Thing 16: Collaboration tools

Six years ago I was one of three people (two coordinators and the HoD) responsible for drafting weekly class tests for each module on English language training, across different levels.  For uniformity purposes collaboration was vital.  They contained speaking activities, listening activities, reading extracts, images, clip-art, and questions of varying format. However, collaboration was a nightmare. First, our time was taken up with different tasks in the normal day-to-day running of the ESL department. Second, when we could, we would work on our local PCs, back up on the flash drives, and then go into the local network’s shared drive to back up again and create a master copy. If one worked at home, the documents would be copied from a flash drive to the work PC, overwriting a previous copy, and then again placed on the shared drive, overwriting the master copy. When we all worked on these tests over the weekend, there we would be, on the first day of the week, trying to retrieve and edit the same master documents, but in turn, as only one person could access a particular master copy at a time. 

Confusion

Confusion by Stuart Miles courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Needless to say, the entire process was a mental battle, trying to establish which was the latest and final edit! In the end each task often ended up with multiple copies, and all three of us at a loss as to which was the actual copy to use. Not only would we have to ensure that the copy on the shared drive is the correct one, but all our local backups needed overwriting, as well as the documents of the flash drives. We realised that our collaboration was a shambles!  As far as drafting final tests were concerned, it was all best left to one person, we decided.  The downside was that that person was sent multiple emails (leading to new stress)  Cool_sign with questions and suggestions for additions, and telephonic debates on the side.  The whole process was stressful and was repeated weekly.  Somehow we managed to get the tests issued on time every week, but only after many private hours spent by one person, at the weekend.

PC Frustration

Has the above story rung a bell, or revived old unpleasant memories? Made you confused and exhausted? Good! Because it drives home my point on just how wonderful it is to have Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox, OneNote and all the other programmes that allow effortless collaboration.  Microsoft’s SkyDrive (now OneDrive) was available from about 2008, but cloud computing was a mystery to most of us, and those who were not techie-minded were adamant – they were not going that route.  Witchcraft

Even our IT department was suspicious of the cloud, and consistently avoided any queries.

Dropbox was around soon after, but again, not widely used.  Google Drive was only created in 2012, long after I left the ELT department. Had we have had those programmes and their current features, oh, our lives would have been made so much easier.

collaboration

Collaboration by Urs Steiner on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

So averse was I to creating backups of backups of backups, that as soon as I began my course in 2010, I immediately turned to SkyDrive and Amazon Drive. When Google Drive arrived, it quickly became the popular choice.  Today, documents can be created within these drives, shared, commented on, and collaborated on.  google docsNo constant backing up and transporting of flash drives. It is safe…in the cloud. 😀  (Indeed, the onus is on the creator of the document to keep a back-up of his/her documents on site, but at least the documents and files on the cloud are not on a device that may drop, become damaged, corrupted, be mislaid, or anything else.)  Truly wonderful. And now I can just about hear all those questions and comments regarding security and the cloud?!  Haha, well after 6 years of using it privately, I would never, ever, NOT EVER, look back!

Bullseye

 

Win target by Stuart Miles courtesy of freedigitalpotos.net

 

Earlier this year, as an intern in the school library,  I was tasked with designing reading badges.  These were digital images created with an online badge maker.  To share them with the librarian would have resulted in countless emails containing rather large image files.  Instead, I stored them on Google Drive, and shared each grade’s folder with her, automatically sharing the documents within. All she needed to do was to click on the link, open the folder, edit and/or save the file on her computer for printing.  No pain. No flash drives. No back and forth emailing. The folders were downloaded onto her PC, organised according to grades,   all ready to go.

Today, in the library where I volunteer, no-one seems to be using  collaboration tools.  It may be that their needs are different, but I have on multiple occasions wished I could give someone access to a document or form that I have created for the library, instead of having to email it as an attachment.

My favourite  is Microsoft’s OneNote, which I use to take notes for both professional and private use, and create documents with to share with friends or family. It is user friendly, has multiple features, available on all devices, also allowing collaboration between different users.  The writer of Rudai 23 Thing 16  has provided a super explanation of Google Drive and Doodle as collaboration tools. (I have made my entry into Thing 16’s  Google Drive document, by the way. )

Cloud computing. heart Cloud collaboration. heart My personal thanks to the founders  and developers of these software.

Thing 17 will be a reflective practice blog entry. Until then…cheers. 😀

Images: 
Featured image: collaboration by Laura Billings on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Gifs from giphy.com; clipart from wpclipart.com.

Image of Google docs by Steven Combs on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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Thing 9: Screencast video

Sssshhhh screencasting

Shhhh by Betsy Weber  on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Oh gosh!! Rudaí23 Thing 9 was a particular challenge.  As one of those individuals who seeks tutorials on YouTube for much, I am especially appreciative of the amazing folk who take the time to teach others – even the most basic concepts of computing are needed by some.  Because this is something that I imagined I would enjoy doing, I’ve always wanted to try a screencast (audio visual recording of a process on the screen) to see how it is done.

Little did I imagine how tricky!  What I thought would take 3 mins, actually took +- 9. Apart from the fact that I once again had to listen to my own voice over and over (and over, and over…. does this give a hint of how many times I discarded and restarted…? :/ ), each time I began recording either the doorbell rang, the dog barked, or the A/C rattled in the background, until I was totally exasperated. What’s the saying…

Keep calm and carry on

Anyway…after 3, or was it 4? hours, I decided I was going to do the very last take. EVER!
Apart from the frog in the throat, and the mixed up vocab, I decided to use it, and here it is Rudaí23…my effort at screencasting. LOL!

onenote app for iphone

 

 

Opening a new Notebook in MS OneNote 

by

LibSandy

 

I used Screencast-o-matic, which was really user friendly.  I downloaded the audio file onto my PC, which I then uploaded into my YouTube channel (can’t believe I have succumbed to opening a YouTube channel! 😉 ). I decided to tackle annotations, because living in an environment where most use English as a second language, I know how important it is to get the message across clearly. I was totally amused at some of the auto annotations; it gave me a much-needed giggle.  After roughly 30 mins of editing the annotations were acceptable.

Once I had calmed down and published the video, I began to realise, once again, just how valuable a tool this is. Visual and auditory learners benefit much from this form of learning, and if it were incorporated more into teaching it might serve a dual purpose and make the teacher less…ho-hum. This article says it all.

Of course, if there are teacher librarians having a week like mine, where they struggle to meet the demands of domestic bliss with professional devoir, let alone development, this is the go-to tool, isn’t it?

screencast infographic

Narrated slide show = Screencast by Wesley Fryer  on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

A ready store of these in hand, on any given topic  is just the thing (yes, it would take time to put together – say over the year you do one every so often). In a really fraught week you could pop one on for that 20 min time slot that you are allocated to try and impart some media literacy into the always-tired-not-another-library-lesson minds. Or what about those times when the class pours in and the teacher goes…”Didn’t I book this with you? I was sure I had.” (Yeah, right!)  Librarian to the rescue…(remember above meme)…librarians are never supposed to show botheration.

I guess the more you do this kind of thing, the easier it would get.  I did write the script beforehand, but it’s hard to read while working your mouse over the screen.  That means you’ve got to know your subject and be sure of where to move the cursor, what to show and what to say. Oh, and hopefully you have a speedy internet service if you’re going to hop between windows and websites. It must be soul-destroying with a slow connection, and then having to edit out all the dead sections.  Another tip: get your vocab sorted. 🙂  No stepping into the pitfall of using one term for a thing, and then another for the same thing further on. (I think I was guilty here…but hoping whoever would want to use my video will get the idea. Lol.)

The totally awesome Kathy Schrock has penned this great article – Screencasting and Screen Recording in the Classroom.  I couldn’t explore all the links, since I just didn’t have the time, but the one on “It’s like writing a play” (also from the TechSmith blog) is spot on!  I just need WAY more practice. Challenge accepted!   This method of demonstrating can be used to great effect in all libraries – screencasts linked to the website or embedded in Libguides to show users how to negotiate the catalogue, or how to access various databases, for instance. Any experienced librarians out there that can tell me how they use screencasting? I’d love you to leave a comment below.

For an example of good screencasting I found this:  how to find Creative Commons images with Google. The video is dated 2011, but the info is valuable.

Thanks for stopping by folks.  Thing 10 is coming up and I find myself looking for that monkey emoticon …

see no evil

Till next time. Cheers.

Meme created with ImgFlip Meme Generator
OneNote image via Flickr by Alan Parkinson (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Thing 4: Pssst! It’s that ‘G’ word…

Google logo for blogs

Google logo for blogs, by SEO on Flickr, under a creative commons (BY-SA 2.0) licence.

 

As librarians we’re into communication and collaboration, the topic of Thing 4.  Google is the focus of this topic, but in my opinion, as educators and librarians, we are obliged to know the benefits of the commonly used communication/collaboration applications out there.   In this way we will be able to speak about them with authority, and assist others when the need arises, to make a choice or to set up their accounts.

From personal experience, making use of different services, if possible, makes for more efficient working environments.  Cloud computing has been a favourite of mine over the past 5 years, as it has kept me sane. Seriously.

4502026170_4bf31f04e6_z

Flickr photo Descending Clouds, by Gary Hayes, under creative commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) licence. 

I understand that there are people asking valid privacy questions regarding the ‘cloud’, but after spending years backing up stuff, first on floppy disks, then on CDs, then external hard drives and memory sticks, and backups of backups, it’s such a relief to pop a doc into a folder on your desktop and to know that it’s taken care of – probably for good. It’ll be there whenever and where-ever needed! (Unless of course, a disaster strikes at the location of the storage warehouse, but hey, it’s their job to make backups, right?) :p  Yes, I know, I know…it’s right and proper to still keep a backup yourself. 🙂

Not having to remember what to back up, or having to lug those devices around and, most of all, not having to guard them so that they don’t get damaged, is such a bonus. When my hard drive went on my laptop a few years ago, I lost a couple of unimportant documents and a few of our latest photos, but nothing serious.  My habit of placing everything in a cloud drive paid off.  When the new drive was installed, it was merely a case of carry on as before, after installing the desktop folders which sync automatically.

I use cloud services from Amazon, Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive and Flickr. Oh and iCloud, since I’m an avid Apple fan.  Because of my love-hate relationship with Google, I purposely avoided Gmail and Google Drive, until a few months ago when I began as an intern librarian at an international school. School-wide they used Google Education Apps – everyone communicated and collaborated (with parents too) using Google tools.  I saw the benefits first hand and realised that vast amounts of time and paper were saved while increasing cooperation and efficiency.  At the time I proposed to learn more about Google’s capabilities, but it didn’t happen then.  After 4 months at the school I sought out an internship at a different library.  What I did do though was to follow a few very talented and skilled people on Twitter, who are Google certified teachers, to be able to learn from them. Here are two: Alice Keeler and Catlin Tucker.

So, if it sounds like I’m selling something…I am – the Cloud! Not necessarily only Google.  Although Thing 4 focuses on the Google ecosystem (as I’ve heard it referred to) and make no mistake, it is impressive, personally I favour MS Office and its related apps. Here’s a shout-out to  OneNote logoMS OneNote…a note-taking, collaborative app that I have used for years (sadly not to its fullest potential); I use it all the time, across all my devices with great success.  I’ve heard it said that Google’s equivalent, Google Keep, is not quite up to the same standard.

Flickr photo shared by Microbiologybytes, under creative commons (BY-SA 2.0) licence.

Consequently, when I looked at Thing 4, my initial reaction was “Oh no, why the emphasis on Google!”

Oh no

Flickr photo, ‘Oh no’, by Courtney McGough, under creative commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) licence.  


However, I explored and worked through the tasks.  Reclaiming my Gmail account, setting up two-step authentication, checking the privacy settings, and setting up a profile took the greater part of 2 hours since it was all new to me.  But admittedly, once that’s done the hard part is over. I am really impressed with the functionality of Gmail. 🙂 It is a great email app.  Exploring the tools took another hour, after which I chose a few that I would use regularly, to link to my account:

  • Google translate: living in a country where Arabic is the first language, I often have to translate something, and this works really well for me. We’ve been expats for so long, I sometimes need Google translate to find words in my other mother tongue, Afrikaans. (I grew up speaking English to my mom and Afrikaans most often to my dad and other relatives.)
  • Google calendar: is really efficient, and just recently became even more so with this feature.
  • Google maps: saves my life regularly on the roads here in Doha, with infrastructure development taking place on an ongoing basis. Now that I have set up my Google account I can personalize the map app.
  • G+: a social app, similar to Facebook. Google-plus-iconSince I’ve only just set up my profile, I can’t comment on it, but it is nice to know of another manner in which like-minded professionals can connect and communicate around similar interests. I’m not on Facebook because I choose not to be at the present time, due to time constraints, but G+ appears to be more focused towards interests. I chose to follow an animal lovers group and a Smartphone Photography group for now. Will aim to search for Rudai23, and a couple of library accounts soon. A G+ account is also needed to be able to communicate using…
  • Google Hangouts: Hangouts_IconGoogle’s chat function, either via messenger or video.  I’ve seen it used in a conference setting and it worked well.  Yesterday, I tried a hangout with my daughter in Australia.  After initial PC sound battles, it was quite effective.  Google hangouts allows up to 10 people simultaneously on video chats and many more on messenger.
  • Google Drive: offers an impressive 15 GB cloud storage to subscribers.  It is shared across Drive, Gmail and Google Photos, a mobile feature that some like and others are sceptical of. According to Rudaí23 writer, Stephanie Ronan, Google Photos organises, categorises and even animates some images. Not sure I’ll be testing this photo app, though, as I’m happy with Flickr.

This last week I experienced the joy of using the cloud. I had a large volume of library signs and a Powerpoint presentation to deliver to the library where I volunteer.  I had designed these documents at home. Instead of emailing them, I was able to download them from my cloud storage, onto the desktop at work.  Here I could edit them, resize them for printing, and collaborate with fellow librarians on their design.  This method minimizes the correspondence by email.  We all know that emailing large attachments can be problematic, so downloading from the cloud is truly the way to go.  Sharing a link to the document by email or messenger is also a way to share, and this is used especially when you are not personally going to be at the point of download.

As an example, here is a link to the reading badges on my Google drive, for Grade 5s, that I created using online SaaS, for a school’s reading ‘Across the Genres’ programme.  (If you’re a teacher and you’d like to use these, they can be downloaded with my compliments. 🙂 )

That’s my take on thing 4’s communication and collaboration tools.

Till next time, and thanks for reading this far. 😀