audio leaks from each user.

Highlight the texting tool at bottom-left corner of the video conference window. This is not normally in view and requires a rollover of the cursor to the bottom-left corner. It is a handy emergency tool should audio or video cut out.

Advise users to wear ear/headphones. For users of laptops, this prevents audio feedback from the speakers to the microphone. If they do not, the entire session can sound echo-y to everyone. If the ear/headphones are noise-cancelling, all the better for reducing ambient sound.

Tell users to find a quiet place with a strong and reliable Internet connection. Duh.

Use laptops, not phones or tablets. Functionality is limited on the latter by design.

I changed my mind. Here is one pedagogical design principle: Simplify the tasks. GH is not a full-blown conferencing system with hand-raising or group discussion spaces. Those features require paid subscriptions to platforms like Zoom or proprietary systems in LMS.

I cannot remember the last time I used Google Hangouts (GH). But it must have been a few years when it was new and I had remote interviews and consults.

Actually, I do not have to remember. As it is linked to Gmail, I looked at the chat feature and noticed video calls listed in 2016.

The rise of the novel coronavirus (now officially named COVID-19) had me digging deep into my free tools toolbox. I think GH blinked when it saw the light.

But in all seriousness, GH is simple and I intend to conduct a roughly three-hour make-up class for students affected by the leave-of-absence they served as a precaution.

I hope that the simplicity of GH means that we overcome the technical hurdle so quickly that it recedes into the background. That way we can focus on the pedagogy and learning, the content and the social interaction, the deconstruction and reconstruction.

As entertaining as the video below might be about browser cookies, it is not quite accurate or informative.

Video source

The journalist made a point about how cookies track who we are, what we do, and when we do it; this helps marketers. This is true.

It is also true that Google Chrome is the most popular browser and that it is not immune to tracking cookies. But it is not true that it is difficult to switch this off. One needs only go to: Settings -> Advanced -> Site Settings -> Cookies -> Block third-party cookies.

I take that back. Not many will bother to change that setting if they do not know where or how to look for it.

People with business acumen might watch the video below and focus on the numbers, i.e., how much the companies stand to make by capturing the education market. They might also view this as a competition, but they are only partly right.

Video source

Prudent schools and educational institutions have learnt to be brand agnostic. Players like Google and Apple seem to recognise this. For example, you might have iPads deployed in classrooms, but users might prefer Google Drive to iCloud, so the two giants co-exist like parents.

I have worked with both in the past and realise that their representatives put their money where their mouths are. I recall Google Education folks toting Macs and Apple representatives not minding my approach to using the Google Edu Suite during a workshop proposal.

All this was a few years ago and the goal posts might have shifted. But I doubt they have moved so far that they try to blow the competition out of the water and risk destroying opportunities.

I like using Google Sites. They are open almost by default and I can embed just about any tool for teaching and learning. This is true for the classic and current versions of Google Sites.

The ability to embed, say, a Padlet was not a given when the new version rolled out. Content and tools were restricted to the Google Classroom or Drive suites. Thankfully that has changed given how educators who wish to incorporate technology are brand agnostic*.

*I type this on a Mac for a reflection posted on WordPress about a tool Google bought and redeveloped.

However, there is still one change that the classic version of Google Sites had that the new version does not — page level permissions.

Google Sites access permission.

I can selectively share an entire site with a group or users or open it to all. This is a site-level permission setting. I still cannot specific page level permissions.

One enterprising user suggested a workaround — embedding user-specific Google Docs in a page, but this is not as good as providing fully fledged editing rights.

It has often been said that technology is just a tool. It is not.

We shape our tools and then our tools shape us. -- Marshall McLuhan

I do not have argument with “tool”; I take issue with “just”. Tools are not always neutral because they are designed with intent and function. These are part of the affordances of any technology.

What the layperson might not understand is that while some affordances are designed for and expected, others are negotiated or emergent.

Video source

So when Google released its video on Searches in 2018, it chose to focus on the good and not the bad. This does not mean that it and its users did not do any evil.

We live in an era when we seem to have the unprecedented ability to generate and spread both misinformation and disinformation. Our technologies may have enhanced and enabled these, but we are responsible.

A gun may be designed to fire a projectile, but it is a person who choses a target, takes aim, and fires. Or not.

Likewise, Google Search extends our reach for information far beyond our fingertips and borders. But we can choose to reinforce our walls or burst our bubbles. Which we choose to do also depends on Google’s algorithms.

Google Search is a tool, but not just. The demean the description with “just” is to assumes that our searches are pure queries. They are not. We should not ignore that searches can be biased by algorithms and our mindsets.

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