One Device, Free Data From Space Forever

lantern-explanationWhile the title may sound like science fiction, it is actually a momentous step towards truly universal education that is already happening.

Currently, Outernet is broadcasting news, ebooks, Wikipedia, and academic articles on four continents. But we can do more. One of the most significant steps we can make in education is by giving people the tools they need to become their own teachers. That is our mantra at Outernet.

First, it is important to understand what Outernet is and how it works. Outernet is like FM radio, but instead of music we broadcast information. Instead of radio towers, we use satellites so we can cover more area. Outernet uses radio waves like FM radio, just at a different frequency.

These waves are picked up by a receiver – the equivalent of a radio in this analogy – and are turned into files that the receiver stores on its drive. Then, instead of playing music for your ears, the receiver emits a Wi-Fi signal that is heard by a phone, tablet, computer, or any other Wi-Fi capable device. Imagine a FM radio that saves all the songs it receives, but instead of songs it saves news, all of Wikipedia, educational material, disaster alerts, books, and more.

To connect to Outernet, you need a receiver. We publish plans on our website to let anyone build a receiver, which requires a satellite dish to receive our broadcast. However, for the next three days, our first dish-less receiver called “Lantern” has been funded. Lantern has built-in solar panels so that it can work off the grid and it can be used to charge your phone or other device. We raised our goal of $200,000 in just five days and now, and reached our goal of  $500,000 January 11th, 2015. This let us increase our broadcast bandwidth from 2 MB/day to 10 MB/day. Right now these receivers are external, but we have the capability to eventually install an antenna the size of a computer chip into a phone or tablet, giving it built-in free data.

When it comes to education, the application is immediate and powerful. One of the categories of content we have included in our broadcast is teacher training material, currently from Teachers Without Borders (though we welcomeother suggestions). For existing teachers, an enormous burden for physical resources is lifted. The cost of a smartphone has dropped dramatically (as low as $25), which can now be a passport to an endless library of humanity’s best content.

For example, we broadcast an offline version of Khan Academy, turning any device into a classroom. But the possibilities of Outernet are truly limitless because a large part of our library is built on user-requests; if there is something you want that is not currently being broadcast by Outernet, reach out to us and we will broadcast it. To go back to the FM analogy, we are democratic DJ’s taking song requests for content. The value of having a library as part of a school is intuitive. Now, that library has been made digital and universally available.


How Outernet Works

But Outernet goes beyond a purely educational application. Right now, 4.3 billion people on Earth cannot access the Internet. Said another way, two thirds of humanity cannot enter the largest library ever constructed. Think of everything we have accomplished while operating at ⅓ our capacity (or less for most of history). Now think about how much more we could accomplish if every human being on Earth were able to contribute to the global marketplace of ideas. What would we discover? What advances would we make as a species?

Fundamentally, this is the role of teachers. Teachers are the guardians of humanity’s future because it is the teacher’s job to cultivate our most valuable asset: the human mind. One of my favorite examples of Outernet’s potential is Jack Andraka. Andraka used Wikipedia and academic journal articles to develop a brand new early detection method for pancreatic cancer. He was only 17 when he did this. He received nearly 200 rejection emails before a Johns Hopkins researcher responded.

Our conventions for how we access information and how that information manifests itself in advancements needs to be radically altered. If he had not had access to those materials, he would have never made such a discovery. History is replete with stories like this. The sad question we are left to ask is: how many Jack Andrakas have come and gone without ever making their discovery? Fortunately, we can stop this waste of talent forever.

Outernet is a quantum leap for education and, thus, a quantum leap for humanity. I hope you will consider supporting our work and spreading word of Outernet to your colleagues and friends. Help us build this great library in the sky.

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Best 50 Google Chrome Extensions For Teachers


Google Chrome is, increasingly, where it’s at.

As of April 2014, Google Chrome become the de facto internet browser, passing Internet Explorer for the first time after a five-year free-fall from Microsoft’s out-of-favor software. Fast forward to today, and StatCounter paints an even bleaker picture for Google Chrome competition, with Safari, Firefox, and IE combined still below Chrome’s nearly-50% market share.

While the real story is more complicated, with Microsoft bundling IE with windows giving it a huge built-in user-base, the rise of Google Chromebooks, Apple’s elegant-but-iOS-only Safari, and overall a subtle shift in mobile away from browsers to apps muddling the picture even further, what’s truly “the best” or “most popular” browser isn’t cut-and-dry.

But for the here and now, as far as browsers are concerned, Google Chrome is king, and part of what makes it great are Google Chrome Extensions.

What Are Google Chrome Extensions?

As explained by Google themselves, Google Chrome Extensions are “applications that run inside the Chrome browser and provide additional functionality, integration with third party websites or services, and customized browsing experiences.” While there is some grey area between Google apps, extensions, and simply shortcuts to websites, the right extensions can turn your browser into a Swiss-army knife of utility and efficiency.

What Is The Benefit Of An Extension For Teachers?

They can make things simple, more accessible, more visible, more compelling, more convenient–there are dozens of potential benefits to you in your classroom. Clip a web page to Evernote with a single button push. Look up a reference. Model for students how to add a citation. Send a link to colleagues without opening another tab. Find a useful resource for a lesson? Scoop it. Tweet it. Pin It. Find a post you want to read? Don’t email it to yourself–use Pocket.

The criteria we used to choose each extension? The extension had to increase your efficiency, provide a benefit to content/curriculum, allow you to connect with other teachers/parents/students, or enhance your workflow as an educator. If it has the potential to meet one of these four criteria, it was included.

Too Many Extensions?

Before skimming through these and installing 25 of your favorites, note that too many extensions can slow your browser down, and speed is one of Chrome’s other talents. Don’t rob Peter to pay Paul.

There is no standard for how many extensions you should use–your mileage may vary here. The speed of your PC, your available memory, your WiFi speed, how many tabs you keep open, and more can all impact your browser’s apparent speed, so add and remove extensions (it’s as simple as a few clicks–see the video above) to optimize your setup so that Chrome remains snappy and useful to you as a teacher.

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3 Ways Personal Learning Networks Are Evolving

3 Ways Personal Learning Networks Are Evolving

The concept of a Personal Learning Network (PLN) is a familiar concept these days. Yet, the nature of Personal Learning Networks is evolving as the range of tools available to support them increases, and our rapport with those tools becomes more sophisticated.

The aim of this post is to outline the changes that appear to be taking shape, and to offer some practical strategies for teachers to supercharge their Personal Learning Networks.

Evolution 1: Sharing is becoming more agile

Agile is a concept that has had a significant impact on the software development community. At it’s core, it is about getting products and ideas out quickly, so that their potential value can tested and feedback gathered to improve them. The products and ideas are then iterated and the cycle continues.

A similar phenomenon is beginning to happen in Personal Learning Networks spheres. Educators are shipping their ideas before they are perfect, and encouraging others feedback and build upon those ideas. PLNs are exhibiting a hive mentality with a common purpose at their heart. Making your Personal Learning Networks more agile is a must.

3 Ways to make your PLN more authentic & agile

1. Write shorter posts or otherwise create more shareable content more often
2. Don’t hold back from sharing half-formed ideas; contextualized properly, this is where Personal Learning Networks can hit their sweet spot. It’s also a part of a growth mindset!
3. Build on other peoples ideas and take them in your own direction while communicating who influenced you and how.


Evolution 2: Learning is about challenging yourself

In the past people were content to have a Personal Learning Network that agreed with their views and understood their perspectives. Nowadays, we seeing people follow and interact with those who offer different perspectives and can challenge their viewpoints.

This requires courage, but extending you Personal Learning Network to incorporate people you disagree with will force you to develop a more open mind, and a more robust personal position. In short, it’s a stronger learning experience.

3 Ways to challenge yourself within your PLN

1. Follow people on Twitter who’s ideas you disagree with and don’t always understand
2. Engage in debate, but make sure to go for the ball, not the player
3. Challenge your own assumptions in public

Evolution 3: Personal is becoming professional

In the next few years we’re going to be talking much more about Professional Learning Networks. The differences are subtle yet powerful. One is that professional learning networks are more focussed on the purposes rather than the compositions of their communities. Collaboration is about making change happen at the societal rather than individual rather.

Personal leaning still happens, but as a by-product. Another difference is the role that identity plays in Professional Learning Networks. Educators are finding more sophisticated ways of representing themselves and their reputations online.

3 ways to professionalize your PLN

While a more familiar route may be to personalize your professional learning network, the reverse also applies. Here’s how you can begin to professionalize your Personal Learning Network.

1. Figure out your unique value offering, and build your Personal Learning Network around that
2. Collaborate with others to make change happen as well as share ideas
3. Use multiple platforms to build a richer and more distributed identity.

Pulling It All Together

Personal Learning Networks are here to stay, and they will continue to evolve. The most important thing is to muster to courage to jump it and experiment. Personal Learning Networking is as much about your mindset as it is about the action you take.

What changes have you noticed in Personal Learning Networks? Please share your ideas in the comments – I’d love to know what you think.

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10 Good Google Docs, Sheets, and Forms Add-ons for Teachers

This afternoon I was asked if I could put together a list of my favorite Google Docs, Sheets, and Forms Add-ons. In the past I had put together lists of Sheets scripts, but most of those lists are outdated as Add-ons have mostly replaced scripts. Here’s my updated list of my favorite Google Docs, Sheets and Forms Add-ons.

Google Docs Add-ons:
The Tag Cloud Generator Add-on will create a word cloud in the right-hand margin of any of your Google Documents that contain more than one hundred words.

One of the most useful Add-ons for Google Documents is the EasyBib Bibliography Creator. The EasyBib Bibliography Creator makes it easy to properly cite resources and format a bibliography in APA, MLA, or Chicago style.

Knowing the right keyboard shortcuts to type the accents and characters is one of the challenges that students face when learning and trying to type in a new language. Easy Accents is a Google Docs Add-on that can eliminate that challenge. Easy Accents provides a virtual keyboard that enables students to quickly insert the letters and accents found in French, German, Spanish, Māori, and Sámi.

g(Math) is an Add-on for Google Docs that enables you to easily insert graphs and equations into your Google Documents. The Add-on opens in the right side of your document and from there you can insert the parameters of your graph and or generate equations.

Google Sheets Add-ons:
Add Reminders is a Google Sheets Add-on that will set-up your spreadsheet so that you simply enter reminder messages and email addresses then specify a date on which you want your reminders sent. The Add Reminders Add-on allows you to send the same reminder to everyone in your email list or you can send individualized reminders to everyone in your email list.

Save As Doc is a free Google Spreadsheets Add-on that enables you to select a series of adjacent cells and turn them into an easy to read Google Document. The Save As Doc Add-on takes just a minute to install. Once installed select the Add-on from your “Add-on’s” drop-down menu and click “start.” After clicking “start” you can choose a set of cells or all cells to be converted into a Google Document. The document will appear in your Google Drive dashboard (it might take a minute or two to appear if you have selected a large set of cells) where you can then view it, edit it, or download it as a PDF.

Flubaroo is a popular Google Sheets Add-on that enables teachers to grade all at once all of their students’ responses to a quiz created in Google Forms. Flubaroo offers automatic grading and emailing of grades. The autograde option in Flubaroo allows you to have students automatically receive their scores after submitting their responses to a quiz you created in Google Forms. The autograde feature will send students an email with their scores and the answer key (you can exclude the answer key). With autograding enabled students do not have to wait for you to run the grading process or wait for you to send emails.

Google Forms Add-ons:
FormLimiter is one of my favorite Forms Add-ons. FormLimiter allows you to set a time for a form to automatically stop accepting responses. You can also use FormLimiter to set a limit on number of responses a form will accept.

g(Math) is a also available as a Google Forms Add-on that allows you to insert graphs and mathematical expressions into your Google Forms. To insert graphs and equations into your Form select g(Math) from your Add-ons menu and follow the directions that pop-up on the right side of the screen.

Form Notifications allows you to create triggers for emails to be sent to you when submissions are made through one of your forms. You can set the Add-on to send you an email alert after a specified number of responses are received or after every submission. The Add-on also allows you to have an email sent to Form respondents after they have completed your Form.

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