Thursday, 6 April 2017

Blended Ways of Working

Now, more than ever, with the rising need for collaborative inquiry across and with schools, there is a need for online spaces that allow teachers and school leaders to come together to share resources and discuss and debate with one another. These spaces can be used to supplement and support the face-to-face (f2f) discussions that take place.

There are many reasons for wanting to use an online space, these are some:
  • accessible 24/7 on any internet-capable device. This allows people to take part at a time and place that suits them
  • some people will contribute in a forum but not f2f. It means the quieter folk get their voices heard
  • Resources in the cloud - not easily lost, everything in one place
  • Content such as images, videos etc can be added and are thus easily accessible
When deciding which space to use it pays to think about what you need from an online space then check what is available against your criteria. Some things you might want to consider are:
  • Can anyone join? Do you need to have people outside your school joining? This is important for clusters as some platforms won't allow participation of those outside the school domain. Is it easy to join? 
  • Can you easily add files and resources from your computer and Google Drive?
  • Can images and videos easily be shared and can they appear as an image or embedded video rather than just links? What can you add these to replies in a discussion?
  • Does it need to be private and if so can you change the privacy settings to suit?
  • Can all members easily participate in a discussion in the group?
Table comparing options:

Joining Easy to  discuss Add files Add images
& video
From link  email.Needs Gmail acc.
Upload Office files to Drive or use Office 365 Sharing
Public or Private
Yes - from link or invite. Can join from outside domain.
Can create discussion channels.
Yes and can embed some code.
Public or private. You can create channels for sub-groups
From email or code.
Join as teachers.

Yes, can add files via link or upload them to your library & share
Can create sub-groups
VLN group
Need VLN acc. Closed groups - email invite
A little clunky
Adds a download link
Links. Can upload some resources.
Can be public or Private
Face- book group
From link or invite.
 Requires Fb acc.
Can upload files to the group. Can link to other files.
Open, Closed or Secret
Email invite
 Add a link.
Can embed some items eg Google docs
Images &
embed Youtubes   in posts. Post links in replies.
Public, private or invite only
Google Class-room
Email invite or code. Must have Gmail acc.
Yes, works best when all  are co-teachers. 
Upload Office docs to Drive or use Office 365 Sharing 
Yes but only the link appears in replies.
Invite only

So what exactly are the options out there and how do they measure up? Here are a few of my favourites that include the ability to discuss topics:
  • Google+ Communities Can be public or private.   Public - can ask to join if you have the link. Can restrict to just your domain or allow members outside the domain. Need to have gmail address and join Google+. Can invite via a link with members asking to join or invite by email.
    Private - invite by email, only members can see posts. Can moderate discussions by only allowing approved posts.
    Can create polls, add photos and embed video. Add files via a sharing link or upload to Google Drive and share the link. Very easy to have a discussion on a particular topic.
    Overall a good option if people have Gmail accounts (school or personal)
  • Slack - Works like a news feed but you can have several different feeds (channels) going within on Slack group so you could have a general one and one for each separate main topic you discuss. Each learning challenge or goal could have its own channel for example. You can choose from within group members as to who can see the channel so you could have sub-groups. Easy to add resources. Need to authenticate Google Drive or Dropbox first then directly link to files from these.
    Overall a good option for discussions and is easy to join and use although the format may take a little getting used to.
  • Edmodo - has the look and feel of Facebook but doesn't require a Facebook account. Join Edmodo as a teacher then use the group code to join the group
    Can add files from computer or links to files. Can add quizzes and polls.
    Overall this is a good option alternative to a Fb group if all teachers don't have a Facebook acc or they don't like using it for work purposes.
  • VLN group - Any teachers can join. Joining with school email address seems to make the process quicker.  Can set the privacy of a group: Open - any VLN member can join. Anyone can view, only members can comment. Closed  - invite only, can only be seen by members. Discussion threads can be started and resources can be shared as links or in uploaded. This is a little clunky however. Posts are ordered with oldest first which seems counter-intuitive.
    Overall this option is not so easy to use for discussions or adding resources, nor are they as viewable as other options. If a public group is wanted it has the advantage of being very visible to teachers.
  • Facebook group- Open - anyone can see posts and join, Closed, anyone can see the group and ask to join but only members can see posts. Secret - invitation-only. The advantage of this is that many people are already on Fb and the discussions will pop up in their feed or they can get notifications if wanted. A Fb account is required and not everyone has or wants one and some like to keep their work and personal life separate.
    Files can be uploaded to the Files section or a document created although there can be formatting issues with this. In posts resources can be shared. Adding hashtags eg #numeracy can make finding related posts easier.
    Discussions can be held on a post and images and videos appear in the reply.
    Overall this is a good option provided all members are happy having a Facebook acc and using it for work purposes.
  • Blog - (This refers to Blogger but most other blog sites are similar) Anyone can be invited as an author via their email address but they will need to set up a Blogger or G+ profile if they don't already have one. Blogs can be private, viewable just to authors or by invitation or they can be public.
    Blog posts display in chronological order with the most recent at the top. You can use labels (like tags) on your posts so that you can easily find related topics. People can comment on posts so a discussion can take place but resources can only be shared as links in replies.Individual pages can be set up on a blog. These are more static and can be useful for sharing resources.
    Overall blogs are probably more suited to sharing resources or individual reflection on teacher inquiries. Teachers could invite either public comments or specific people to get feedback.
  • Google Classroom - Until recently you could only use Google Classroom within your school domain unless each school changes the settings in their admin console. Then you can invite people from the domains you allow.
    There is an alternative now as personal Gmail accounts can use Google Classroom. Members must have a personal gmail account to join the Classroom if it is created in a personal acc. which could be an issue for some.
    Google classroom is easy to use once set up and does allow for announcements and questions but so far isn't really set up to easily participate in a discussion and other than the "teacher" there are limited rights given to participants. You can have up to 20 teachers added so for groups of 20 or less this could work.
    Can send docs as viewable or with edit rights. Can send an indiv. copy of a doc to all or some members.
    Overall this option is more suited to use with students than teachers.
Based on the ease of holding discussions I'd recommend Google+ Communities, Slack, Edmodo or a Facebook group. Each have their pros and cons however, so think about what the priorities are for your group and choose accordingly.
If you are just wanting teachers to share their inquiries and have other teachers give feedback then a blog can also work well.

Please reply in the comments if there is another platform you have used or would like reviewed. I'll be posting next week on static resource sites.