Thursday, August 6, 2020

A Place for Students to Congregate

A collective cheer went up earlier this summer when Google announced that Meet would include breakout rooms this fall. That is, until educators realized that breakout rooms would only be available for GSuite Enterprise customers. Breakout rooms are one way where Zoom and Meet differed in the spring, so many people are anxious to have this feature in the Google tool they can access. I saw a tweet recently (I'm sorry that I can't remember who tweeted it!) about Congregate as a way to manage groups in video conferences, so this week I tried it out.

Congregate is in public beta and will accommodate groups of twenty so far. Sign in with your Google account and create an event. Once you have created your event, create tables. You can add seats to the tables to make your groups a particular size and name them table 1 and so on or get more creative. Invite participants to join. When participants join, they will enter the lobby of the event and can be seated at a table.

When you are seated at the table, a Google Meet opens up. Then you can video chat with the members of your table. You can see the Meet controls under the photos in the image above. Each table also has a chat function. If you move to another table, you end up in a different chat.

The host of the event can change the number of seats at the table or throw a table away. You can also see at a glance how many people are at each table. Within the settings you can change the color scheme, add a password to your event, and add dates for the duration of your event.I loved using this tool! I love the look of the tables and that students can move around. It was easy to set up and join with Google accounts. I love that I can join the tables and listen in on the student conversations and then pop out to the next table. While I am doing that, I can watch the lobby view for student movement or access the chat to check in. 

Now I just have to hope that Congregate stays free (at least for this school year) and adds capacity for a few more students. With those two things, this tool will enhance a lot of classroom experiences this year.

Meeting Students Where They Are -- on TikTok

Last year I joined the Texas Computer Education Association. They say everything is bigger in Texas and TCEA is no exception. It was a big deal - literally - when they offered a free membership and I snapped it up. In 2020 they offered free memberships again right around Teacher Appreciation Week, so I grabbed one up again. Boy am I glad I did! As part of the membership this summer, I have participated in several free "Lunch n Learn" webinars, fast introductions to topics. My favorite one this summer was about using TikTok in the classroom.

The thirty minute webinar was a crash course. The premise was simple - you don't have to buy into the social media aspect of TikTok. And you don't have to dance. Instead, use the quick and easy video editing tools of TikTok to make short clips for your classroom. When you have your video perfected, you can download it. Then you can upload to YouTube or post it in your LMS.

Teachers are masters at using a tool in their classrooms even though the tool may have been designed for something totally unrelated. My plan is to make videos that make chemistry more tangible. In chemistry, we do a lot of talking about what the particles look like, so that seemed like a good place to start. Thirty minutes was perfect for inspiration, but I needed some extended time, so I turned to my local TikTok expert, my teenage daughter. She showed me the basics. Choose a sound. Record a video (15 seconds, 60 seconds, or use a template). Add a filter if you want. Add effects. Add text. Publish publicly or to your private collection. Download if you want.

She helped me make my first video:

And I created the second one all by myself:


OK, the second one has some problems. In the spirit of sharing my learning, I posted it anyway. It's a work in progress. Now I know that I have to use vertical video. And everyone on TikTok can probably guess my age.

As I think ahead to the coming year, which will no doubt bring more remote learning, I am giving a lot of thought to engagement. One way to engage students is to meet them where they are, in their learning spaces, instead of demanding they enter ours. TikTok is one students space where I hope to meet them this year. Keep watching here, or on TikTok, for my progress.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Just in Time for Back to School: Nearpod Your Videos!

As we inch closer to the beginning of the school year, many of our favorite tools will start rolling out updates that make us love them even more. The first of these exciting announcements, for me, came from Nearpod. As of yesterday, they have incorporated interactive video moments into their already amazing presentation and student response tool. I was lucky enough to be in the beta testing group for this feature, so I am very excited to begin using it with students.

Nearpod already offered an easy-to-use platform for interactive presentations. Bring in a presentation, or build it in Nearpod, and add questions to gauge student understanding or weblinks, videos, and virtual field trips to deliver content and increase engagement. Now they have extended some of these interactive features specifically to videos.

Like presentations, you can grab a ready-made video from their library or bring in a video from YouTube, your computer, Google Drive and more. Once your video is loaded, click at various points on the video timeline to add an open-ended or multiple choice question. When you're all done, click Save. Then launch the video the same way you would a Nearpod presentation and deliver the 5-letter pin code to your audience.

When people watch the video, they will see a timeline across the bottom of the screen. Blue circles on the timeline indicate places where interactive elements are inserted so students will know when questions are coming. Questions pop up underneath the video and can be expanded to take up the full screen. Students can leave a question blank but they must submit an answer (or a blank answer) in order to continue the video. It is possible for students to rewatch portions of the video if needed. Want to see one? This sample will be available through September 30, 2020.

Once students have watched the videos, their answers are available in the Reports section of Nearpod. A very clean layout makes reading student answers easy. Navigation arrows in the upper right hand corner make jumping from question to question a breeze. The video report reminds me very much of what you see during a live lesson; it's easier to find what you need here than with a typical Nearpod report.

If you have used EdPuzzle or PlayPosit, you can probably already list some advantages of interactive videos. So far, this tool certainly does not do everything that those two do, but I like that this feature is now embedded in a tool I already love and my students regularly use. As I think about providing instruction this fall, and consider my options for experiments, I know I will use Nearpod's latest addition quite a bit. Plus, interactive video at Nearpod will continue to evolve, so I am expecting great things to come of this tool. I can't wait to see where it goes next!