Friday, 12 January 2018

Amazon Echo or Google Home?

We have both. Our household is slowly getting used to the presence of two machine learning devices. What do they offer?

Both are excellent devices. The family make extensive use of music services almost all of the time they are in the room with the device and we have heard music as diverse as Monteverdi, Frank Sinatra, Vera Lynn and the British Grime scene. ( My son will be disgusted I can't remember any Grime artists). 

We have occasional times when we explore how much it actually knows and can respond to. Recent questions include:

  • How many seconds are there in 55 years? Turns out I am 1,734,480,000 seconds old!
  • Will you marry me?
  • What is the weather like?
  • What is this piece of music?
  • When was (insert an historical event)?

The Google Home arrived first. It was really simple to set up and I am really pleased with the sound quality of such a small device. We would have stopped there except during the family holiday to Crete in August 2017, my Mother-in-Law found the Google Home an invaluable companion. She would ask it for weather reports from Crete so she could compare it with her own weather here in the UK and ask it to play her music. My Mother-in-Law is registered blind and she really enjoys her Audible book subscription and Google doesn't have a link to that service yet. So, an Echo arrived at the house. A few clicks later and the Audible account was linked to the echo and she started her new friendship with Alexa.

She really enjoys her books and radio on her Echo. I do have to say that Alexa is really fussy about her name. My Mother-in-Law is 85 and she should be allowed to call Alexa Alexia and get away with it. That is not to say that Google is any less particular!

The control system for our heating is not compatible. I am sorely tempted to change it so my Mother-in-Law can control her own heating but the cost is a little high. We have yet to explore lighting but I suspect it may come if the bulb prices come below £20.00.

The next step will be Echo Connect. This has the potential to be huge for us.  My Mother-in-Law staggers from her room most evenings to ask us to dial a number for her. Echo Connect will allow her to manage her own landline via her Echo. Her phone is an absolute saviour for her and keeps a connection to her friends who are now dotted all around the country and world. We dial numbers for her gladly and will always continue to do so but she worries about pestering us and it would be nice to give her back a modicum of independence and control. Two things she really misses with the onset of her blindness.

So in conclusion, two fantastic devices and very little to choose between them. Still, some further integrations and cross compatibility to sort and longing for a link to the landline. If you are wondering which device to go for, I would recommend you go for one that integrates with most of the rest of your digital self. Finally, apologies who started reading looking for a detailed insight into these two devices.

Friday, 24 February 2017

G Suite not enough? Add-ons, Apps and extensions to the rescue!

To enhance the functionality of your G Suite for Education, you need to look at the wealth of extensions, add-ons and apps that will connect and integrate into your core suite. Extensions enhance the functionality of your Chrome browser, Add-ons add extra functionality to a Docs, Sheets or Form, and Apps are cloud-based services that link to your G Suite domain.

Here is a quick fly through some of my favourites. This is not a comprehensive list but a list of those extensions, apps and add-ons I use a lot at the moment.

Google URL shortener 
This shortens any web address and also creates QR codes that link to the same web address. If you ar working with tablets in our classroom, the QR codes are a really quick and simple way to direct students to relevant websites.

Share to Classroom
This allows me to post assignments and announcements to any of my Google Classrooms. So, any website I find that I think is useful, I can post directly to the correct Classroom. I use Classroom extensively with my trainee music teachers.

This creates movies of your on-screen actions. This is a really useful way to create help files without the endless screen shot and crop of a printed document. The viewer can also pause the video whilst they complete each step of the task you have recorded for them. A really great way to support others.

Grammarly for Chrome.
Checks the grammar of your writing in emails and gives you weekly feedback on the number of mistakes, most common mistakes and vocabulary range. The paid version does a whole lot more but the free version is a great help in finding those simple errors.

Form Publisher
Form Publisher converts the response from a Google Form into a document of your choosing: Docs, Sheets, Slides or a pdf for those people who do not yet have G Suite for Education. An enormously useful tool to improve workflow within an organisation. is a music notation software app suitable for use for all ages. It integrates with Google Classroom, so you can assign copies of files for each of your students. This would be a great way to complete chorale harmonisation tasks for A Level music courses. Students' compositions can be completed in full notation and heard back and the teacher is able to add comments to guide the students to a better outcome. If you are not convinced, you might want to know that the special education price is £1.10 per user per year. Made you think?

The other essential tool for a music teacher is a sequencer. My sequencer of preference is Soundtrap. This is a web-based multi-track music studio with an enormous range of different loops and samples. It will also allow recording directly into the project from your computer or phone via an app. The phone or tablet app allows students to be recording sound from any sources and including them in their final composition whether this is a pod cast for English, a sound score for a film or a composition for a music course. Soundtrap also has the capability to work collaboratively from remote locations. So that visiting musician, poet, storyteller may well be much more affordable when they only have to give you an hour of their time from the comfort of their won home rather than spend hours travelling to your school.

There are many other apps and extensions and add-ons and  I am sure you will have your favourites so go extend the reach of your G Suite for Education core tools. And if the tool you want is not out there, why not build your own?

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Keyboard shortcut junkie

I remember reading many years ago about the indicators of competence on a computer. I don't remember the source (apologies for this - please let me know if you read the same thing), but it went something like this:

  • First use is slow and awkward, the user struggles to locate keys and movement between keyboard and mouse is slow and measured. visual checks between hands and screen are frequent.
  • As use progresses, the speed of movement from mouse and keyboard increases and visual checks are less frequent.
  • eventually the user becomes competent in both keyboard and mouse use and devices work together to complete tasks. keyboard shortcuts are used often to expedite tasks.

With this in mind, I thought I would share my keyboard shortcut obsession with you all. if you are not familiar with keyboard shortcuts or do not use them, then I would encourage you to do so. They do increase efficiency and improve integration between the mouse and keyboard.

Ctrl + Ctrl - Ctrl 0

My daughter showed me this one. Thank you Alice. Whilst working in front of a class, the text on a website is sometimes too small for everyone to see. Ctrl + increase font size of the web page. You can repeat the keystrokes to increase it over and over. Ctrl - reduces font size and Ctrl 0 returns the font size to 100%. A great teaching tool and much quicker than zoom in on your remote control of your projector or going to the menu in your browser.

Tab jumper

I frequently work with many Tabs. I need to move between tabs quickly and I am often copying text between documents in this way.  This only works if you have no more than 9 tabs. I often have more than this but remembering my shortcuts encourages me to close some tabs. I can't be working on that many anyway.  The keyboard shortcut is Ctrl followed by any number from 1 to 9. Number 9 is the last tab and not the 9th tab, so technically only 1 - 8 take you to a precise location.

Ctrl X Ctrl C Ctrl V

These are the shortcuts that are most commonly known. They are Cut, Copy and Paste and these three used in conjunction with the Tab jumper make moving text and data across documents very easy.

image of Pop Up Keyboard showing shortcuts on a Chromebook
The pop up keyboards showing all the shortcuts available.
If you have the bug now, then you need a list of all shortcuts. On a Chromebook, Ctrl Alt ? brings up an interactive display of all keyboard shortcuts. Go on, take a look and find your own favourites

Rider: I am a long time Chromebook user so I cannot guarantee these shortcuts work on any other operating system.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Some useful apps

Technology is nothing. What's important is that you have a faith in people, that they're basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they'll do wonderful things with them.
Steve Jobs

I want to emphasise the importance of the teacher in the process of getting the best out of any app they might use. There is no "killer app" that is a panacea for every classroom. Each individual teacher will need to go and look and decide whether these particular apps are any use to them. By all means be guided by others but be critical and make certain it will suit you and your students. What I hope for is that teachers will go and look and if these apps don't quite fit their requirements, they will go and find a more suitable one for them. I have been trying to decide what to include in this blog for a while and it is getting delayed over and over so I am going to do it in instalments instead. Publish and be damned!

So, now the caveat is stated, here are some apps I think have real potential

Thursday, 6 August 2015

New Google Exams

WOW! I have just completed my Google Educator Level 1 exam. I was expecting a "refresh" but that is not what I got. I am already a Google Certified Trainer (Previously Google Educator) so I didn't need to do the exams but want to understand how they have changed.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Google Play for Education

As we begin the Google Play for Education Pilot, I thought I would take a moment to draw your attention to some of the resources available to you in If you are not part of the pilot, not to worry because these same resources are available in the ordinary Play Store.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Plug and Play

I have just removed the very old, very slow PC from my desktop. I have replaced it with the Chromebox I talked about in my last bloq. I was using my Chromebox on borrowed kit. The mouse and keyboard were my son's from the PC we built together for his Christmas present. He was keen to build one for himself and I thought it would be a good experience.