Monday, April 26, 2010

Of Wingmen and Pushing the Envelope

Teaching is pretty much a solo gig.  We interact with students and their parents on our own if things go well, but if they don't we need backup....wingmen in fighter pilot parlance.  Recently, I have required backup, and, in both occasions, IT folks came through with flying colors.

When I returned from Israel, I dove straight into teaching one of my favorite units, Trip Planning.  Students select a country from the Eastern Hemisphere and plan a minimum one-month trip there.  Using Google Maps, Calendar, and Documents, every part of this project is electronic.  Students work at school, then continue, using Google Tools, at home.  This year, we ran into glitches from the start.  On the first day of the project, kids couldn't use FireFox to create either maps or calendars.  A quick visit to my IT department provided the reason.  During my Israel Fulbright, there had been some bad behavior around screen sharing so a decision was made to "manage" student accounts.  Whatever default management settings Apple has, it makes it difficult to use FireFox or Safari to create calendars and maps in Google.  Fortunately, I found that quitting and restarting Safari worked if every step were done in the correct order.  That meant instead of 2 steps to create a Google calendar, seventh graders were required to follow 5 steps.  While troubleshooting this issue, we found that Chrome had no problems at all creating and saving documents.  Within two days, my IT folks had loaded Chrome on the laptops and kids were (and are) back at work, diligently planning their trips.  Catlin Gabel's IT department once again proved their flexibility and ability to support teachers, no matter how busy they were.

This weekend, I was working in Prezi, a super presentation software for those long past tired of Powerpoint and Keynote.  I attempted to upload an audio file, but didn't realize I needed to include an image in it so that Prezi would recognize it as a flash video file and react appropriately.  Stuck, I began searching the Prezi forum, certain I was not the only person ever to commit this silly error.  (Note to self:  READ the online directions BEFORE inserting clip!)  I added my sad tale of woe to another post.  Within a day, Prezi employee Lior had responded and not only fixed my presentation by removing the offending file, but she also gave me instructions how to delete the information from Prezi's xml file, zip it back up, rename the extension, open it again using Prezi's offline tool, and upload it back to Prezi.  It was like having a private Prezi lesson!  Again, I was grateful for Prezi's quick response to my problem, and Lior's ability to solve it so quickly.

Occasionally, teaching at the limits of technology means getting nicked by the sharp, bleeding, edge.  It is nice to know that tech support can be both local and global.  And, of course, as with all good tech support, both Lior and Catlin Gabel are invisible to my students.  I, as their teacher, know that I am only as good as my backup......and I have excellent folks watching my back!

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