Using Technology to Build Community Involvement

Posted by Janice Delagrammatikas on March 30, 2014

Come Back Kids logo and Twitter handleI confess.  As a parent, I was one who signed up for school site council and then didn’t participate.  I would find parent surveys at the bottom of my children’s backpacks long after they were due or I would just forget to send them back.  I had the best intentions and I was certainly pleased to be asked, but when it came down to it, I couldn’t afford to take the time off work.  I had class on the night meetings were scheduled, or it would just slip my mind.  Years later, as an administrator, I struggle to find the right mix of stakeholder involvement activities so all parents and community members have the opportunity to be involved and contribute to the discussion.  Fortunately, I have many more tools at my disposal than school leaders in the 1980’s and 90’s.


Telephone calls and mail just don’t produce the turnout I need to meet mandated parent involvement.  I do use them and email also, but my Twitter feed is quickly becoming the go-to tool that lets my school community know what is happening on our campuses.  I use my tweets to remind parents and partners about meetings and I post links to current information. I tweet pictures and links to short videos to keep my feed fun and engaging. My tweets remind my school community that we are hard at work teaching and learning; and having fun too. Using Twitter engages reluctant technology users, makes students think you’re cool, and provides anytime-anywhere communication.

Google Forms

Remember the ten page survey sent to all parents, the cost of mailing it, and then getting only a handful back?  I still have my paper survey, and I hand it out to anyone who prefers it, but I also create the survey in Google Forms and  send out the link by email, Twitter, and on note cards.  Staff and students promote it too.  Google Form responses populate to a Google spreadsheet. and a summary of responses with charts is available underneath the form tab.  I began using Google Forms this year to prepare for an upcoming WASC visit and to gather community input for our LCAP.  My response rate has increased from 32 responses last year to 237 so far this year.  I also saved a small fortune on mailing and paying someone to tabulate the results—enough to pay for several teachers to attend the CUE conference this spring.

Google Hangouts

The last new tech tool in my community involvement tool belt is Google Hangouts.   With Google Hangouts, I can have a meeting at a physical location, but other participants can join us remotely.   Our school has classrooms at 14 different geographical locations and  using Google Hangouts means that staff, students, and parents from separate sites can meet in a virtual space, share documents and work together.  One EL student shared with me that she liked the Hangout because normally she would be too shy to speak in a meeting,  but in this format she felt comfortable contributing.  Busy parents and community members can join from work.  It has taken some practice to learn how to use Hangouts for these meetings, and we are still getting better at developing the procedures that make our collaboration smoother.  Lessons learned include being patient as everyone learns to sign on, having someone on the phone to assist those having technical difficulties,  keeping our mics muted  except for the person who is speaking, having a moderator recognizing the next speaker, using the chat section to record comments and questions, and developing procedures for taking and recording votes.  Despite this learning curve, we still have more participation from a diverse set of participants and we are not paying staff for time and mileage to travel to a meeting.

Accomplishing multiple goals

As a site leader these tools serve more than one purpose.  First, I use these tools to facilitate and document meaningful engagement of parents, students, and other stakeholders, including those representing the subgroups for developing our LCAP.  Second, it gives me an opportunity to lead and promote the use of technology in our school.  Third, it’s always fun to try new things!



Blips not to overlook

Posted by Butch Owens on January 31, 2013

Radar screenAs we venture forth into 2013, I thought it might be a good time to take a look at some items that should be on every administrator’s radar.  We all need to be developing a plan on how we will incorporate each into our schools.

Learning Management Systems

A learning management system (LMS) is a software application or Web-based technology used to plan, implement, and assess a specific learning process. Typically, a learning management system provides an instructor with a way to create and deliver content, monitor student participation, and assess student performance. A learning management system may also provide students with the ability to use interactive features such as threaded discussions, video conferencing, and discussion forums.  Read more.

Flipped Classrooms

Flip teaching (or flipped classroom) is a form of blended learning which encompasses any use of technology to leverage the learning in a classroom, so a teacher can spend more time interacting with students instead of lecturing. This is most commonly being done using teacher-created videos that students view outside of class time. It is also known as backwards classroom, reverse instruction, flipping the classroom, and reverse teaching.  Read more.


Bring your own device (also referred to as Bring your own technology (BYOT), Bring your own phone (BYOP), and Bring your own PC (BYOPC)) is a term that is frequently used to describe the policy of permitting employees to bring personally owned mobile devices (laptops, tablets, and smart phones) to their place of work and use those devices to access privileged company information and applications.[1] The term is also used to describe the same practice applied to students using personally owned devices in education settings.  Read more.


A massive open online course (MOOC) is a type of online course aimed at large-scale participation and open access via the web. MOOCs are a recent development in the area of distance education and a progression of the kind of open education ideals suggested by open educational resources. Examples include Khan Academy and free offerings from Stanford and MIT.  Read more.

Google Docs

Google Docs is a free web-based office suite offered by Google within its Google Drive service. It also was a storage service but has since been replaced by the before-mentioned Google Drive. It allows users to create and edit documents online while collaborating in real-time with other users. Google Docs combines the features of Writely and Spreadsheets with a presentation program incorporating technology designed by Tonic Systems.  Learn more.

California Student Bill of Rights Initiative

The California Student Bill of Rights Initiative did not make the ballot last November, but had it qualified for the ballot and been approved by the state’s voters, it would have:

  • Authorized school districts, county offices of education, and charter schools to claim average daily attendance funding for student participation in approved online courses.
  • Authorized school districts to contract with public and private providers to deliver online courses taught by credentialed teachers.
  • Allowed students to take online courses offered by any school district, regardless of student’s residence.
  • Provided students access to courses required for admission to state universities.
  • Established the “California Diploma”, which would have demonstrated completion of courses required for University of California and California State University admission.

If students need flexibility in their schedule or a teacher in another district has a great online course, students will definitely seek out that option if available—and the ADA would follow the student for that course. Students will no longer be held hostage to what their local district, school or individual teacher of a course is offering.

Huffington article on California online bill of rights
Click image above to read this Huffington post article.

Personal Learning Networks

A personal learning network (PLN) is an informal learning network that consists of the people a learner interacts with and derives knowledge from in a personal learning environment. In a PLN, a person makes a connection with another person with the specific intent that some type of learning will occur because of that connection.  Read more.

Sir Ken Robinson: Changing Educational Paradigms

This is a great 11 minute video by Sir Ken Robinson to open up the dialog about the need to change and adapt our schools to meet the needs of students today and into the future. Pay particular attention to the section on divergent thinking. As Sir Ken points out this is one of the most important traits students will need to be successful in our changing world.  Learn more.

A Question

Let me finish by posing a question. If students truly have a choice about what courses they take and where they take them, will they choose to stay enrolled in a course that is textbook-driven and without access to technology or any expectation to use technology to produce evidence of their learning? Or would they choose a hybrid or blended course with online,24/7, access to highly interactive threaded discussions, media rich resources, and the ability to schedule the class around other commitments and activities?

Take for example this brief blog post.  It starts with a brief description and includes links to other resources for those looking to explore a topic in depth.  Compare this to a one page article with definitions of each trend. Which would provide a better understanding of the topic? Which would lead to a deeper understanding? Which is more engaging?

If you are looking to continue this conversation you should consider attending the Leadership 3.0 Symposium sponsored by TICAL, ACSA and CUE.  It takes place April 11–13, 2013 at the Hyatt Regency, Irvine, California.  Learn more.



Alternatives to Google Docs

Posted by Michael Simkins on August 24, 2011

Just as we think Kleenex when we need a tissue and Scotch when we want tape, many of us think Google Docs when we create, share, and collaborate on documents on line. But believe it or not, Google Docs is not the only game in the cloud.

Windows Live

One alternative is Windows Live. In fact, it’s one of the world’s best kept secrets that Microsoft actually has an on-line option for working with your Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote files. If you typically use these Microsoft programs and value their many features, you should take some time to explore Windows Live. For example, you can upload files you’ve already created and then access them from any Internet-connected computer. You can choose to share a file with selected people or make it public for all to see.

For writing, one of the nicest things about using Windows Live is using the Word Web App. It lets you edit your Word document on line from any computer, even if that computer does not have Word installed on it. While the web app does not have every feature of full-fledged Word, it has a lot, including the ability to apply all sorts of formatting, insert tables and create multi-level outlines. You’ll feel like you are working in Word because, essentially, you are! Once back at your own computer, open the document in “regular” Word and take it from there.

You can also use Windows Live to collaborate on documents. Two or more people can simultaneously open an Excel or One Note file that is stored in SkyDrive and enter data in it. Two or more people can co-edit Word documents in real time as well if they each work from Word.


Not a Windows fan? Zoho is another Google alternative. Like Windows Live, Zoho offers a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation tool and note-taker. Like Google, Zoho also offers a considerable set of other tools. Zoho’s collection includes collaboration tools such as chat, discussion, and web conferencing as well as business applications such as project planning, invoicing, bookkeeping, and database.

If you decide to take a look at either of these Google alternatives, keep in mind that there is always a trade off—in this case between simplicity and advanced features. For instance, it’s hard to beat Google Docs for simplicity and ease of use. On the other hand, features are limited. Both Windows Live and Zoho will present you with a steeper learning curve, but you may find it worth the trouble if you want access to a richer set of features.


What’s New on Google Docs?

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on May 28, 2010

Google Docs screenshotLaunched in 2006, Google Docs is built on three web-based applications: word processing; spreadsheets; and, a presentation tool. These free, easy-to-use tools make it possible for users to not only access files from any Internet-connected computer, but also to invite others to view and edit files, supporting real time collaboration at a level not previously possible.

Why blog about a tool that’s nearly four years old? Recently, Google launched several new features making it even easier for users to work collaboratively to create and edit word processing documents, spreadsheet files, and now drawings as well. Here’s a quick rundown on some of the most useful new features.

Word processing: Updated editing capabilities are the main feature here. It’s now possible to see character-by-character editing being done by collaborators without having to refresh the page. This means collaborators can make changes without having to worry about over-writing one another. A chat feature has been added as well so collaborators can ‘talk’ with one another as they work. It is also now possible to format documents using tabs and real margins. As a result, it will be easier to retain formatting when uploading and downloading documents.

Spreadsheets: Speed is a key descriptor for improvements made here. Spreadsheets load faster and are easier to navigate (both scrolling and from sheet to sheet). It’s now possible to edit cells in the formula bar and to drag and drop columns.

Draw: The drawing tool, launched a year ago, made it possible to embed drawings in other files. Now it’s possible to create and collaborate on stand-alone drawings thanks to a new drawing editor that allows users to work collaboratively on individual draw files.

Google Docs has become an indispensable tool for many educators. The price is right, the learning curve is minimal, software compatibility issues are eliminated, and it facilitates true collaboration for educators and students. If you haven’t given Google Docs a try, now is the time. If you are a current user, you’ll definitely appreciate these most recent improvements.

For a quick recap of the information provided here, or to share with colleagues, check out this YouTube video, Introducing a New Google Docs.