Education, Learning and Development, Technology

Teacher Tools

Happy Quarantine!

 

While I am targeting this post to the many teachers who are figuring out how to reach their students through virtual classes, it is good information for anyone working virtually with others. There are a number of free applications and programs. There are even more subscription services.  For today, here is a list of things to check out.  This list was provided to me by a program coordinator at UNCC (The University of North Carolina at Charlotte). My favorites are in color.

 

PowerPoint:  Yes, I know. We have all experienced torture by PowerPoint.  Do not underestimate the power of PowerPoint!  It is a VERY simple tool to do so many things. You can create presentations of course, simple and fast infographics, and other things you may not have tried.  Sometimes I need an infographic to be animated in my video. Rather than build it in my video program, I create the graphic in PPT, add some animation, then save as an MP4!  It cuts the time in half.  

ScreenCast-o-Matic: Present your instruction and add yourself in the picture so students feel a little more connected.  

Animoto: Turns your photos and video clips into professional video slideshows in minutes.  (Animoto.com)

Flipgrid: Students record short videos and can reply to each other’s videos. Educators are 100% in control with video moderation and access controls. (Flipgrid.com)

HP Reveal (Used to be Aurasma):  Video; take document and record a video- record a video over text. (Hpreveal.com)

Infogram: Helps with creating infographics (Infogram.com)

Kahoot:  Kahoot! A free game-based learning platform that makes it fun to learn – any subject, in any language, on any device, for all ages! (Kahoot.com)

Lucid Chart App that is available in a browser; great for charts to put in presentations or share. Sometimes you just need a good chart. (Lucidchart.com)

Lumen PDF: Allows you to work with PDF documents, sign and edit. 

Pixton: Create comics and storyboards (Pixton.com)

Pixtochart: Creating infographics

Post it Plus: Capture Post-It notes on a wall or flipchart with your smartphone, then edit and reorganize your notes in the app.

Takes the momentum from your collaboration sessions and keeps it rolling. Simply capture your notes, organize and then share with everyone. It’s that easy. When you’re finished with an arrangement, you tap to either share the board via text, email, social media or other apps you use like Dropbox or Evernote, or you can export the board to PDF, PowerPoint, Excel, .zip, or the Post-It Plus app’s own file type.

Powtoons: I love this one!  Use their free account – takes 5 minutes, can’t change characters, but very user friendly; create animated videos; combine characters, music, graphics; they will do voice-overs.

Sway: Microsoft and it’s free. A simple web-page style. Great to create and share interactive reports, presentations, stories.  Excellent for building an assignment and including all resources in one place. While I do not like the limited customization, I found it excellent to use for research type assignments. I used Sway to outline instructions, requirements, share related content and videos, and add questions on the research material- all on the same project page.  If you have used Discovery Education’s assignment builder it is similar in look and feel.  

Google Classroom and Google’s suite of products. It is much more user friendly than Microsoft and allows you to interact with those collaborating in a document or presentation.

 

Good luck teachers. I know it is difficult. I know you are being asked to do more with less. What else is new? Just remember a few things:  You can do it!  You are not going to break it. If it fails, you tried and that is a great lesson to teach too!  Hang in there. Stay healthy. Wash your hands.

 

Live life. Give joy. Be at peace…while social distancing.

 

Career, Life

Flexing Your Creative Mind: Home or Office?

Work-Life balance, flex scheduling, telecommuting, and working remote.

It goes by different names, and people have decided opinions about the effectiveness of such work arrangements. If you ask people how they feel they will likely fall into one of two groups.  One group thinks it is a waste of time, stifles creativity, and people who work from home won’t be as productive because of immense distraction or laziness. The other group believes those who work from home are more productive, creative, and focused…it is the wave of the future.  Those opposed typically cite lack of productivity, declining work place relationships, and communication struggles as their primary concern.   Supporters proclaim increased productivity, improved work/life balance, and decreased stress.

It is not a one size fits all plan. 

Working from home requires effort to stay focused and productive.   So does the office. If a manager is concerned about the productivity and real work they are getting out of their remote employee, one has to wonder what kind of person they hired?  Managers should not have to micro manage in order to have productivity.  That may indicate a hiring problem and not a work location problem.

Clayburn Griffin: Digital Marketer on working from home:

I really hope employers start to realize (the benefits) and offer more time to their employees to work from home. I think they don’t because they’re afraid of abuse and because it feels like there is no oversight. You can’t see what an employee is doing, and that feels like giving up some control. All that should matter, though, is that they’re getting the work done.” 

The truth is, success of either home or office work location is dependent upon the person. Working from home requires organization, dedication, and strong communication skills.  It isn’t for everyone. Managers and employees have to be willing to make it work, and learn how. Telephone, video conferencing, as well as clear and concise email communication are essential. Regular check-ins are important for maintaining rapport and clear expectations. Skype/IM chat features are an excellent tool that more should utilize.  IM is more efficient than email for quick questions. If a long response or explanation is necessary, pick up the phone.

My husband works from home 90% of the time.  I do not have that luxury, but love it when I can.  My ideal would be part time office/part time home.  We have found that having a dedicated work space makes working from home much easier.  Our home office has two desks, one is your typical office desk and the other is a stand up version of the same. Each has monitors for docking our computers. Having a dedicated workspace helps us to stay focused on work, and feel like we are going to work- not just sitting down at the table.  The dedicated space limits distractions. Each day he gets up and gets ready for work, just as if he is going into the office. Getting ready doesn’t change, even if everyday is casual Friday. However, the stress free commute down the hall is refreshing.

Sitting at the kitchen table, the hub of the household, would not be a productive place for anyone to work in our house.  While four of our five kids are off to college or adulting in the real world, even when home they understand that usually at least one of us is working. Unfortunately, our elderly mother doesn’t quite get the concept. One of the drawbacks of working from home is the distractions others can cause when they don’t know or understand the concept of working from home. In our case, barking dogs or an elderly mother needing something is an issue to be managed. The dogs understand only that they have a lap to nap in when we are working from home. They don’t get the work thing or that the delivery person is not their enemy. Children and/or elderly parents have to be reminded. I will address any non-emergent need at such and such a time, when I’m at a stopping point.  On the flip side, one of us is home for any emergency needs. It offers a peace of mind that going in to the office cannot.

The bigger issues to manage are household chores that beckon for attention. Rosie (the Roomba) handles our vacuuming needs.  However, sometimes “Rosie is stuck on a cliff” and needs attention. Laundry is always waiting and dishes usually need attention. When we really don’t want to face work tasks there is always dusting, yard work, or car maintenance.  Resisting the urge to do anything but work is a discipline that must be established.  Using the laundry as a work timer helps. Put a load of laundry in and work until it’s done. The next work break is to put the laundry in the dryer. The next break is to take out, fold and put away.  Instead of taking time to chat at the water cooler, you are taking time to complete a home task during your work day.  Organizing the work day and managing your work/home tasks is essential to success.  There is nothing wrong with completing a home task during your work day, but the trick is to not let it pull you away. That’s the same with social media or any other distraction. 

Truth be told, it is the same in the office. There are office distractions and not all time in the office is productive. It requires focus to stay on task and meet daily goals no matter your work location. 

If I had small children, I do not feel I would be able to work from home and be productive.  Some manage. They have developed a routine that works for them and the children understand.  It can work, but not for everyone.  Here I should note, the primary reason for working remote should not be personal care needs or so one can run errands in between completing work tasks. There are many reasons to have a flexible work schedule and environment, but should be pursued with the clear intention of better productivity. If distractions are going to be beyond that of the office, one should probably rethink the flex plan.

Flex scheduling or flexible work spaces should not be a one size fits all approach. Some need more social interaction than others.  Building a team rapport is not impossible.  Everyone does not have to be in the same office, or even same city.  Establishing clear lines of communication can help build the rapport.  Chat, video conference, call, email. Don’t be afraid to build relationships. There are individuals that I have never met, yet consider friends. We have interacted regularly in the web space and I feel that a relationship has been established. I could consult with them on topics of interest and receive valuable, honest feedback.  There are individuals I have worked directly with and cannot say the same.

Working from home also does not guarantee work life balance.  You are usually logged on earlier than if you had an office commute. It is also very easy to get lost in the task and still be working into the night, either straight through or off and on into the evening hours. 

Not every job can have flexible hours or remote options. Businesses have to move beyond the brick and mortar requirements and everyone has to have the same benefits/perks. Every job in the office does not allow for it, and that is OK. It’s also OK to give it a trial run first, or pull the benefit if productivity falls.  Just because it doesn’t work for you, doesn’t mean it won’t work for someone else. Just because it works great for you, doesn’t mean it will work well for someone else. 

Andrew Sonstrom of Deep Core Data does a great job summarizing the pros and cons of both working in the office and working at home.  

The Office

Pros
–  Innovation is born in close quarters
–  There’s a definitive start and stop time
–  Structure is a great motivator

Cons
–  The dreaded commute
–  Office life encourages a sedentary lifestyle
–  The environment is inherently more disruptive 

Classroom to office has been an adjustment for me.  In the classroom I barely sat down. Constant motion, high energy, would be the best way to describe my teaching.  In the office, I have to get up and walk every hour and a half or so just to walk off the daze and keep from getting too stiff.  I find the constant chatter around me to be disruptive.  Cube life has been an adjustment. Noise cancelling headphones are my friend.

It is important to realize that face to face discussion is not required to collaborate and be innovative.  However, it is beneficial.  Communication without body language is sometimes difficult. Sharing presentations, shared screen collaboration, and video calls are helpful in overcoming the communication barrier that telecommuting can have.

Working From Home

Pros
–  No commute
–  Relaxed Environment = Productive Employees
–  You can work for anybody, anywhere

Cons
–  Life doesn’t stop for work
–  Work tends to bleed into non-work hours
–  Extroverts tend to wither when left alone all day

Social interaction is valuable. Finding opportunities to interact with others is healthy. It takes effort to communicate clearly and make a point to get to know your business partners when you are not in the same building. 

There is research supporting flexible work environments and research supporting the brick and mortar office solutions. 

According to Erik Devaney’s HubSpot article, “How to Work From Home: 20 Tips From People Who Do It Successfully”  

51% of workers would change jobs for a role that offered them flextime and 37% would make a move for a role that allowed them to work remotely at least part-time.

I can’t say I disagree.  I would love to be able to work remote on a regular basis.  It takes an effort for me to get going in the morning.  It would be great to ease into the day in the comfort of my home office.  Even better, location would not have to be specific.  I can think of nothing better than waking up on my favorite island vacation spot, setting up my work space and accomplishing the days tasks while enjoying the beautiful bay view.  Then, wrapping up the work day and walking straight to the kayak launch for an early evening paddle with the dolphins.  We would stay on the Island for weeks at a time if our work schedules allowed it. 

There are ways to make it work and opening the door to telecommuting broadens the talent pool for employers.  The market becomes much more competitive, forcing those being hired to be more productive whether they are working in the office or at home.  Some corporations have extended the work from option and are now pulling back stating that office rapport is suffering.  They contend that coming to the office is essential for team building and collaboration. Corporations who have offered work from home options have met with resistance when pulling this benefit. Employees want flexibility. Maybe it’s time to be more creative and establish processes for boosting collaborative environments while still offering flex options.