Google Chromecast: awesomely fun and awesomely cheap, but not ready for the classroom

Photo: Erica Joy, CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo: Erica Joy, CC BY-SA 2.0

The new Google Chromecast is a dirt-cheap ($35) device that lets you wirelessly beam video from a computer, tablet, or smartphone to an external video device like a TV or projector. It’s similar to an Apple TV in its functionality.

The device itself is a tiny dongle that connects to a TV, monitor, or projector via an HDMI plug. It can draw power through the HDMI plug if your device supports that; otherwise, it’s powered through a Micro-USB port.

You use the Chromecast by pressing a little “cast” icon inside of your Chromecast-supported web browser or smartphone app. Once the button is pressed, video either streams from your device to the Chromecast (e.g., if you are mirroring your web browser) or directly from the Internet through the Chromecast (e.g., for Netflix or YouTube videos). In the latter case, your device becomes a remote control to pause the video, raise or lower the volume, toggle subtitles, and so on.

Using Chromecast on Android. From left to right: Netflix's browsing interface with the new "Cast" icon near the top right; the "Cast" selection screen; and the remote control interface.
Using Chromecast on Android. From left to right: Netflix’s browsing interface with the new “Cast” icon near the top right; the “Cast” selection screen (my Chromecast is named “pajamas”); and the remote control interface with volume control, subtitles control, pause and stop buttons, scrubber bar, 10-second rewind button, episode selector button, and cast button.

I’ve been using a Chromecast at home for a few weeks now. I love it as a consumer device, but as of late summer 2013, I cannot recommend it for classroom use.

The bottom line is that the number of supported apps is still laughably small. You can stream a laptop’s Chrome browser window (albeit in a somewhat laggy and buggy fashion) and thus cast a Google Drive presentation to an external monitor, but tablets and smartphones are limited to just YouTube, Netflix, and Google Play streaming. Thus, it’s still impossible to cast a presentation, photo, or document from a tablet to an external monitor via Chromecast. I would love to be able to take a quick photo of a student’s work and wirelessly project it to the classroom monitor, but that’s currently impossible with the Chromecast. The lack of such basic functionality is a total dealbreaker.

In addition, because the video streaming is wireless, the device requires WiFi to function. If your institution is as finicky about WiFi access as mine is, that’s also an enormous administrative hurdle. I would not be capable of testing out my personal Chromecast in the classroom even if I wanted to due to the WiFi access issue. And because the device currently has no security, any student who has access to the same WiFi network can cast any media to the Chromecast at any time–which is an acceptable risk in a classroom full of adults, I think, but it’s an obvious non-starter in a primary or secondary school.

Right now, the Chromecast is a neat toy and an awesome consumer device, but until its software matures enough in terms of security of access and in terms of what materials can be wirelessly projected to your display, it’s essentially worthless in a classroom context. And even then, if your district or institution is anything like mine, it would take a considerable administrative push to get the device implemented in the classroom due to the fact that it requires WiFi authentication.

I love the idea of the Chromecast, and I love owning one. I just can’t imagine a compelling way to use it in the classroom. The device has so much potential, but as it exists right now, it’s weighed down by too many limitations to be worth implementing.

10 Apps for Students to Take Notes

This guest post by Michael Zimmer was previously published in his blog, The Pursuit of Technology Integration Happiness.

As schools and districts move towards “1 to 1” and to “Bring Your Own Devices,” the process of taking notes will take on a new meaning.  It the past couple years, for me personally, it has gotten to a point where writing for very long makes my hand hurt because I don’t use a pen or pencil very often anymore.  While attending Master’s classes and Professional Development meetings, I have started using my laptop and iPad to take notes.  I have a feeling this will become the trend in future years in education.  As we move towards this, it will be important that students have a functioning way of categorizing and keeping notes organized.  Here is a list of ten possible tools.

evernote-logoEvernote – A staple among educators and almost a necessity for me these days; Evernote provides users the ability to take notes, save images, and other documents, as well as record audio to go along with your notes.  For a lecture, this would make a great tool for students in the classroom. Evernote, like most of the apps I will share provides users the ability to share notes as well.  This could be handy for teachers and students working on a group project.  Evernote is available for desktops, mobile and tablet devices.

googledocsGoogle Docs – A lot of schools have gone to Google as their choice for spreadsheets, word documents, and presentation tools. Google Docs provides great note taking opportunities and also makes is easy to share notes among other users.  It is also available for mobile and tablet devices and notes are stored in the cloud for access anywhere. Editor’s note: Google Docs is now part of the product called Google Drive.

originalFetchnotes – More of a to do App, but does allow users the ability to take longer notes as well.  One sets it apart is the ability to apply hashtags to your notes for organizing them.  This would be a helpful addition to labeling notes as you go and easily categorizing them as well. Fetchnotes is available for both Android and Apple devices.

imagesJjot is another web app option that allows users to take notes in a post-it type format and makes the notes available from any computer.  The notes can easily be shared and printed.  It allows user to bold and bullet a list and each note can have a unique URL.

listhingsListhings is a cork board type notebook app that allows users to create notes and share them with ease.  Not necessarily meant for longer note taking, but does provide the space if desired.  Notes are stored in the cloud and therefore area available from any computer.

Penzu-pro-logoPenzu – More like a journal, but when taking notes, organizing by date is very important. Penzu is an app that users can use to take notes and then easily share them with other students or teachers.  You can also get Android and Apple version of the app for mobile devices.

Simplenote_logoSimplenote is an app that makes taking notes…well, simple.  Notes can be found on the web, desktop or on a mobile device.  Search tools and tagging make it easy to organize and find your notes.  Like other note taking apps, it also allows users to share their notes, making collaboration even easier.

Screen shot 2011-01-28 at 1.38.44 PM Quicklyst – A note taking app that helps users create outline style notes in a structure that helps with organization and understanding of those notes.  Available for use on all devices and requires email and a password to get started.  What sets it apart is the ability to include formatted mathematical equations.

workflowy_logo_largeWorkflowy – Another option for creating an outline style of notes and also viewing those notes in an easy way.  Email and password are required for use and contains a lot of the other features note taking apps provide, but like Quicklyst, is an app for creating outline/list style notes.

logoNotes.io is a simple, no sign-up required note taking app that allows users to easily type notes, then share them with a simple URL.  Currently, printing, attaching, and sending directly are in the works to improve this service even more.

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10 Apps for Students to Take Notes by Michael Zimmer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


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Twitter for Teachers: Quick and Easy PLN

This guest post by Derrick Waddell was previously published in his blog, Teach the Cloud.

Aspiring and current educators frequently ask me how I keep up with the latest in ed tech. I always reply with the same three things: 1) read and write blogs, 2) join and participate in Twitter, and 3) listen to podcasts.

In part one of this three-part series, I told you about my favorite education and technology podcasts. In my second post, I introduced you to some of my favorite ed tech blogs. Now, I want to share my thoughts on Twitter.

Twitter, as you probably know, is a microblogging site that allows you to post updates of 140 characters or fewer. Think Facebook status updates without all of clutter of a Facebook page. Sure, you’ll find no shortage of people who post what they had for lunch or quote song lyrics. Twitter is crowded with idle celebrity gossip and political diatribes. Still, you choose who to follow and who follows you, so it’s easy to avoid the negatives and focus on the positives. Here are my three favorite uses for Twitter.

Learning

Twitter is a great place to learn. Since joining Twitter, I’ve found countless sites to improve my classroom instruction. I’ve seen hundreds of resources and blogs that have taught me more than any professional development workshop that I’ve attended over the years. My suggestion is to find a few educators to follow, look at their followers, find some you like, follow them, and repeat until your feed is full of outstanding educational resources. Another good option is to search for hashtags that may give you a list of potential resources to follow. Here is a list of hashtags that may help.

Sharing

I am a teacher. I love to share my knowledge with others. While my blog gives me an outlet for more in-depth discussions, Twitter is a way to quickly and easily share with other educators, whether it’s my opinion on a topic, a link to a blog post, a new web tool, or a retweet.

Connecting

Imagine you’re at a conference. You meet a few people in each session you attend and maybe a few over lunch. You exchange ideas and business cards and learn what you can from each other in the space of a few hours. Now imagine that the conference never ends and those few people are thousands. It becomes a continual networking session where you can meet other like-minded professionals and make lasting professional relationships.

Twitter is an amazing tool, but just as a hammer only works when you swing it, Twitter only works when you use it. Jump in and participate. Search hashtags, find people to follow, ask questions, answer questions, learn, and share. If you do, Twitter will become an invaluable tool.

Here are a few resources that will help you get started on your Twitter journey:

An Educator’s Guide to Twitter – Live Binder by Steven Anderson

Twitter 101: Clarifying the Rules for Newbies – Post by Corvida Raven

Seven Posts from Free Technology for Teachers

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

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Twitter for Teachers: Quick and Easy PLN by Derrick Waddell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.


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