Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Google Classroom: My Preview Came Today!

When I first heard of the forthcoming Google Classroom I decided to apply for an early look. Well, my invitation came through today, and I've just finished my first look. So far, I'm impressed. Google Classroom will add some much-needed functionality and simplicity to our classroom workflow come August when we begin our new school year.

I hope you'll check out Google Classroom. Meanwhile, here's my contribution to the many "first look" videos and articles popping up each day on the Internet. There are many others, including one from Google Educast that I'm enjoying, too. Mine is embedded below. It's a quickie at 8:56. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Using Gmail +1 Email Addresses to Comply With COPPA for Student Online Accounts

Have you ever wanted to use an online technology tool with your students, but couldn't, because they're under age 13? That problem has plagued me for several years as I've attempted to find solutions for my fifth graders in a 1:1 netbook class. Thanks to a couple of ed-tech resource people I follow, I now have a workaround!

First, the citations:
Thank you to Richard Byrne who writes the Free Technology for Teachers blog. His article How to Register Students for Services When They Don't have Email Addresses got me started on the road to a solution.
Then, while researching COPPA and its rules, I found the FTC's Complying With COPPA: Frequently Asked Questions. If you're looking at the COPPA guidelines for classroom use of online technology tools, scroll down to M: COPPA and Schools. The key is to safeguard student identity and information, especially if they're under the magic age of 13.
Finally, to round out my understanding of how to create a Gmail +1 email address for each of my students, I ran into Stormy Cullum's Gmail +1 ~ Create Student Email (Survive Under 13 Guidelines - COPPA). Stormy does a great job of explaining how to use Google's tools to solve this problem. If you use (or would be willing to use) Gmail and/or GAFE (Google Apps for Education), read on.

The above citations, if you read the 3 articles, will show you the way. Here's my brief summary — the reason why you're reading this article...

So, I wanted to have my kids use ed.ted.com which would enable me to take any YouTube video and easily create some pre- and post-video watching questions and discussions online for my kids. I want them to engage with these videos, and I want a way to verify that they have done this online work. Since I "flip" some of my lessons, this idea is especially useful for when I assign a video for my students to watch and engage with. However, in order to comply with COPPA, ed.ted.com will only allow students to create accounts if they're over age 12. My kids are not. I even wrote to them to ask if they knew of a workaround. They suggested I have the students' parents create the accounts for the students. While this would work, I didn't want to ask parents to do this. I wanted them to know and give consent for their children to use this resource; I just didn't want to bother them to do the legwork of setting things up for me.

So, I started searching for a way that I could manage this sign-up process for each of my students and, at the same time, control the accounts and avoid having kids give personal information to the folks at ed.ted.com. That's when I discovered the Gmail +1 idea.

The idea is simple. I created a new Gmail account for my class. I also forwarded all the emails for this new class account to my own Gmail email address. I suppose you could do this with an email address even if it's not Gmail; mine just happens to be a gmail address. Then, for each student I use the +1 idea. It works like this: sign up each student for ed.ted.com using the class email address, but add +1 to the end of the email address. For example, if your class email is myclass@gmail.com, then you would use something like this as an email address for the first kid in your class: myclass+firstkid@gmail.com. The second kid's email address would then be: myclass+secondkid@gmail.com, and so on. Whenever any of these student email accounts (they're actually just aliases of the primary account, myclass@gmail.com) receive any email, they all go straight to the primary account which, you'll recall, forwards all email to my email address. I've created a filter in Gmail to bypass my Inbox and just file these emails in a certain "folder", so to speak, where I can deal with them when I'm ready. For example, for the ed.ted.com I will need to verify each kid's account by clicking on a link in an email sent to the kid's myclass+firstkid@gmail.com account. Other than that, though, I shouldn't need to do anything else to manage the ed.ted.com account. By the way, the primary class email account is not accessible to my students because I don't share the password with them. That's why they'll never see any of "their" email that may be sent to this made-up email address.

The student signs into his/her account using this email address and whatever password he/she used when creating the account. I can choose to provide a password or simply allow the students to create their own. It doesn't matter, because all correspondence for the ed.ted.com account goes straight to me, and not the student(s). That allows them to remain anonymous when creating or using these online tools, whether it's ed.ted.com or something else that may be off-limits to kids under 13. I probably wouldn't use this for all online tools; only those that would work while allowing kids to remain anonymous online and protect their privacy.

I should mention one last point. Each year I set up my students with a class number, usually from 01 to 25 (or however many kids I have that year). They use their number plus first name as an identifier for many things in my class. So, their email address will probably be something like: myclass+00paul@gmail.com. I always reserve the class number 00 for me, and my name is Paul, so I'm "00paul" in all my examples when I'm teaching kids how to identify themselves. This system has worked well for us for many years, so I'm planning to use it for this "fake" email system, too.