So Many Silver Linings

This past week I had the pleasure of co-hosting a TweetMeet with some of my fellow Digital Lead Learners @GEDSB21C: Teaching in the Cloud, in collaboration with #MSFTEdChatCA and I have to say, it underscores what a powerful tool Twitter can be — truly to my amazement. Let me explain…

It wasn’t so long ago that I joined Twitter, mostly due to attending the Connect2016 conference in Niagara Falls. I kept hearing about Twitter handles and what so and so found on Twitter and who they connected to, frankly, I found it mind-boggling, so I just had to see what all the fuss was about. Little did I know the world it would open for me. It would be a gross understatement to say I was surprisingly shocked and in all the best of ways. No longer did I see Twitter as some silly piece of social media that celebrities used to entrap the common man in their media web. It could actually be used with great effect for meaningful dialogue.

Over the course of the next year and a half, my appreciation for Twitter magnified. I have had the opportunity to develop a PLN (Personal Learning Network) full of innovative, creative, supportive educators who I will probably never meet, but who have and continue to help me grow and learn at what would be described as an exponential rate. Case in point: a year ago, I didn’t even know what a TweetMeet was, let alone think I would be helping to host one!

The cloud offers so many silver linings

Flabberghastedness aside, (I know, I’m an English teacher, and that probably isn’t a word…but it works!) I was further thrilled with the new views, ideas, and possibilities that I learned through the TweetMeet. The cloud offers so many silver linings: co-authoring and collaborative possibilities in real time, ease of accessibility, and powerful learning tools to name just a few. Let’s look a little closer at some of those silver linings…

Co-authoring and Collaboration

Cloud access allows for teachers and students to co-author and collaborate in real time. That’s powerful learning community! Jeff Dumoulin

One of the many things the cloud affords users is the ability to co-author and collaborate in real time. Being able to share files via OneDrive (available in Office 365) allows users to collaborate and co-author quickly and easily.

You can see in the above picture that you can click on any file in your OneDrive holdings, right-click the vertical ellipsis next to the file name, and select share from the drop-down menu. Once you click share a new window opens where you can then send emails to whomever you would like to share your file with. You are also able to select whether or not to allow editing or only viewing by your invited parties.

What does this mean specifically? In my class, I have utilized this ability to encourage student collaboration. During our time working on the Climate Action Project, my students were able to share a PowerPoint slideshow and a Sway presentation to work on simultaneously to develop cohesive presentations that we then uploaded and shared globally on the project website. Likewise, sharing OneNote notebooks offers the same collaborative ability across small or large groups of people – whether that is a whole staff, a department, or a working team. Our English department has a shared OneNote notebook that we all contribute to that contains complete courses for every class we offer in the department as well as other teacher resources. It has been an excellent way to support new teachers coming in to cover a leave as well as seasoned teachers who are teaching a new course. Class OneNote notebooks allows even more capabilities by including various sections with different permissions: a collaborative section that can be edited by anyone who the notebook has been shared with, a content section that can only be edited by the teacher but viewed by all, and a student section which can be edited and viewed by the student and the teacher. Class notebooks are a versatile platform for blended learning models, as an easy means for students to stay organized, a great method for students to access work from home, or allow parents to see what their child is doing and stay updated about their child’s work. Changes made by any author are automatically synced keeping any file up to date for all users and across all platforms and since OneDrive can be synced not only to your desktop, but your tablet, cell phone, or whatever device you may choose to use, students can use whatever device they are comfortable with.

In short, the cloud allows students and teachers to work together anytime, anywhere. It opens the door to increased participation and engagement for students who may not do so in a traditional classroom setting. Furthermore, parents can be given viewing access in order to support and showcase student learning to the fullest.

Accessibility and Learning Tools

Cloud tools offer accessibility features not available from the traditional blackboard note. Dave Abbey

Accessibility features and learning tools are game-changers when working in the cloud. Many of these capabilities are offered across an array of products to allow the user seamless operation and ease of use. First, the Microsoft’s Immersive Reader function which started in OneNote has been expanded and now lives in Outlook on the web, OneNote for Windows 10 app, and Microsoft Word online. The Immersive Reader helps people read more effectively in a number of ways: it eliminates common distractions, such as advertising, from the screen; it has a read-aloud feature to aid in decoding and comprehension; it allows the user to increase spacing between letters in order to eliminate visual crowding, and it will even show the break-down of syllables and identify parts of speech. All of these techniques have been shown to greatly improve reading comprehension and reading ability. (For more information see Leveling the Playing Field with Microsoft Learning Tools written by Katherine McKnight Ph.D. and published by the Center for Evaluation & Study of Educational Equity RTI International). Secondly, Microsoft now has the Dictate add-in for Outlook, Word, and PowerPoint that uses speech recognition software to convert speech to text. Not only great for student’s who have difficulty writing, but think of all the times you wish you could take notes or just jot something down, but you’re driving or making supper, or whatever. Now you can do it orally. There are many more tools and capabilities that allow easy use and access for everyone and a myriad of examples of their use. I encourage you to share your moments with others about how you and your students use these tools.

If you are interested in learning more about any of the tools I’ve talked about, there are great tutorials on the Microsoft Educator’s Community. Interested in joining a TweetMeet but don’t know anything about it? Check out TweetMeet: Join the Chatter. Getting Started with OneNote and OneNote Class Notebook: A Teacher’s All-in-One Notebook for Students are fantastic introductions to these powerful tools and finally Accessibility Tools: Meeting the Needs of Diverse Learners offers overviews of all the capabilities Microsoft tools and apps have to offer.

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