Saturday, August 11, 2018

Authentic Audience and Authentic Engagement - Interactive Stories Using Free Google Apps

I already wrote a lot this summer about the most exciting, creative project I've been involved with in a long time. I worked with some students to create a story one short piece at a time. What made it amazing was we'd publish the story on the school website, then let the readers complete surveys to tell us what should happen in the next chapter.

This gives the students experience with writing for an engaged, authentic audience. Everyone involved was excited to find out what happens next in the story!

We told our story in comic form, using my favorite method of combining real life photos with comic elements. Of course, it will be much easier to create the stories if they're written as prose rather than comics. I'm calling them interactive stories and I will outline the process below. (There's even a 10-page ebook with tips at the link at the very end of this post.)

We actually ran into a snag in the middle of our comic project, so I resorted to some written chapters just to keep the story going. That gave me some experience with what I'm about to describe.

The Flow of the Project

  • Explain the project to the students - This includes the very important aspect of telling them what course content you expect to see in the story. They need to know what they are supposed to learn from it.
  • Write the first chapter - Students (the Storytellers) would begin by writing a short chapter to kick things off. It just has to be long enough to introduce some characters and make a cliffhanger that will hook the Readers. I suggest using Google Docs for this, since it's easy to share in a later step.
  • Create a short survey - Using Google Forms, the Storytellers create a survey with three to five questions that will help them decide what happens next. We embed the link to the survey right in our story, so anyone who reads it can easily find it. See the link at the end of this post for lots of tips about making good surveys.
  • Publish the story - We put a shareable link to our story on our school website. The Readers would find it there easily, read it and complete the survey.
  • Make the next chapter - The real learning happens here! Combining the lesson goals, the Storytellers' ideas and the input from the Readers, the Storytellers have to plan and write the next chapter.
That process continues with another survey, publishing the new chapter, getting feedback and so on. As it comes to a conclusion (probably after several weeks) the Storytellers probably will request less and less feedback. 

If doing the story as a comic sounds even better (which I think it can be!) I created this ebook for the process using comics and it includes a ton of tips for getting started and working through the project. 

While it can be so much simpler to have students write the story in Google Docs, much of that ebook will till be helpful. The link below takes you to a free, shortened version that will help with these written stories.

Some tips specific to this written process are:
  • Use a fairly large font with generous spacing. Dense text is not fun to read on a screen.
  • Even with large fonts and spacing, try to keep the chapters to less than two pages. Your Readers might go for longer passages, but we found many wouldn't bother reading longer chapters.
  • Make sure you set up Google Forms so the responses are not anonymous. This is very important if you ask for open ended comments. As the teacher, you might choose to manage the survey responses.
I summed up the Gathering Feedback section of my ebook into a much shorter PDF. You can find it here:

If you do this project with a class, I'd love to hear about the results! Please send me an email and let me know how it goes. Include a link to the story too!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Scanning Text to a Google Doc for Editing

Here's a neat trick I didn't realize would be so simple! Note that this only works on Android phones right now and I use a computer or Chromebook for the second part.

While doing a virtual book study of What School Could Be, I needed to copy passages of text from the printed book. I accomplished this easily by using the Scan option in the Google Drive app.

It's all shown in the two-minute video below, but here are the main steps.

  1. Open the Google Drive app on an Android phone.
  2. Tap the + and pick Scan.
  3. Take a picture of the printed text.
  4. Retake it or crop it as necessary.
  5. Click the + to add more pages.
  6. Repeat steps 3 - 5 until you've scanned everything you need.
  7. Tap the check mark. That will upload the scans to your Drive as a PDF.
  8. Then on a computer, locate that PDF in your Drive.
  9. Right click on it and select Open With Google Docs.
  10. Make minor edits to the text if necessary.
I've found it works very well. I made this informal video for the teachers in our book study. Itshows the screens as I go through the above steps.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Our Collaborative Comic Story

Last fall I wrote about an interactive story experiment I started with some students a our middle school. They enjoyed our usual Google Slides comics assignment, so we decided to start an ongoing story based on input from the rest of the school.

We started the comic in September and worked on it regularly through October. Then classes changed and I got busy with other projects. It took a lot of effort to finish it, but I'm happy with the results.

You can read the complete story here. I added plenty of notes throughout, so you can get an idea of the work that went into it.

We ended up telling the story in a variety of ways, using photos, drawings and even prose.

Throughout the project I tried to faithfully incorporate ideas from the students who followed along and gave their feedback through Google Forms.

In the final weeks of school, I reunited with the girls who started it and we brought in the additional characters. We had one last photo session. It was a hectic end to the school year, but I managed to complete the final chapter and publish it on the very last day of school.

This would be an excellent addition to a Digital Media class. The skills involved went far beyond just familiarity with Google Slides.

As with any of the comic projects I've written about, you could publish the final product in a variety of ways.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Updated - Show Off Any Project With Google Sites

This is an updated version of a post I made in 2017. It addresses some changes to the publishing process in Google Sites.

Regular readers and anyone in my training sessions has heard me repeat it. "Show off the learning!"

There are lots of ways to show our best work, but doing it online is certainly one of the easiest. Even if the end product is not digital, it's now very easy to show it off online using Google Sites.

I created a one page document and video tutorial for teachers in my district to give them this easy way to show any product digitally. It makes use of the new Google Sites, which I absolutely love. 

Google Sites doesn't have a ton of options, which means students won't lose time finding just the right font and background image. 

So imagine students made a physical "something" in class. You could give the students this document of directions and they'd end up with a web page that shows pictures or video along with text, showing off what they made and learned. 

Remember that you'll have to supplement those directions with specific things you need to see on their site. For example, you might ask for three or more pictures that show all sides of their project and a detailed description of what it is. I also suggest always requiring a summary of what they learned from the project.

Here is the full video tutorial. The document has links to the relevant sections, so students don't have to watch it all at once.

And here is the single page of steps that you'd give the students. Notice most of the steps link to the exact place in my video tutorial. That way they don't have watch everything if they're stuck on only one part.

Some things to note:
  • My directions and tutorial only show the how. It directs them to you for the what.
  • Students would need to take pictures or video of their project, then upload those to Google Drive first. I didn't show that in this tutorial, but it's very easy if they have the Google Drive app at their phones. I consider this to be a survival skill in today's world. I'm working on making a good video to show this process.
  • Some students forget to do the sharing step (labeled as #1 on my list). If that happens, you won't be able to see their pictures or video when you look at the site. 
  • If your students are restricted to sharing their documents within your G Suite domain, then your site will be restricted as well. In any event, the sharing of the pictures, videos and published site will need to be changed to Anyone with the link if you want it shared beyond your domain.
  • Step #8 is another common pitfall. Students often will send the link to their side of the website instead of the published version. It is clearly shown in the video, but they need to pay attention.
  • I didn't address adding multiple pages in my steps, but it is very intuitive to add a new page. This could be great for organizing information about a larger project.
  • Note that my final step tells them to turn it in through Classroom. If you use a different process, you'll need to modify those directions.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Updated for 2018 - Simple Video Presentations with Google Slides and Screencastify

This is an updated post about a process I've been promoting for years. It uses Google Slides and Screencastify. Since they recently updated the app, I remade the main tutorial, which you can find below.

The idea of these projects is that students make a slideshow presentation, then they record the screen and their voice as they present it.

Teachers can also use this process to make simple, quick videos for lessons to post in Classroom.

Here are two examples of how the final video might look.The first is best to show students, but keep in mind it actually was made with SnagIt instead of Screencastify. SnagIt is no longer available. The second one was designed for teachers and refers specifically to their activity.


Screencastify is a great Chrome extension for this process. It makes it very easy to record the presentation on a Chromebook or laptop. It also links directly to Google Drive, so students don't have extra steps of uploading video files to Drive.

You will need to install Screencastify from the Chrome Web Store or, if your school uses a managed Google domain, you can have your administrator force install the app for you and your students.

As referred to in the video below, the first time you run it, it will take you through a simple setup process. Just allow all the permissions it asks for and sign into your Google account when it prompts you.

The tutorial below shows how to actually record the presentation. As it says in the video, there are three things students should do before recording:
  • Install and setup the extension. This is not shown in the tutorial, but it's very easy.
  • Make the slideshow. I suggest doing this in Google Slides, but you can use any slideshow app.
  • Practice! It's very important to rehearse the presentation because these have to be done in one take.

As you can see from the tutorial, the resulting video ends up in Google Drive. From there it's easy to share or turn it in through Google Classroom.

Keep in mind that the free version of Screencastify puts a watermark on the screen. It also limits you to a 10 minute recording and 50 recordings per month. There is a paid version which removes those limitations and watermark. It also allows for some basic editing. I haven't paid to upgrade yet, but that option to edit is very promising. 

If you have any questions about this process, please let me know. I'd like to improve these resources so they benefit many students!