ProKeys: Save Time Online with Keyboard Shortcuts

I’ve been using shortcuts in Google Documents for years to save time editing student papers. However, I do a lot of work online outside of the Google environment. Thanks to Marisa Thompson, who posted a blog about saving time with ProKeys, I now have a Chrome Extension that makes it possible to create keyboard shortcuts to save time in other online environments beyond Google.

If you are using a learning management system, like Schoology, with your students or you spend a ton of time responding to emails, ProKeys is worth checking out. Teachers can create snippets, which are letter/number combinations, that when typed in combination with a “hotkey” (e.g., shift+spacebar) it will automatically paste a larger piece of text that you’ve connected with that snippet.

For example, my students regularly engage in online discussions. They know they are supposed to use each other’s names when posting replies. When they fail to use their classmate’s name, I leave a comment reminding them of this expectation for online engagement. With Prokeys I create a snippet with the code “cn,” then when I type that letter combination and hit the hotkey, the comment “Always begin with the student’s name when you are responding to his/her ideas. Thank you!” will pop up.

In addition to creating banks of comments to use with students online, teachers can create email templates to avoid retyping the same email to multiple people.

To see this in action, check out my quick video tutorial!

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Backchannel Chat: My Choice to Replace TodaysMeet

I’m still mourning the loss of TodaysMeet. I used it regularly as a teacher and presenter. It was the rare tool that was easy to use and free. I’ve been on the hunt for a viable replacement. Richard Bryne posted a blog with six potential alternatives to TodaysMeet. I explored them all and settled on Backchannel Chat.

I selected Backchannel Chat, in part, because it reminded me of TodaysMeet’s simple interface. Last week, I had the opportunity to test drive it in three separate workshops.

I opted to use the free version for my experiment and filled out the small form required to create my backchannel URL. It is important to note that the free version only allows you to create one room. This was enough to make me want to pay the $15/year to get unlimited chatrooms because I like to use a separate space for each of my classes and workshops.

When you press “Start,” your backchannel appears. The interface is clean, simple, and easy to navigate. To enter your room users need the URL and a password if you created one. I chose not to use a password for my trial run since it is another layer of complexity for people entering the room.

As participants at my workshop entered the chatroom, I realized there was a cap on the free version. Only 30 people can enter a chatroom at one time with the free version. The paid for version allows up to 50. Since I regularly have classes over 30 and most of my workshops have close to 50 participants, I will need to purchase the paid for version.

There are several features I was excited to discover as I used Backchannel Chat.

  • I enjoyed seeing everyone’s names and avatars on the right-hand side of my screen.
  • There is a search feature, which makes it easy to find content in the chat.
  • Transcripts of the chat can be easily downloaded and shared.
  • I can pin a welcome or instruction note to the top of the screen.
  • The “chat stats” makes it possible to track participation quickly.
  • I can embed media in the chat.

Since Twitter is my preferred method for sharing content, I was excited to see that I could copy and paste a Tweet directly into our chat. Teachers can do the same thing with YouTube videos!

I could tell Backchannel Chat was created by educators because the features available for teachers who pay the $15/year are excellent. In addition to allowing more people in the chatroom and creating unlimited chatrooms, the paid for version makes it possible for teachers to:

  • Send private messages to students
  • Integrate their chats into Schoology and Edmodo
  • Embed their chats into a class website
  • Create “office hours”
  • Provide a single code or URL for all chats
  • Attach files
  • Personalize avatars
  • Search all content (not limited to 3 months)

I also have to admit that I enjoyed writing messages longer than 140 characters, which was the TodaysMeet character limit. It allowed for a more robust conversation.

If you are using something else to replace TodaysMeet, please post a comment and share! I’d love to find out what other educators are using and enjoying.

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Create Interactive Agendas with Google Slides

Time, or more accurately the lack thereof, is the number one “pain point” most teachers experience. They don’t feel they have enough time to get through the curriculum, cover the standards, scaffold and reteach, provide timely feedback, and plan dynamic lessons.

As a blended learning coach, I spend time in other teachers’ classrooms observing, co-teaching and coaching. It is common for the first 5-10 minutes of class to be consumed by housekeeping tasks–taking attendance, explaining the lesson, and getting the classroom set up for the first task. Teachers can take back this time if they rethink how they begin each lesson and communicate the parts of the lesson to their students.

Instead of writing an agenda on the board or projecting it onto your smart board and guiding students lock-step through the parts of the lesson, teachers can create interactive agendas using Google Slides.

Creating an interactive online agenda accomplishes a few things:

  1.  It eliminates the time wasted at the start of class reviewing the agenda. Instead, teachers can train students to enter the class and immediately use their device to access the agenda via Google Classroom or a short link.
  2. It shifts the focus from the teacher to the students because they don’t need to wait for the teacher to cue every transition or provide materials for each activity. The materials can be embedded into the Google Slide agenda.
  3. It allows students more opportunities to self-pace through the lesson.
  4. It creates transparency about the timing of the activities and the trajectory of the lesson.
  5. It frees teachers to spend more time working directly with students instead of directing the parts of the lesson.

Two years ago when I began using Google Slides to create my agenda for each day, I created a template for each of the types of lessons I typically design (e.g., Station Rotation, Whole Group Rotation, Flipped Classroom, etc.). That way, I could decide on the type of blended learning model I wanted to use for a given lesson, then “make a copy” of that template and create my agenda for that day.

My agendas typically a few of the following elements:

  • A welcome or admission task
  • A rotation of some kind
  • A discussion element
  • An exit ticket or concluding task

I work with teachers who use one slide for each of the activities they plan to cover in a lesson. That gives them space to articulate the objectives for that task and provide clear instructions. Google Slides also makes it easy to embed media and hyperlink to online resources. Many of the teachers I coach record short video instructions and embed them right into the slides.

Shifting from writing my agendas on the board to creating interactive online agendas with Google Slides allowed me to spend less time answering the “what do we do…?” questions and spend more time working directly with my students. Instead of orchestrating the lesson, I spent more time in my role as a coach focused on supporting skill development or as an observer collecting formative assessment data. It was a simple shift that had a dramatic impact on both my role and my students’ role in the classroom.

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