Tool Review #3 – Remind

Disclaimer: I’ve been using Remind for about a year in my individual classes, but there’s been a big change in how we’re using it this semester at our school that I wanted to review.

Remind solved two huge problems for me: 1. I really do not like talking to parents on the phone; 2. I wanted two way communication with students and still protect my privacy. Last year, I had all of my students sign up and sent home handouts for parents who wanted to join. Students and parents who texted the class code to a specific number would be added to my Remind roster (organized by class). When sending a message I could push it out to the whole list of students and parents, or select an individual. You have the option of opening two way communication for whole classes, but not for individual students, so you have to make a decision about whether or not your class is mature enough to not abuse the privilege (ex. spamming your message inbox). I decided to keep my two way communication open and haven’t had an issue thus far. It’s been the easiest way to get a message out to students after-school since they rarely check their school email and may not be getting notifications from Google Classroom. Remind pops up just like a text message. It’s super slick to hit both students and parents with the same messages so everybody is in the loop.

Teachers can also decide how connected they want to be (respect the work/life balance!). You can turn off two way communication. You can have the app on your phone but turn off notifications. You can have it push to your work email so you don’t get messages at home. Or, just check it in your browser while you’re at work. Our staff members all use Remind differently; it’s important to find a way to make it work naturally in your own class or it’ll just be another tool you sign up for and never use.

So, I started this year all ready to use Remind, codes posted on my website, all my students signed up. It worked great per usual. Then a month of so in, we signed a school-wide contract with Remind. And at first it sounded really good; Remind would take all of the school registration information and make accounts for students and their parent/guardian. Then using our class rosters it would auto-enroll them and they would populate our teacher lists. But it’s never really that easy. What worked so beautifully on the classroom scale was a nightmare to roll-out for the general school population. It was the worst for those of us already using Remind because the tool itself has no flexibility between how it managed individual accounts (and the collected data) and those attached to a contracted school account. I had to merge accounts and start the student phone registration process again (because school-wide Remind only grabbed their school emails, which were useless). Students and parents also had to merge their accounts, and it took hours out of instruction to get everything lined out. So painful.

And yet, I’d still recommend it to all the phone-shy, hyper-connected teachers out there. There is some clear work to be done on their contract transitions, but for individual teachers it’s a life saver.

Tool Review #2 – Bubbl.us

When concept/mind mapping, l find that flexibility and customization features make or break the tool. Especially when you’re trying to express an individual brainstorm (versus a collaborative one), you want to create something that in flow, color, and functionality reflects how those ideas are connected in your own head. Bubbl was uninspiring on this front. I used Bubbl.us to create a concept map to break down necessary components of an app I’m building for ED 659. Remember the browser game my middle school coding kids are making? I’m developing the app version as an end of semester present for them.

I like the idea of mind mapping tools in theory but rarely in practice. My brain doesn’t naturally map ideas in round webs and that is generally the template shape. I like linear progression, hierarchy, and lists. Lucky for me, Bubbl offered both “tree” and “grid” templates which were helpful for what I was trying to convey. I realized too far into the project that a storyboarding tool would have been more appropriate for what I was trying to do, but I made it work by putting numbers in the bubbles to indicate sequence and “listing” components underneath their parent bubble.

Bubbl doesn’t bring much to the table in terms of features. While you can create hyperlinks and attach files there is no opportunity to embed photos, video, or commenting like you can in MindMeister. There are also few aesthetic customization options beyond color of the bubbles. It was limiting to the point of not being fun to use.

Overall, I think there are stronger/more interesting mind mapping tools out there. While the minimal interface may be a place to start trying digital mind mapping for younger students, I don’t think it would be enough to keep their attention for long. Older students would be better off with more complex mind mapping tools, or even Prezi. Of any point in the creation process, I think brainstorming is one of the most exciting. When you’re scribbling and drawing lines out on a whiteboard it’s easy to see that energy, but it’s much harder to recreate digitally, which is where flexibility and customization really come into play.

Tool Review #1 – WorkFlowy

There are multiple pieces of my life all converging into chaos right now (I’m sure I’m not alone), so I chose to try WorkFlowy to see if I could get a little more organized during this assignment. This tool is clean and dirt simple to use, though I’m so use to the colorful, sparkling interfaces of other tools that WorkFlowy is also a bit boring. In a nutshell — you make a bulleted list. And that’s it. You can check out my full list on the left.

There were only a handful of features to try out. Zooming allows you to choose one section to focus on at a time, which is helpful if you’re working with a giant list. I’m someone who likes to cross things off a list instead of having them disappear, so I really liked the strikethrough for completing tasks. Notes brought a little more flexibility to the tool so you weren’t limited to only creating new bullets. 

As you can see in the screenshot, I wanted to insert a photo but wasn’t able to. Part of me wanted WorkFlowy to become a holding pen for the details of those bullet points: embedded media, links with the photo/headline, etc. Nope. So, I learned to be content with the black and white bare bones list.

One feature that I found useful, but felt a little clunky, was tagging bullet points with hashtags. You could then sort your list so you would only see items with a specific tag. My tag #now indicates to me things that need to be completed ASAP. It works, and it’s in line with the limited functionality of the tool, but nothing to write home about compared to the other search/sort organizing feature of other tools.

When it comes down to it, you could do all of this in Google Docs, but the beauty of this tool is how weirdly simple it is in a world that is chock-full of busy digital media. It’s a better organized version of my phone’s Notes app, which is great because I use Notes all the time but it often becomes disjointed. I’m not sure it would be at all interesting to students; I see it being created then quickly forgotten. It may go the same way for teachers, but it could appeal to some who are looking for a place to pull together multiple to-do lists. A benefit of this stripped down bulleted list is that it focuses your attention the same way making a handwritten list does (pseudo-analog?). And, I kind of like it? It doesn’t integrate with Google or Outlook, has no calendar, or color coding. It is unabashedly just a list.