Redirecting TinyURL shortcuts using Google Sites

I’ve had my CompSci department page live at my current school for nearly two years now. It links many of the resources students find invaluable and is regularly used across KS3, iGCSE and IB courses. However the new Google Sites layout is much easier to configure and seems to help with accessibility so I decided in the last few weeks of term to help smooth the handover process by rebuilding. The problem was I wanted to retain my extremely useful TinyURL shortcut and make it point to the new site – and that’s not possible.

The solution

So I will have to keep the homepage of the original site (fine, I’ll transfer ownership) but wanted a quick way to redirect automatically without having users click on a link. Luckily someone had already thought of a way to do this with (the old) Google Sites: URL Redirector Modified

Setting up the redirect

To set this up simply:

  • go to the Insert menu when editing the page in the old Google Sites
  • select More Gadgets…
  • click on Public and then enter “url redirector modified” in the search box
  • select the gadget

Next customise your redirect. The first textbox is for your new URL. I also chose 10 seconds for the timeout as I wanted the students to see a message about the new site before the redirect, however you could adapt as required.

Then simply save your page and try it out!



Flipped / Blended Classroom with NEO LMS


As the new school year started last week I wanted to push further with my Flipped Classroom approach. My hacked-together system of EdPuzzle videos, Google Form WSQs and Google Classroom feedback to the students worked but was very time-consuming for the teacher. There was also a drawback to the students as it was difficult for them to quickly return to a topic at a later date for review.

I am currently half-way through completion of a University of Georgia Coursera entitled “K12 Blended and Online Learning”. I wanted to complete this to further my own knowledge and experience in this field and hoped that it would open my eyes to some pedagogical or behavioural methods for use in this type of learning environment.

I am enjoying using the Coursera system but it doesn’t let individual teachers create their own courses. When I worked at Robert Gordon’s College I successfully developed a number of iTunesU courses for iPad but unfortunately couldn’t leverage the same system for Macbook. I did a little research and found NEO LMS. It’s early days but I wanted to give my initial impressions of the service.

Courses were easy to create and customise and students register for these with an access code. When I introduced it in class last week there were NO issues with sign up – that rarely happens with new services. Students were impressed by the interface and found it easy to navigate.

I spent some more time exploring the multitude of options this afternoon while setting up two new courses. NEO LMS has made it so easy that I’m going to attempt to Flip my entire curriculum, not just a course or two throughout the year. I’ve already worked out how to get my students into separate Groups which then makes it easy to register them for future courses without the need for an access code. In fact, if you have the Enterprise edition, you can leverage the Rules engine to automatically enroll students in the next course when they finish the current one!

If you are looking into building your own Flipped / Blended courses then I highly recommend you check out NEO LMS. The individual teacher account is free and supports up to 200 students. You also get a 14-day trial of the Enterprise edition when you sign up.

This was originally posted on LinkedIn, 11th September 2016

Evaluating Coursera for Blended and Online Learning (Part 1)

Evaluating Coursera for Blended and Online Learning (Part 1)

Adjusting back to the heat of Milan in August is taking a little time for the family and this means broken sleep all round. Add a fantastic thundstorm right overhead at 3am and you have the perfect recipe for an early start to your day!

Inspired by some of my notes from reading Jay Ashcroft’s The Tablet Revolution (see review) I decided to investigate alternative MOOC platforms to iTunesU. I love iTunesU but the iOS app is a far superior experience than a student gets using iTunes on a MacBook. I flitted between Coursera and Udemy for a while not really finding a suitable course for comparison before stumbling upon an old article related to e-Learning: Most Popular Online Courses for eLearning Professionals. It seemed familiar and my Evernote concurred that I’d been here before.

While many of the courses listed are now long gone I found that Georgia Tech had just begun running a course titled K12 Blended and Online Learning. I decided enrolling would be useful on two fronts:

  1. Allow me to evaluate the Coursera platform
  2. Further my own professional development in the area of blended learning

Week one concentrates on the standards and documents from iNACOL. For anyone interested in deepening their understanding  of blended learning I highly recommend visiting their site. Of course Georgia Tech have linked all the required reading into their MOOC for you.

The instructional videos were clear, less than 8mins each in length and punctuated with short multiple choice quizzes. I do however wonder if Coursera allows different types of questioning similar to EdPuzzle (which I love). The iOS app reminded me of iTunesU a little, especially the ability to download videos for offline viewing.

I do wonder what the extra space is for in the video player… Might have been nice to have a transcript here.

I realise that students might be accessing Coursera on their MacBook so their experience will probably be different.

I completed the pre-assessment you can see linked in the screenshot earlier and found it very useful in helping to focus my targets. I’m comfortable with policy, online tools and classroom teaching, but want to delve deeper into intervention strategies that will enhance the learning of my online students. As the pre-assessment was a spreadsheet (also a PDF option) I would have liked the ability to upload an image or type some notes to myself and link it to my current stage in the course. I couldn’t find a way of doing this outside of the discussion forums so will have to rely on Evernote instead. On reflection it is probably good to have my notes outside of my MOOC, just in case.

Supplemental information appears to be text-only with hyperlinks and this is fine. One of the pages had embedded PDF and XLSX files that opened in Coursera’s own browser. Clicking on a world icon then opened it in Safari so documents could then be opened in other applications or saved. It would have been nice to select between Safari and Chrome as the default.

The discussion forums were basic but easy to navigate. Nothing I’d want to add there, there’s a reply and an upvote button for each post. Not sure how you are notified of new posts but will find out soon I hope!

In summary this is a good start. I’ve not tried creating a unit in Coursera yet but as a user I’m finding it easy to learn and navigate. I’m also enjoying the course and picking up new tips along the way which I intend to share with you, dear reader, in another instalment.

Book review: The Tablet Revolution by Jay Ashcroft @LearnMakeruk

The Tablet Revolution by Jay Ashcroft (amazon paperback & kindle)

The Tablet Revolution Cover

As someone involved in the planning, design and implementation of a large scale iPad rollout project a few years ago I found this book a fascinating read that echoed much of my own school’s experience. Each of the chapters cover a particular area that a school or education authority must consider before putting devices into the hands of teachers and students with nuggets of wisdom from the other side of the fence: that of the sales or support team wanting to part you from your funds!

The case studies peppered throughout the book highlight the pitfalls of poor planning or vague vision as well as the better-known success stories. I found this refreshing as many articles and books tend to make it seem like every project has been a success whereas anyone involved in an IT project in education or commerce will know this is just not the case!

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 18.12.35

I highly recommend this book to those who are planning a roll out of devices to students, those who are in the midst of the roll out and definitely to those who have been through the highs and lows already. I took the opportunity to reflect on my own approach, assumptions and practice as I read this book and think that Jay has given me insights in how to improve the learning and teaching outcomes of those using devices in the future.

Thank you for sharing this Jay!

Rating: 5 stars

As posted on

You can read an interview with Jay Ashcroft here:

Trying to create a student understanding tracking system using Google Forms and Sites #gafe

I used (and sorely miss) Geddit. It was very useful in gauging student understanding during a lesson and was a low-cost, high-gain tracking tool that I could refer to after lessons, before end of topic tests and during parents evenings (if needed).

I decided to try and create something along a similar vein, but using Google Forms and Sites. The advantage of this is that I can restrict access to those within the school, automatically use GAFE login details, and – in the future – customise it with more complex Google Apps Scripts so that students can be emailed and Google Charts automatically generated into a dashboard (I’m thinking by student or class at the moment).

My late-night sketch was simple enough – the teacher could choose a class and enter a question into a teacher-only Google Form. This would then be parsed by a Google Script to somehow display the most recently entered class and question in or above the student Google Form. When I’m generating reports into the dashboard I can use the timestamps from each Google Form response spreadsheet to correlate which question the student response relates to.

Anyway this was easy enough to prototype:

Teacher question control form
Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 01.48.33

Student response form
Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 01.49.05

The problem however was getting the most recent teacher question to appear in the Google Form. I decided to create a new Google Site and see if I could publish a range of the teacher Google Sheet as a webpage. I thought that this would be the easiest way to display the current question.

First I used a Google Sheet query in a new tab (called Question Feed) to reverse the order of the Google Form submissions:

=query('Form responses 1'!A1:Z, "select * order by A desc", 1)

I then created another Google Sheet tab (called Web Page) to create the view to be embedded in the Google Site:

Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 01.56.53

I managed to publish this tab as a web page and then went about embedding it into my Google Site. All worked great! However Google Sheets only seem to refresh every 5 minutes so I investigated a way of doing something similar using a Google Script.

Using code similar to the following I was able to change the page title of the Google Site’s current (only) page to the most recent question submitted:

function displayQuestion() {
var ss = SpreadsheetApp.openById("put your Google Sheet ID here");
var sheet = ss.getSheetByName('Web Page'); // or whatever is the name of the sheet
var range = sheet.getRange(2,1); // Get the question
var question = range.getValue();
var range = sheet.getRange(1,1); // Get the class
var data = range.getValue() + ": " + question; // concatenate
var site = SitesApp.getSiteByUrl("put your Google Site URL here");
var page = site.getChildren()[0];
page.setTitle(data); // Puts current question from SS into page title section


I added the script to the Google Site and set a trigger to run the function every minute.

The student view of the system currently looks like this:

Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 02.03.25

Yes there are UX issues – such as the page refresh to get a new question, or the need to click on “Submit another response” to change the teacher question or add another student response, however I think I’m happy with it as a starting point.

Please feel free to use the above code if it is useful to you. I’m going to try it out with a few classes in the next few weeks and see if I can use some real data to create reports from. Any comments on how I can improve the system would also be greatly appreciated.

Vector Graphics using Google Drawings

I’ve been experimenting with Google Drawings over the past few weeks to see what is possible in the app. I’ve been impressed with the range of features this simple application has and, while it won’t replace Illustrator any time soon as your one-stop vector graphic package, it is fantastic for introducing students to the idea of vector graphics, layering objects and editing points on a path.

I’ve included two YouTube videos I created for my classes for reference. In the first the students are shown how to create a vector super hero (and then challenged to create their own). In the latest video students are shown how to create a complex vector shape using the polyline tool. The shape is then used to create their own interpretation of a stylish book cover that only uses a small number of colours and shapes.

Any comments on either video much appreciated. Do you teach vector graphics to your students? Do you jump straight to the industry standard packages or keep it simple? I’d love to hear from you in the comments…

Some thoughts on a developing workflow – Google #Classroom and #GAFE

Some thoughts on a developing workflow – Google #Classroom and #GAFE


It is nearly the end of my first term at my new school and Google Classroom and other apps are fully embedded in my subject for years 7 – 13. I thought it was a good time to reflect on some of the successes and issues still to be resolved in my workflow using Google Apps for Education.

Keeping in touch


Given the large number of students I teach and the fact I’m usually split across two campuses each day it’s important that I’m easily reachable by students if they need to ask a question about class or homework. Younger year groups are, I’ve found, much happier to communicate by public or private Classroom comment whereas older students still prefer face-to-face communication. Perhaps this is linked to the KS3 work on Digital Citizenship this term.

I found that successful communication relies not only on the teacher and student checking their email regularly but also directed use of notifications within Google Docs, Slides, Sheets, etc. For example I wondered why students did not respond when I shared PDF files of their commented class tests and, of course, it is because they do not check their Google Drive regularly for updated content. After discussing this with my senior students we decided to try a “notifications” Google Doc where I could post a message linking to a new file. I realise I could post a message on Google Classroom but this would (a) not be specific to the student and (b) fill the timeline. It’s a real shame Google Docs does not allow posting of comments onto non-Google Apps files but I might have to check out this documentation to see if I can write a script to send out notifications in future.

Note that I am not using email directly, but instead relying on notifications that students receive via email. This allows me to keep track of the feedback given in the student document. If I can’t comment directly in the document I use Notability to annotate and then share the file back to the student via Google Drive.

I’m happy with the return functionality in Google Classroom as it allows me to communicate the grade and any feedback to my students however students are still having an issue with Turn In / Hand In – instead alternating between this and Sharing the document with the class teacher. I’m testing out a mechanism where the homework is contained within a Google Form and successful completion of the form (as long as you set it so it cannot be edited once complete) forces Classroom to mark the assignment as complete.

Sharing class tasks

FullSizeRender (1)

I love using Classroom as a way of keeping student submissions together but wish I could hide a post from the timeline or mark it as reviewed. My standard is to mark all homework tasks as “Homework x: …” so that students can differentiate between what is due to be submitted from home and what is to be accessed and completed in class. I also would like to be able to override a student Turn In status if they have not completed the task or, if they hand it in using a different mechanism, change the status for them.

I’m also developing the way students access information related to their class task. Initially I used Google Classroom to store all files associated with the task but – and this might be due to slow Internet connections – the assignment task does not always display all files linked with it. Over the weekend I created some assignments in Google Slides and have embedded a link to the information sheet into the slideshow, just to see if this makes any difference.

Recently due to days out of school I have left printed copies of work for some students. These are later digitised using a photocopier that scans to PDF before emailing the documents to me. I would like to further automate this process to move the documents from my email into a specific folder in Google Drive for marking.

Organising feedback

I work on a no paper system wherever possible and this includes providing students with feedback. It is not practical given the number of workbooks I would have to move between campuses. Marking paper submissions on location is near impossible given the tight transit times between classes.

When students fill in Google Forms they have the option to have a copy of their responses sent to them. However this doesn’t include any feedback from the class teacher. My aim is to work on a mechanism to automatically convert Google Form submissions to individual Google Docs so that I can provide feedback back to the students and use the direct notification process (+emailaddress) to highlight this to them.

I would also like to know that students have taken the time to regularly reflect on the feedback given from all tasks. At the moment I’m speaking to students in class about their work in general based upon my observations of their homework, classwork or assessment tasks but would like to be able to have more information from the student in advance of these discussions without having to create separate Google Forms for each task.

This reflection journal would be updated by the student after receiving feedback from the teacher. They would include a link to any reference document e.g. homework or class test, a summary of the feedback given, and their reflections on what can be done in order to improve. I’d also like to be able to access these files from a central list – perhaps a Google Sheet – which can detect and colour code journals which have been updated since the last time I accessed the list.

I’d welcome any comments on the above workflow or clever suggestions of scripts or plugins that would simplify any of the processes!

#Google #Classroom for building Digital Citizenship

Thanks to image link

The term has started here in Milan and I want to have a safe area for students to collaborate and comment and develop the way they respond to other users on the Internet before we move on to other, more public, mediums.

I decided to use Google Classroom because the school is already signed up to GAFE – mainly for email purposes, but they are also keen to develop their use of Drive and other apps available to them.

I thought about setting up individual groups for each class – for example I teach 3 year 8 and 3 year 9 classes. In the end I decided to keep it simple and created one per year group. Why? I wanted dialogue across the 3 classes and felt that, as the students were still all within the same school, I could easily monitor and react to any misuse of the site.

The school are also keen to use Classroom for issuing homework tasks (must investigate Charlie Love’s calendar script for broadcasting this from a central calendar) so I delivered an introductory demo to staff just a few days after starting work at the school! The SMT are also keen to have an overview of groups across the school – this would be useful for parent meetings certainly.

Some students are already embracing the communication aspect. After a few garbled “test” posts (which I quickly deleted) all was quiet until Saturday morning when one student asked a question about the homework task. Usually it would be left to me to respond but, before I had a chance, two other students in the same year had replied in order to help. The conversation continued until the first student understood fully and I took the chance to thank his peers for their help.

Today there were a few posts from another student who was having difficulty with another of the logic problems in the homework. I was happy to see the student who had received help on the previous day was first to respond with a detailed description of the mechanics of the problem (without giving away the answer!).

I’m hopeful that this helpful dialogue will continue but feel that, as well as an acknowledgement message from me in the group, the assistance given by the students should be recognised through the merit system that exists in the physical classroom. I’m looking forward to visiting their form classes tomorrow with the merit slips and hope it sets them up for a great week.

I think that by consistently applying the set behaviour system (for good and bad) in both the physical and virtual areas of the school community we might begin to dismantle the idea some hold that the Internet is somewhere you can say and do what you like without fear of being identified or punished. And if we can do that by highlighting the moments where students have taken the time to respond respectfully and helpfully, so much the better.

Transferring ownership in #Google Drive #GAFE

In a few days I will be leaving my current school and want to ensure that the work I have curated, created and shared via Google Drive over the past four years does not disappear into the digital ether.

A few weeks ago I began to investigate how to backup Google Apps for Education emails, drive files, photos, etc and discovered Google Takeout. It’s a neat service that worked in the background to create 2GB segments of my work which could be downloaded. It worked really well: converting Google Docs, Sheets and Slides into Microsoft Office compatible files, extracting email into an MBOX readable format. I may not need to use all the files and the emails are purely for reference but I felt a lot better having a non-cloud backup, just in case.

Transferring ownership is very easy as long as you have the email address of someone within the same GAFE organisation. The most efficient method is to use the GAFE admin console which is the only way to transfer ALL files to another user quickly.

However it isn’t quite as quick and easy as you might think: The alternative is to transfer ownership of each file individually! For someone who has kept three or four folders for each of the “strands” of my role – Computing Teacher, eLearning Coordinator, CAS Aberdeen hub chair, Form teacher, etc. there doesn’t appear to be any easy fix via the Admin console – unless there was only one person taking over all of the folders (there isn’t). Transferring ownership of a parent folder does not automatically transfer ownership of all other files and, once my account is deleted, the files are removed from the folder owned by the new user.

There is a simple solution to this – keep files related to departments in dummy department accounts e.g. computingdept and elearning for example. This means that, when personnel changes happen, it is a simple matter of removing the share from the old user and then sharing the folder with their replacement.

You will have to remember to create all files while logged in as the department account too – otherwise the GAFE admin console is still required to transfer ownership from the user to the department account.

Heather Dowd’s video below explains clearly how to go through the process of transferring folders and files to another user and makes use of a dummy “curriculum” account too:

Here are other elements you might have to consider:

  1. Remember to transfer ownership of Google Sites, G+ communities and YouTube channels as well!
  2. Should you deactivate any live Google Forms before transferring ownership?
  3. What happens to comments created by a user who is then deleted from the GAFE system?
  4. Is this something that can be scripted and run by GAFE Administrators prior to a user leaving the domain?
  5. Is Google Takeout a suitable option for students who have built up a lot of data over the course of their time at the school? Should there be a data retention policy so that storage is cleared every few years?
  6. Should you keep your sub-folders to a minimum in order to reduce the time required to transfer ownership? (I know I’m regretting being organised now!)
#GAFE Google Mail Tip – Filtering out calendar RSVPs

#GAFE Google Mail Tip – Filtering out calendar RSVPs

Email invites and responses can very quickly clog up your inbox. The following guide explains how to redirect or archive some of these. Be careful (if adapting this filter) not to accidentally filter out the invitations from others!

In Google Mail type the following in the search bar:

(subject:”declined:” OR subject:(“accepted:”) OR subject:(“maybe:”)) has:attachment invite.ics

Then click on the drop-down arrow to the right of the search box and select “Create filter with this search”

Filtering calendar invites - responses

Tick or make a selection in the appropriate boxes and then click on “Create filter”.

Filtering calendar invites - responses (1)

All future email invitation responses will be filtered according to your settings.