Thursday, May 15, 2014

Shout-Out to Whispercast!!

The name "Whispercast" almost seems like a secret, but I'd like to give a shout-out to this free online tool from Amazon! Whispercast was designed to manage Kindles in order for eBooks to be "pushed" to end-users  in an organization . In short, it is the "Apple Configurator" for Kindle. However, Whispercast can be used at a much more basic level to make free eBooks readily available for students at absolutely no cost. All you need are devices that have the Kindle app and a little time for set up.

  • Create a Whispercast account 
  • Add multiple users to the account by downloading a simple template & creating a batch upload***
  • Spreadsheet only needs: student email, student "name", and password
  • "Purchase"  free eBooks
  • Select the users for those eBooks
  • Students log into the Kindle app using their new school Amazon accounts to access the eBooks!

I only plan to use Whispercast for free eBooks right now. Even if I had the money to purchase books for students, there doesn't seem to be a way to "reclaim" purchased titles for future use, making this an expensive process. I will have to do more research before moving toward  monetary eBook purchases.

Since summer is almost here, it is the perfect time to try Whispercast!
This would be a great way to encourage school-wide summer reading! Push out books to students through Whispercast and create a blog, wiki or even a Facebook page for a summer book club. With the Kindle app available for Android, iOS and computers, there is no excuse not to have kids reading all summer long!!

This would be a great way to manage AP summer reading as well. Since these courses often involve the great literature classics, there are oodles of free titles readily available.

Whispercast would also be great for administrators too. In fact, this would be the best place to try and spend real money for eBooks. The district could purchase an eBook, and school leaders and teachers could have a book study for professional development and share thoughts or questions through back-channel sites such as Today's Meet.

Happy reading!

***I made a mistake in adding students, so don't do this!!
In most "batch uploads", if there is an error or partial upload, I just delete the entire upload and start fresh. It usually works....really!
Once you upload your student accounts to Whispercast, DON'T DELETE!!
It does warn you, of course, but the accounts aren't actually deleted. They are now "real" Amazon accounts. You lose control of those student emails and can no longer use them to create an accounts for those students. Luckily for me, Whispercast has great support and fixed this for me!
Also, I had to ask permission to add all 350 or so names. Also easily done through Whispercast support.

Monday, May 5, 2014

"Screen-Free Week" for Parents Too!

Today marks the beginning of International "Screen-Free Week", formerly known as "TV-Turnoff". During this week "schools, families, and community groups pledge to spend seven days without entertainment screen media". You can sign a pledge that states that you will watch "no TV or DVDs, play no video or mobile games and only use the computer if it's required for work".

In discussing Screen-Free Week, a friend happily pointed out that the pledge doesn't specifically include some of the biggest vices: texting or Facebook and other social media. (Though a "family guide" does have some suggestions.) Since the "Screen-Free" week is really targeting children and families and is sponsored by the "campaign for a commercial-free childhood", this over-site is understandable, but the program then fails to address the impact of social sites and texting on its targeted audience. Parents should be in charge of "screen-time", but they just aren't paying attention because they have their noses embedded into their "social-screen". In short: Parents are at fault and should also sacrifice their "social-screen" during this week.

In many peoples lives, technology is so invasive that it has crept in and eaten away at the fabric of what was once considered "everyday life". People eat in restaurants without even talking or looking at the other people who are physically at the table. Children are totally ignored as parents engage in the games and social activities on their phones. Social-screen-addicts are even texting, taking videos and pictures and (tragically) even posting to Facebook while driving!

So, are you a screen-junkie or "social-screen" junkie?  Ask yourself a few questions:
How much time passes before you "check" your phone?
Do you text while driving? And were your children in the car??
When was the last time you played a board game with your children or at a family gathering?
When was your last "outdoor day" where you did something physical like hiking, swimming, playing basketball with the kids....?
Last time you had dinner with family or friends, did you put your phone away and actually spend time with them?

Life is all about balance. Technology has infused itself so quickly into our daily lives that research is just beginning to catch up and people just beginning to wake up to the fact that too much of a good thing is never good. Like junk food and sodas, technology has a place in our lives (sorry, Michelle Obama!), but too much is unhealthy!

So, think about going screen-free this week, but, if you are going to ask so much of your children, then you need to go "social-screen" free as well and lead by example.
If you are interested in taking the pledge to go "screen-free", there are resources available for printing.
(Hmmm....can't go paperless during "screen-free" week......)
Have a great week!