2017 RCET Conference

Just a reminder to Willard teachers that the RCET conference is coming March 7-8 at MSU. Since Willard is a member district, the conference is free to staff members.  The keynote will be delivered by Kyle Pace , an Instructional Technology Coach from the Kansas City area.  Learn more about Kyle on his blog “Learning is Leading“.  For more information or to register go the RCET-SW website.

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Synergyse for Google Apps

Google announced this week that they had acquired a Canada based company called Synergyse.  They specialize in google apps training within your chrome browser.  It is an extension called “Synergyse Training for Google Apps” and is a free download in the Chrome Web Store.  I have been playing with it and while a bit basic, it is a really good concept.  If you are new to Google or still not sure about how some features work, this might be just what you need.  The extension will load and ask for permission to access your information and from that point it will load every time you are logged into Chrome.  It creates an extra icon next to your name icon in the upper right.  If you click on it, you will get a list of help topics for the app you are using.  Help topics are available in Drive, Calendar, Email, Docs, Sheets, etc.  They are generally either slide shows with audio or sometimes just audio.  Very helpful and a good tool for anyone that wants to learn something new – like how to do Google Forms.  Give it a try.

Fitness Wearables

Like many of you, I have followed the “Internet of Things” evolution over the last few years.  One of the big categories that has emerged from this is the explosion of wearable technology.  As a frequent walker / jogger, I like to track my steps and activities.  I have worn a fitbit device for a few years.  I first wore the fitbit one and then moved on to the fitbit flex.  I was wearing the fitbit flex and a pebble watch last year when Apple released the apple watch.  I wanted to combine the function of the two into a single device.  The apple watch seemed like a good option (although not crazy about the price).  So I swallowed hard and forked out the $350 for the device.  I have been wearing it now for just over 6 months.  I use it for notifications thus replacing the need for the pebble.  I use it for activity tracking so it replaces my fitbit flex.  I am just not “wowed” by the device – for $350 I was hoping for Wow!  It is an impressive device but I think it is still a work in progress.  I am sure many users think it is great.  I am also certain there are features that I have yet to tap.  I am a bit disappointed in the 1 day battery life so therefore no sleep tracking.  The interface to upload any of your data to track activity is just not very good.  I was a bit spoiled by the fitbit tracking and convergence features

Of course, since that time, there have been other devices on the market that do many of the same things.  One that has recently caught my attention is a competitor to the apple watch called the fitbit blaze.  It is set to be released later this year, but appears to do many of things that I want my apple watch to do – tracking, heart rate, messaging – but also has a battery that will last 5 days so it can track sleeping and will sync with your phone GPS for longer runs or rides.  It does not do phone calls, which that apple watch does.  I am sure there are several other differences.  The price point on this device will be around $200 and that will attract some buyers.  I look forward to hearing more about it in the coming weeks as well as other new “wearable” technology that might be coming out.

If you would like to read more about some of the new wearables – many just announced last week at the CES in Las Vegas – follow this link to a PC Magazine article by Timothy Torres.   Hopefully you will find that device that meets your particular habits and needs.

Google Status Check

I have to admit that we are all becoming more and more dependent on google in our work here at school and in our daily lives.  Like all technology, we just expect it to always work.  I will give google credit for being a very solid and dependable suite of applications.  But they are not perfect and once in a great while there is a problem.  Such was the case last Wednesday and last Friday.  The timing of Friday’s outage was terrible for us as we were having a professional development day and staff collaboration was going on all around the district when the majority of the problems occurred.  It needs to serve as a wake-up call.  We live in an amazing time but there can still be problems.  Obviously, the first step is to identify the problem.  There is an Apps Status Dashboard that anyone can check to determine if Google is having any known issues.  If they are having issues then it is on to “Plan B”.  You can pre-configure your machine to be able to work offline during an outage.  Here is a short tutorial from PC magazine about how to do that.  It has to be done ahead of time, so it can be your “Plan B” for those outages.  It is not a perfect solution and obviously there is no real-time collaboration, but maybe it will help make the time productive.

Become a Gmail Power User

I have used a personal gmail account for several years and a gmail work account for about 3-4 years.  I thought I was pretty knowledgeable about gmail.  But today I read a PC Magazine article by Eric Griffith called 33 Gmail Tips That Will Help You Conquer Email.  It turns out there are quite a few things I did not know or maybe just didn’t bother to learn.  I got some great tips and I am anxious to work them into my routine.  He lists some keyboard shortcuts you may like.  He does a good job of explaining dragging / labeling in gmail, a skill that I struggle to get a grip on.  Here is a new one – dots in your email address mean nothing.  Who knew?  I have been using a private gmail account for years with a dot in my name because I thought it had to be there.  Nope.  They do not matter.  Another area of google where I have struggled is when adding items to the tasks list or to the calendar.  I generally open the calendar and then copy and paste in order to create the event.  You can simply highlight something in an email (meeting tomorrow at 10) and then click on the “more” drop down arrow at the top of the email and create an event or add to tasks.  These are just a few of the tips from the article.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it to any gmail user to try to pick up some shortcuts and tips to help them conquer email.

Google’s “Unsend” Feature

In case you missed it this week, Google announced a new “unsend” feature in gmail.  It will allow up to 30 seconds to retract an email that you have sent.  I am sure we have all accidentally sent something before it was completed or perhaps something we should not have written.  I am not sure 30 seconds is enough to save me from all future embarrassment, but there has to be a compromise.  Obviously, lengthening the unsend feature would only add to the delay in your mail actually being sent / received.  I think it is a compromise that will work and have it set on my accounts.

In order to use the “unsend” feature, you will have to change your settings.  Here are the step-by-step instructions for making the change – thanks to Google Support:

  1. Click the gear in the top right .
  2. Select Settings.
  3. Scroll down to “Undo Send” and click Enable.
  4. Set the cancellation period (the amount of time you have to decide if you want to unsend an email).
  5. Click Save Changes at the bottom of the page.

If you had Undo Send turned on in Gmail Labs, your Undo Send setting will be on by default.

Health wearables

I was in Kansas City this weekend and stopped by an apple store.  I wanted to see the Apple Watch first hand.  It was everything I expected.  Unfortunately, so is the price tag.  I am still trying to convince myself that I should pay $350 – $400 depending on the size and then another $50 for applecare.  I will say I am getting closer.  The health care piece may be the thing that ultimately sways me to this major purchase.  As more and more apps are developed for the heart rate and health capabilities of the watch, I can see the value of the device.

As we age, having a way to automatically record all of our health data, activity, heart rate, etc, could potentially be life saving.  I do not think the Apple Watch is quite there yet, but I do believe it is on the right track.  Here is a good article from Jill Duffy at PC Magazine about the apple watch as well as some other trends in health wearables. According to Duffy, within the last 6-8 months, many health wearables have moved away from “gen one” devices to more advanced tracking and data collection.  What is next?  Through the ResearchKit platform, Apple is working to gather even more health data.  We could potentially be recording years of health data to monitor as we age.