Something you know, Something you have

I read an article today in an educational newsletter about keeping your accounts safe with a strong password.  It suggested a range of sensible things like having at least 8 characters, using a mix of uppercase, lowercase, numbers and special characters, and not reusing old passwords.  All pretty good advice.

I hear a lot of people expressing concern about the security of “the cloud”.  They worry that their data could be compromised if kept on a server they don’t own themselves, or a server that is located somewhere else, possibly even in another country.  They express concerns about data breaches from hackers, security breaches of data centres, or even data being accessed by foreign powers during a government uprising. Is any of this possible?  I suppose so. Anything is possible. Unlikely perhaps, but possible.

If it’s true that anything is possible, and we want our data to have zero risk, then we need to not keep data anywhere. The only sure way to have no risk with our data is to have no data, but that’s obviously not possible, because we live in the real world where having data is important and useful. To live in a world without data is not an option. So when it comes to the security of your data, we need to decide what level of risk is acceptable to us.

Putting aside the likelihood of secret hacking attempts or tinfoil-hat conspiracy theories, can we all just acknowledge that the single most likely way your data will be accessed by someone else is if they get hold of your password.  Either you didn’t pick a very secure password to start with, or they guess it because they know your pet’s name, or you do what so many people do and write it on a post-it note and stick it to your monitor at work. Or maybe you are away from your desk without locking your computer. Or maybe you’ve shared it with someone you know.  Whatever the reason, that password, those eight or so little characters, are all that stands between you and potentially disastrous consequences.

So why, oh why, do more people not use Two Factor Authentication (or 2FA)?  I have had literally hundreds of conversations with people who will argue about the alleged insecurity of the cloud, and who get all freaked out because they don’t know where or how their data is physically stored, and who claim that they can’t possibly rely on a cloud service to store their precious data, but who don’t use 2FA on their account!  It’s insane.

Look, I get that some people might be mistrustful of the idea of putting their data somewhere other than a server that they own themselves. But unless they at least use 2FA to secure their account I cannot take anything they say about security seriously.  They are not even taking the most basic of steps to secure their own data, while they bleat about highly unlikely potential worst case scenarios.

So what exactly is two factor authentication?

Many people have two locks on their front door – a top lock and a bottom lock, each with it’s own key. Unlocking either one of the locks is not enough to open the door – you need to unlock both locks at the same time. That’s two factor authentication. You need both factors – in this case, both keys – to open the door.

When it comes to data, you also want to have two keys, or ‘factors’. And ideally you want to have two different kinds of factors – something you know and something you have. 

The something you know is the password, and yes it’s still a good idea to have a strong password, something with enough length and complexity that is hard to guess but easy to remember.  But it’s not enough. It’s just one factor.

The second factor is something you have, or something you physically carry with you, such as a phone or touch key. Unless the hacker or foreign power actually has your phone, they can’t access your data, even if they know your password.  Just like the two keys for the front door, they need both your password AND your phone at the same time. If they have both those things, you may just have bigger problems to deal with.

Some people think that using two factor authentication can be a pain, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s easy and absolutely worth whatever very minor inconvenience it might cause.  You probably have your phone with you all the time anyway, so it’s really not a big deal. Once you set it up, when you log into your account on a new device you simply enter your username and password as usual, then tap a button or enter a code on your phone to complete the login.  No phone, no login. Take that, hacker!

There are a number of ways to get that second factor, from receiving a text message, to entering a secret number that gets generated every 30 seconds, to tapping a ‘Yes’ button on your phone, to having a dedicated Yubikey in your computer. It’s an extra step, sure, but it makes your account very, very difficult to hack.

So please, if you don’t already use 2FA (on every account you own!) then set it up now. Your online life will be exponentially more secure. And if you don’t, then please do not ever express an opinion about the security of the cloud or anything else. If you can’t take even the most basic steps to protect your own online data then you have no business expressing your opinions about whether a cloud system is secure enough or not.  You just sound silly.

The Magic of Google Slides

Google Slides is one of my favourite G Suite tools. Its versatility and ease of use offers lots of amazing visual possibilities for students to present their learning in creative and interesting ways. 

Here are 10 tips for becoming a Google Slides wizard…

10. Master your design with Master Slides

Did you know that you can make a single change in one place that then changes on every slide?  Whether you want to add a graphic to every slide, reposition a textbox on every page, or change the font through your entire presentation, you can do it on the master and it will update on every slide. Click on Slide >Edit Master, then make your change to whatever type of slide you want changed. It’s like magic!

9. Voice Type your speaker notes

Typing is so 2019! So instead of typing all your speaker notes why not just talk to your computer and have the words magically appear in the notes section below the slide?  No special microphone or training required, just select Tools > Voice Type Speaker Notes, allow your microphone, then click and start speaking. And if you like this idea, you can find Voice Typing in Google Docs as well! Boom!

8. Stay focused when you need to insert an image

There’s no need to leave Google Slides just to find a great image to add to your presentation. Just go to Insert > Image and you’ll find options to add an image from your computer, from the Web, from your Google Photos, from a URL, or even directly from your webcam! All without leaving your slides so you can stay focused on making a great presentation! As a bonus, if you insert an image from the web this way, it’s also copyright free! 

What if you want an even bigger choice of images? There are several Add-ons for Google Slides that offer some stunningly beautiful high-res image collections, and many of them are free! Go to Add-ons > Get Add-ons and search for Unsplash Images. Or Pixabay Free Images. Or Adobe Stock images. There are lots to choose from, and having just the right image can really enhance your next presentation.

7. Add almost anything to a slide

Tucked away under the Insert menu is a treasure trove of options for objects you can add to your slides. As well as images, you can also add text boxes, audio, video, shapes, lines, charts, tables, diagrams and wordart. So get creative and add whatever you need to build a compelling presentation for your audience. Don’t overdo it though!  Remember, when it comes to slide design, less is usually more!

And yes, you read that right! You can now insert an audio file directly into a Google Slide! So students can now add voice notes, annotations, music, sound effects, pronunciations, and more.

6. Explore better design

Want some creative ideas for the design of your presentation? Check out the Explore feature built into Slides! It uses the power of artificial intelligence to magically suggest ways to improve the look of your slides. After you add your words and images to a slide, go to Tools > Explore to open the side panel and browse the suggested designs! When you see one you like, just click to apply it to your slide, and you’re done.  It’s that easy.

5. Publish to the Web

You can easily share your beautiful presentation by publishing it to the web. After you share your slides simply go to File > Publish to the Web and choose the settings you want for the published product. Share the URL and your slides will be visible through any web browser. What a great way to share your presentation with colleagues, parents or conference attendees. If you continue to make changes, the web version will automatically update so your published Slides always have the right content. And if you no longer need to share your slides, you can unpublish to remove them from view. You have complete control! It’s the cloud, baby!

4. Slides as Pages

Google Slides is a great presentation tool, but did you know it’s also an impressive desktop publishing tool! All you need to do is go to File > Page Setup and change the standard 16:9 slide format to whatever shape and size you’d like. Just choose Custom and enter your desired dimensions, such as 21cm x 29.7cm (aka A4). Then you can use all of the design tricks of Slides to create published documents like newsletters, posters, flyers, business cards, etc! In fact, you could even resize to the size of a mobile phone screen and create prototypes for app designs. So many possibilities! Using the File > Download As menu you can export directly to PDF if you’d like to print your finished product.  This little trick of changing the page size probably makes Slides the most versatile tool in the whole Suite!

3. Questions and Answers

When the time finally comes to stand in front of an audience and present your slides, why not give the Q&A feature a go? After you hit the Present button to begin your presentation, click the Q&A button in the floating black toolbar at the bottom of the screen. Depending on how the projection is set up, you may need to rearrange the windows on the screens a bit, but once you turn on the feature, the audience will see a URL at the top of the presentation screen, which they can go to to ask questions or make comments as you present. Audience questions will appear on your screen so you can monitor their feedback, or even present one of their great questions to the whole group. What kind of sorcery is this!?

2. Closed captions while presenting

There’s a ton of research that supports the positive impact that closed captioning has on literacy simply by having the words appear on the screen as you speak.  The same magic that allows Voice Typing can also add closed captions to your presentation, automatically as you present! Just click the CC button from the black toolbar when presenting and your words will flow along the bottom of the screen as you speak. You can even move the words to the top of the screen or change their size if you wish.

1. Collaboration is the real magic

Like all G Suite tools, the real magic happens when people can work together to share and build their ideas. Using Google Slides people can work together, on the same document at the same time, so work gets done faster, more easily and more collaboratively. Just click the yellow Share button, add your collaborators and then get busy together! Whether it’s a group project for a small group of students, a class project where everyone is able to contribute, or a staff presentation that requires input from multiple people, the collaboration feature of Google Slides will forever change the way you think about building presentations.

To learn more about Google Slides, check out the First Day of Slides series in the Google Teacher Centre. Or if you already feel pretty good about your ability to conjure up an impressive Slides presentation, why not show what you know and take the Google Educator Level 1 or 2 Certification.

Remotely Possible

Remotyely Possible

As the world rearranges itself to cope with this dreadful CoVid-19 situation, the reality of social distancing is setting in. If we are to stop the spread of the coronavirus then we really need to pull back on the amount of contact we have with others, at least for now. As a result, events are being cancelled all over the place, businesses are telling their people to work from home, and schools are facing mass shutdowns until this thing is under some kind of control.

In the last few weeks at Google we have recieved lots of questions from schools about how we can support remote teaching – using technology to run classes virtually – so that while school might not be able to go on, the learning can. Most of the major edtech companies have responded to these requests by making sure their remote collaboration tools are available to all schools, and many are offering schools the use of premium features at no extra cost. Google, for example, is currently giving every G Suite school access to the premium (usually paid-for) features of Hangouts Meet for free, so schools can have up to 250 participants in a video call as well as recording and livestreaming features. Google Classroom is already well placed to support online learning, and of course Docs, Sheets, Slides etc do a great job of allowing people to work together no matter where they are.

Beyond the tools though, there has been a massive push to create resources to help teachers who have never had to consider how they might teach online. PD Partners, Google Educator Groups, and of course regular classroom teachers are busily creating videos, screencasts, notes, etc, to help guide their colleagues in how to operate in this new remote learning reality.

I’ve sat down a few times over the last few days to plan what I might contribute to this push for new content. I have made a lot of screencasts and tutorials over the years, and produced a ton of resources for teachers to help them understand how to get the best from technology in their classroom, but right now I’m trying to give some thought to what teachers really need if their school shuts and they learning must go on. How do we quickly give teachers the new skills they need, and what exactly are those skills anyway?

So I’m putting the question out there, and I’m inviting you to respond in the comments below… as we race to create more resources and content to help teachers get through these inevitable school closures, what do you think teachers most need?