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Kimberly D. Hogg Posts

Schools: Dump Email and Start Slack-ing

The Problem: Too Much Mail

Teachers and administrators are familiar with email, which makes it a convenient tool for communicating within and across departments. Maybe a little too convenient.

If your inbox is like that of many teachers, there are hundreds of unread messages in your inbox. Things you don’t need to know. Questions you don’t need to answer. Social messages. Mass-mailed jokes. Single-line reply-all messages intended for one person. And, somewhere in the thick of it all, that one email that is actually relevant and important.

How on earth does anyone have the time to get through the backlog, let alone stay current on information they need?

The Solution: Start Slack-ing

Slack is a communication platform that has taken all manner of working teams by storm, and for good reason. Slack helps you filter through the mass of communication you receive and focus only on conversations that matter most. It also allows you to stop by the virtual water cooler and check the social pulse of the organization.

People who use Slack report some pretty remarkable outcomes:

  • 48.6% reduction in emails.
  • 25.1% reduction in meetings.
  • 79% of users agree their team culture has improved. [source]

Slack automatically filters messages into specific topic streams, allowing you to focus on what’s most important to you at the moment. Your supervisor’s jokes stay in an off-topic area, while their time-sensitive messages get your immediate attention.

email slack Comparison
How email and Slack stack up where it matters

As you can see from the chart to the right, Slack does the things email does, but it does them better. Need to share a document? Check. Need to hold a quick conversation to make a decision? Check. Give a situation update? Check.

How to get started

Talk to your coworkers about Slack. Install the app on your phone and desktop, and start using it within your department. Set up “channels” (like a chatroom) for whatever projects or conversations you have going on.

The channels all start with the “#” symbol, and #general and #random are set up as defaults. An example list of department channels might look like this:

  • #general (for department-related news)
  • #ad_hoc_committee_A
  • #discipline_issues
  • #late_dismissal_tardies
  • #Materials_and_Resources
  • #meeting_agenda
  • #random (for off-topic discussion)
  • #Social_Events
  • #any_topic_you_like

Okay, that’s great. Next, you can set up some preferences for each channel such as:

These settings allow you to filter out the noise and only pay attention to the conversations that matter most to you. You can stay abreast of what’s going on without mentally processing the content of the message, and whether it needs your immediate attention, dozens of times each day.

You can also send direct messages (DMs) between members when there’s something only they need to know.

At this point, Slack doesn’t cost anything, and that’s great. In fact, your school may only need to upgrade if message archiving or some other features are important (for legal reasons, of course).

Summary: Leave Email to Outsiders

Email still has its place, and that’s for communicating outside your teams. When having conversations with parents, school boards, or other outside stakeholders, email can still be a great tool. It’s a great way to create a written record of communication should you ever need it.

When it comes to conversations, sharing information, and getting work done in a team, however, put your conversations on Slack and start making progress.

Ed Tech Tip: Portable Apps for Labs and the Mobile Teacher

I’ve talked before a little bit about the Portable Apps platform, but I want to talk a little bit more about it today. Specifically, I want to address its use for teachers who move from classroom to classroom, and for students in computer labs. For Mac environments, please check out OS X Portable Applications.

What is Portable Apps?

Portable Apps is a platform for launching Windows-based applications (programs, software) from a USB storage device (thumb drive, memory stick, etc). You choose which open source software suits your needs, install them on your USB drive, and then have access to them on any computer running the Windows operating system. You can use it for:

  • presentations
  • audio/video
  • radio
  • audio recording and editing
  • word processing
  • databases and database management
  • touch type training
  • ear training
  • space simulator
  • graphics and photo editing
  • CAD
  • web browsing
  • FTP
  • RSS and podcasts
  • antivirus
  • screen recording
  • timers
  • file syncing

and a host of other things, with more than 300 portable apps available.

Why use portable apps?

If you’re a teacher, you want to have your own files available to you, along with the software to use them, but may be limited in your ability to customize the computers you use.  For example, you may not have administrator rights to computers at your school, especially in the computer lab. Another situation is when you don’t have your own classroom and need to use different computers in different classes. In both situations, portable apps can help.

For the mobile teacher

If you move from class to class, having your files and applications on a single USB can make it possible for you to bring technology into your classroom without relying on the cloud. If your school’s internet service is slow or unreliable, it may be hard to rely on services like Google Drive. Portable Apps allows you to have your files in your pocket for presentation on any computer with a USB drive.

It’s more than presentations, however, as PowerPoint allows you to save files as a self-launching presentation that can be saved to your USB drive. One program I use frequently is the countdown timer. By projecting the image of the timer for the students, they can work on time management skills, know that I am going to move to the next activity when time is up, and it also keeps me on schedule.

Another go-to for me for a long time was having Google Chrome or Firefox on my thumb drive. The computers at school only had Internet Explorer and would reset at night, so any downloaded software wouldn’t be there next time you taught. Because IE was (is?) so awful at displaying websites, having another option was a necessity, and portable apps made it possible.

Take a look at the software available in portable versions. There may be something here that would help you in your classroom.

For the computer lab

If you teach in a lab where you or students are unable to install software, and getting permission or having it done for you is difficult, consider using Portable Apps. Each student can have their own thumb drive quite cheaply; in fact, they probably already do. The wide variety of software available gives you a decent chance of finding something useful for your classroom.

This also may help keep your system administrator a little happier, as you can now manage your own class’ software needs without needing to involve them.

The benefit of portability also means that when a student needs to take their USB drive home with them to complete some work, they have all the needed software in their pocket. Just remember to have students make a backup, such as emailing the file to themselves if they don’t have dropbox or another service.

The Takeaway

Portable Apps allow you to customize any computer in terms of its software for your own use in the classroom, or for your students’ needs. Nothing is installed on the computer itself, so you don’t need to involve your system administrator to get permission to install and run these programs. They also allow you and your students to have the same software at school and at home if you take your USB with you. USBs are cheap and easily replaced, so as long as your working files are backed up, if you lose your portable apps, it’s easy to set up a new drive with the same programs you had before.

Technology Plan for Basic English courses at Korean Universities


The following general assessment is a modified version of Thirteen Ed’s (n.d.) Technology Plan Template. It provides a general overview of the current situation and future goals for technology integration in the basic English Conversation classes.

Vision Statement:

To create a holistic learning environment with student-centered learning approaches in which multiple learning styles are both recognized and accommodated. This holistic environment will address academic, mental, and physical growth and development. Students will be prepared for employment, citizenship and life-long health and wellness. This will be realized through partnerships with parents and the larger community employing appropriate technology, internships and other resources to benefit and enhance student outcomes.

Mission Statement:

Basic English courses at the tertiary level will align with the Korean Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology’s (Major Tasks, n.d.) goals of developing a STEAM- based education system, serving to enhance and grow students’ communication skills with the enhancement of appropriate technologies.

Goals and Objectives:

Through technology, students will learn to employ tools that enhance communication, interact with global citizens and their perspectives, and gain preparation for the future through collaborative problem solving.

Download the Complete Plan:

HOGG Technology Plan for University

Teaching: Iteration and Innovation

Iteration is at the core of teaching. Try, fail, rethink, revisit, reevaluate, retry: this is the heart of teaching the same courses year after year. It’s constantly necessary to innovate. The thing that worked this year isn’t going to work forever; the students I have today are not the students I will have next semester, regardless of how similar they may seem on the surface. The product development cycle is akin to how curriculum, classes and teaching develops over time.

While I reject the notion of the digital native, the reality is that our students need to be able to use and understand the technologies they are immersed in. Many of my students (and those of the teachers I talk to) don’t know half of what I do about using technology. Their smart phones are merely an entertainment device with a texting tool and a calling system attached. It is my duty as a teacher to make them think about these tools in a new way.

To do this, I need to move my curriculum in a new direction. Sure, I teach students how to write better paragraphs and speak with greater fluency. Any driven student can do this on their own, and any unmotivated student can hire a taskmaster to drive them through the process. This is not my role.

My role is to have my students think and consider themselves and their world in a new way. Yes, I’ll help you improve your grammar and pronunciation, but what I truly want is to empower you to use your tools to create change in your own corner of the world. Through learning how to use their tools, make connections between their experiences, and view things in a new way, I help them start to develop into game-changers. English and technology are just two tools on the path to change.

Knowledge Management, the EPSS and Badges

I had to make a podcast for class, and I chose to talk about badges to drive development and participation in an EPSS for Knowledge Management.

Here’s the podcast:

The podcast is the fourth in an imaginary series dealing with Knowledge Management for Education environments, the EPSS, tools with which to do it, and so on.

Here’s a link to the accompanying website, and I decided to make a Twitter account as well just for kicks.

Update: [March 29, 2014] My opinion on gamification has certainly evolved. While gamification provides some great external motivation, mere use of badges, leaderboards and points has its drawbacks. Next week I’m releasing my literature review on gamification and academic performance. Stay tuned!

Moodle, PoodLL, and EFL students

Summary: The PoodLL plugin for Moodle offers EFL and ESL teachers the opportunity to  do 1-on-1 assessment of learners, provide timely and specific feedback, and to supply students with personalized listening files for pronunciation practice. Learners need access to a computer with video and audio recording capabilities, which is standard in most laptops and smartphones produced in since 2009. Learners can record live to the Moodle website via the PoodLL plugin, or can upload a file to the server. File size should be considered when determining the length of the assigned video.


I’m experimenting with a new Moodle plugin with my EFL students (university freshmen). As my classes have about 25 students each, I find it hard to get around to each student in a timely manner to assess their speaking on specific metrics. The PoodLL plugin allows me to give formative feedback to my students in a timely manner and with individual attention. The plugin requires the students to use a computer with a video camera and microphone, which the PoodLL plugin can access directly (a smart phone, which all of my students have, works well here). Otherwise, teachers can make the option for uploading of files available. Be careful about the length of the assigned video and the maximum upload capabilities of your Moodle server. Keeping my videos short prevents any file size issues I may otherwise encounter.

Each assignment is a cloze assignment for the unit, designed to exercise specific grammar and vocabulary within a real-world context. I set a speaking target of 1 minute for the activity, but anything within 30 seconds of this target receives full marks. There is also another line in my rubric for the associated grammar in the task. I use the feedback boxes for detailed criticism, and the general feedback box for anything outside of the assessed material. I also have the PoodLL feedback (audio MP3 with download option) available to me to give specific feedback and examples where pronunciation needs attention.

Because I keep the assignment short (which is real; few of us orate for minutes at a time in a conversational setting), it’s achievable for students, and I can mark them all within an hour. As they are videos of the students, if I get interrupted I’m easily able to get back on track without keeping a live student waiting. I also can go back and review sections where I can’t understand the student to give pointed feedback on problem areas. Students can also review these sections to see where communication breakdown occurred.

Here’s an example using the second assignment:

From WorldView 1, Unit 16: In the Cafe

Grammar focus: modals for ordering (would like, will have, can I…?)

Vocabulary: Foods, quantities, money amounts

You are calling a catering company (Lunch Munchies, page 75) to order food and drinks for a party. Start your video AFTER the caterer answers the phone.

Caterer: Hello? This is Lunch Munchies. How may I help you?

(Start your video here):

You: Hello. This is (NAME). (Why you are calling). (What you want to order). (Party Date and Place). (Your Phone Number).

Target Time: 1 minute.

My sample video:

PoodLL Sample Video

The Rubric:

The minimum possible score for this rubric is 0 points and it will be converted to the minimum grade available in this module (which is zero unless the scale is used). The maximum score 4 points will be converted to the maximum grade.
Intermediate scores will be converted respectively and rounded to the nearest available grade.
If a scale is used instead of a grade, the score will be converted to the scale elements as if they were consecutive integers.
Between 0:30 and 1:30
Too Short/Too Long
No Journal
Unit Language
Used Correctly
Used (with errors)
Not Used


In addition to the rubric, it is possible to associate specific outcomes with these assignments, allowing teacher and student to track progress with regard to specific standards, not just an assignment grade. I like having this option as it helps me better assess exactly where weaknesses are occurring and to what degree.

When the students log in and check their assignments, they will see something like this:


The student gets specific feedback about each part of the rubric if available, and also gets feedback about their pronunciation, as this presented a problem for this particular student. I recorded an audio file for them to compare against their own video and speech patterns. They can even download the file as an MP3 for their own practice.

So far I’m really enjoying using this plugin with my students, and I’ll be doing a mid-term assessment in a few weeks to see how they are responding to the assignment.

Perch and distance ed?

I’m listening to the CBC Spark podcast (Episode 225) where they introduce Perch, an always-on portal to help bridge the physical space for remote workers.

I have questions about how this might work for families with members living away, and even more how they might help students avoid feeling the “distance” in distance education. I wonder if this would allow students to have a workspace where they could set up such a system and be online to meet with other students for more of the discussion and unplanned conversation that happens in regular programs. The idea of a portal where you could see who was around and could instantly “drop in for a chat” opens the potential for synchronous conversations that are not place-dependent. I think there are a lot of advantages here over Skype, in which there are several barriers to success. With Perch and it’s set-it-and-forget-it approach, there are interesting options for ad hoc group formation that I find intriguing.

I also envision this “portal” as an opportunity to hold distance office hours for students. It’s not always possible for my students to get in to meet me at my designated office hours, but if they were able to hop on to a virtual chat and get help, or see I’m around at other times on the portal, I could potentially increase access for my students. It’s currently only available on iOS, but they’re looking for an Android developer, so that’s obviously not too far down the road (which is essential for me here in Korea, where Samsung dominates).

Here’s the promo video from Perch:

Good project outcome

I had a student tell me today our final project changed the direction of her life. Although she is an English major, she has decided to use her English skills as an instructional vehicle to teach Korean, her native tongue. These are the moments you live for as a teacher- learning that something you designed had a profound impact on the life of a student. I’ll be sure to put the project together in the existing and a revised form to share.

PBL for EFL in Korea

I’m working at the moment to transfer my classes to a problem-based learning environment in keeping with both the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology’s goals for Korean education, and my own personal teaching philosophy. I’ll be making some notes in this post as I go, processing through some ideas for how students can integrate specific skills into activities that will lead to a goal. I’m expecting to use some kind of gamification for this activity, as students don’t have real-world solutions they need to solve in English (at present), which makes the applicability of the language from class very, well, foreign.

If you’re interested in this project, contributing to and helping develop it, I would love the company. Right now I’m in over my head and I want to do more than tread water. Even so, I have to work at this for my own peace of mind.

Resources that might help:


  • meeting new people
  • describing people
  • describing places
  • describing things and their relative locations
  • giving personal information

this post is a work in progress.

Is Competency-Based Accreditation the Death of the Credit?

I can only hope so. But don’t take it from me.

At the end of 2012, Carnegie Foundation announced it was looking into a new paradigm for the marking of student progress, away from the Carnegie Unit (more commonly known as the credit hour) towards a system based on competency (source). The Carnegie Foundation describes the Carnegie Unit as something that “was not intended to measure, inform or improve the quality of teaching or learning.

TechCrunch writer Gregory Ferenstein writes in mid-April of this year that this shift may already be happening [ahead of whatever decisions the Carnegie Foundation reaches] opining the days of the credit-hour degree “are numbered” (source). Mozilla is helping push this forward with its Backpack and OpenBadges projects. These allow for institutions or individuals to award digital versions of the merit badge to users based on specified competencies and performance criteria stored in the metadata of the badge itself. The Backpack associates a user with the badge which can then be displayed on other sites, creating a virtual badge sash on which to display accomplishments and skills an employer or client may find of value.

The idea excites me, and I don’t fear that this is the death knell of the university or the public school. What I hope it does accomplish, however, is a revamping of education that is so desperately needed. Thinking of my own experience, I was not permitted to take time off after high school before going into university. As a result, I feel I could have made better choices about my program and where I invested my money. That isn’t to say I didn’t get value for my investment-I did-but I may have chosen a different career path with a little more time to reflect and consider where I wanted to go in life.

As a teacher, I’m excited for the possibilities this presents. I’m a proponent of standards-based grading and ongoing formative assessment for learners. I think too much stake is put into a test, and the tests don’t often give valuable feedback about what the learner is doing well and where they need more help. From a teacher’s perspective, I am also excited by the possibilities this provides for breaking down the walls of the school (quite literally), creating space for more cross-curricular and interdisciplinary learning. It’s not bad to become an expert in a subject, but no part of our life exists completely apart from the others. No subject is an island.

In my own classes, I’ve been desperately trying to pull my students away from grade obsession and the dreaded summative assessment. In a culture that stresses standardized testing and rote memorization I’m certainly swimming against the tide. That said, the tide is changing and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology is calling for a move away from “rote-based learning and teacher-centered instruction towards practice-based learning and student-centered instruction” (source). Well, it certainly sounds nice. And while I’m reserving opinion on its success until I see it, I also know Korean opinion can shift tectonically overnight. This is a country of proud tradition and rapid change. Still, there seems to be a focus on compartmentalized instruction rather than integrated learning and competencies. I would love to start a school. Anyone want to fund it?

With the push for standards-based education and the Common Core in the United States, many teachers are pushing back, arguing that they’re no longer able to teach as they are being stifled by the tests NCLB requires them to meet (example) and going so far as to advise against becoming a teacher completely (example). My only hope is that this combination of standards-based grading, competency-based credentials and frustration with the status quo will lead to the revolution so many have been waiting for.