4 End-of-Year Tech Tips to Prepare for Summer

Summer break is nearly here! But before you slip on your flip flops and hit the beach for some well-earned rest and relaxation, take some time to review these timely tech tips geared toward helping you get your digital devices and resources in order. That way, you can return to the classroom next fall feeling well-organized and prepared to guide a new class of eager learners.

Each of these tips comes to you from one of our savvy team members. Don’t skip over tip #4! It can save you a lot of time and effort this summer.

Tip #1 – Archive your Lessons and Reflect

From Stacie Tefft, LTC Instructional Technology Coach

Before you shut your laptop and check out for the summer, consider taking some time to archive some of your most successful digital lessons from the current school year. This can include downloading resources, saving links, and creating folders on your Google Drive so that you can easily pull from those lessons during the next school year.

While you’re at it, add a few notes to your lessons reflecting on what went well and what could be improved upon next use. That way, you can concretely assess your lessons’ performance without forgetting a crucial detail or takeaway over the long summer months.

Tip #2 – Clean Out your Digital Desk

From Anne Kasa, LTC Instructional Technology Coach

No one works well at a messy desk. Despite that, many teachers head out for the summer with a jumble of documents, videos, and images floating around their digital workspace.

Save yourself the hassle of needing to straighten things out in the fall by tidying up now. That can include organizing files worth keeping into easy-to-navigate folders and trashing any extra files that are adding clutter to your Drive or on your desktop.

If you’re worried about tossing something you might need later, now would also be a good time to set up a reliable backup system for your mission-critical files. Whether you manually backup your files on a regular basis or set up an automated backup process, you’ll be happy to know you have a second option if your device is suddenly upgraded or replaced over the summer.

Tip #3 – Turn on Two-Factor Authentication

From Jen Leban, LTC Instructional Technology Coach

Anymore, it feels like you can’t scroll through teacher Twitter without seeing a handful of stories about schools struck by cyberattacks. Ransomware attacks in particular are on the rise, with Albuquerque (NM) School District and Lincoln (IL) College making headlines for the scale of their respective attacks.

Cyber attackers are often looking for a quick and easy way to access a school’s network. One way you can deny them access to your files and your district’s private networks is by utilizing two-factor authentication (2FA). This method ensures only you can access your devices, including while you’re away on summer break.

Here are a few more cybersecurity tips for teachers if you want to do more to keep your school accounts and data safe.

Tip #4 – Check with your Tech Director

From Matt Jacobson, Online Learning Coordinator

As the school year winds down, take a moment to check in with your building or district tech director. They may have a list of customized recommendations that can help you prep your devices for the extended break ahead.

For example, your district’s tech team will likely run software updates and other assessments on your devices while you’re away. To help them readily access your devices, be sure to follow their requests for recording your passwords. While that may go against conventional wisdom about writing down your credentials, it can be a major help to your hardworking tech team.

More End-of-Year Tech Tips and Resources

Between grading finals and holding end-of-year celebrations, you probably have plenty on your plate right now. If you can take some time out of your busy schedule to put these tech tips into action, you’ll thank yourself when the new school year rolls around. After all, it’s hard to beat returning to a safe and tidy digital classroom!

Looking for more tips and resources for closing out your school year strong? Check out this handy Flipgrid we created showcasing even more end-of-year tech tips from the LTC staff – including a quick primer on archiving (instead of deleting) your Google Classroom classes.

Teacher license renewals are also coming up over the summer. If you’re still looking for quick PD to fulfill this cycle’s requirements, drop in to one of our free, self-paced online courses. Classes on Google Drive, Microsoft OneNote, and more are open now through June 10.

Lead the Conversation! Submit an IETC 2022 Proposal

A new location, a new structure, and a renewed commitment to in-person professional learning.

It’s all happening live at the 29th annual Illinois Education and Technology Conference (IETC) and we want you to lead the conversation.

Now’s your chance to take part in this year’s illuminating conference by submitting a session proposal. Presenting at IETC comes with great benefits, as well as the opportunity to share your unique perspectives with over 800 educators, administrators, and technology professionals from across the state.

Together, we can shape the next generation of future-ready students. To do that, we need your voice in the conversation. Submit a session proposal for IETC 2022 and get ready to step on stage at one of Illinois’ preeminent edtech conferences.

Here’s what you need to know before submitting your IETC 2022 proposal:

New Location, Same Future-Focused Learning

IETC is a rich environment for sharing diverse perspectives from across the education spectrum. As such, educators of all stripes – including teachers, administrators, IT professionals, and more – are encouraged to submit a proposal and support their peers as they expand their professional horizons.

To make that happen, IETC is putting down roots at a new location – the Bank of Springfield Center in the heart of our state’s capital. We’re also embracing a new expanded format with keynotes, workshops, and breakout sessions spread across all three days of the conference.

Taken together, this year’s attendees will have more reasons to take part in the full conference while also taking in all of the local history and culture downtown Springfield has to offer.

Presenter Benefits

Every year, IETC attendees walk away with a wealth of knowledge and connections that will serve them well back in their home district. When you choose to become an IETC presenter, you’ll gain extra benefits that make sharing your voice worth your time and effort.

This year’s presenter benefits include:

  • Waived conference fees (lead presenters and workshop presenters)
  • Continental lunches (lead presenters, co-presenters, and workshop presenters)
  • A conference swag bag filled with goodies (workshop presenters)

Presentation Strands & Formats

This year’s presenters have two options for sharing their knowledge and insights, including:

  • 50-minute general breakout session
  • 110-minute immersive workshop session

Prospective presenters will also have the chance to speak on a broad slate of relevant edtech topics, including technology integration strategies, engaging instructional practices, digital tools and resources, and emerging edtech trends.

Be sure to visit our conference website for a full list of this year’s strands and substrands:

  • Instructional Design and Delivery
  • Computer Science and Conceptual Thinking
  • Digital Citizenship
  • Online Tools, Apps, and Resources
  • Technology Planning and Evaluation
  • Educational Policy and Leadership
  • Digital Equity
  • Technology Infrastructure
  • Technology Management

Submission Deadline

Prospective presenters must submit their session proposals by May 27, 2022 to be considered for a session slot.

Share Your Voice at IETC 2022

Illinois’ edtech community is eager to dig deep into the tools, resources, and best practices that power today’s tech-powered classrooms. IETC is your opportunity to share your hard-earned wisdom and take part in the ever-evolving conversation about the role of technology in education.

But don’t wait! Submit your IETC 2022 proposal today and lend your voice to the growing body of knowledge surrounding edtech’s future.

IETC 2022 registration is also opening soon. Sign up for notifications to be the first to know about this year’s exciting in-person gathering.

Share What Works in Digital Literacy @ #DigLitCon

Mark your calendars! The LTC-hosted Digital Literacy Conference is returning this fall, offering teachers, administrators, technology coaches, and library media specialists a focused opportunity to discover what works in teaching digital literacy.

Right now, we’re searching for educators like you with proven experience teaching digital citizenship, media literacy, digital ethics, and more. Consider submitting a proposal and joining this year’s team of standout presenters!

Digital Literacy Conference 2022 FAQ

What is DigLitCon?

Digital Literacy Conference was created to meet the needs of Illinois’ K-12 teachers, administrators, tech coaches, and library media specialists as they strive to utilize effective digital literacy strategies and resources.

Now in its second year, DigLitCon continues to offer a unique opportunity for digital literacy stakeholders to gather together and discover new tools, instructional practices, and connections. Last year, over 150 participants from Illinois and abroad walked away with the skills and knowledge needed to foster a new generation of productive, ethical, and empathetic digital citizens.

Who Can Submit a Proposal?

All K-12 educators, tech coaches, and library media specialists with experience teaching digital literacy concepts are encouraged to submit a proposal for DigLitCon. Those selected will have an opportunity to lead a 50-minute virtual session on September 16, 2022.

What Topics will be Covered at DigLitCon?

“Digital literacy” is a broad concept, made up of numerous individual competencies that empower an individual to skillfully engage with digital spaces. That’s why this year, prospective speakers are encouraged to submit presentation proposals that fall under one or more of the following strands:

  • Information & News Literacy
  • Computer Literacy
  • Visual Literacy
  • Media Literacy
  • Ethical Uses of Digital Resources
  • Digital Communications
  • Digital Citizenship
  • Digital Tattoos & Online Privacy

Full descriptions for each strand can be found on the DigLitCon homepage.

Submit a Session Proposal Today!

If you’re passionate about digital literacy, DigLitCon wants to hear from you. Submit a proposal today so that your peers across Illinois have the opportunity to learn from your perspectives on this evolving field.

3 Ways You Can Add Digital Accessibility to Your Classroom Today

Many of the digital learning tools adopted over the past several years are cementing themselves into everyday learning. While this has opened new avenues of engagement for many students, those with cognitive or physical disabilities have not received nearly enough attention when it comes to their digital access needs.

As it stands, some digital learning tools and communications are not effectively accessible by default. Fortunately, there are numerous ways that teachers like you can make their classroom’s digital content more inclusive for all learners.

Here are three ways you can begin making your digital learning content more accessible today:

Review Contrast

Contrast refers to the visible differentiation between any two graphic elements, including between text and a background. Contrast can be impacted by several factors, including text size, font choice, font color, and background color.

Without proper contrast, users with low vision or a vision impairment (such as color blindness) may struggle to fully engage with the on-screen content. To prevent this, content creators should strive for a suitably high level of contrast (4.5:1 or higher) across all digital text and graphics.

Here are a few keys to remember when working to maximize your content’s contrast:

  • Use a large font size – 18 point or larger text contributes to a higher contrast ratio. Text as small as 14 point may be used if it is bold.
  • Utilize an effective color combo – Because color deficiencies are diverse, no single color combo can be prescribed as “accessible” in all situations. Instead, content creators should focus on maximizing luminance between any two elements and providing user-controlled tools for adjusting foreground and background colors.
  • Use standardized fonts – Thin or decorative fonts can contribute to low contrast. Always use fonts with a proven track record of digital readability, including Tahoma, Calibri, Helvetica, Arial, Verdana, and Times New Roman.

There are several tools you can use to analyze contrast in your existing digital content, including this free color check tool and this standalone app.

You can also read more about contrast through the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) online accessibility guideline documentation.

Add Meaningful Link Text

As with alt text, link text provides users with additional information relating to a link’s purpose. This allows them to make an informed decision about following that link without the need for additional context. In particular, link text can make web pages more navigable for individuals with certain movement impairments, cognitive impairments, or visual impairments.

Effective link text can be implemented in several ways. The first is through adding a preceding text description that makes the link’s purpose fully clear. Consider the following example:

“Learn more about registering to vote at Illinois’ State Board of Election website.”

In this example, the text description preceding the link adequately describes what the user can expect to find if they follow the link.

There are also more ways to effectively implement link text, including through embedding clarifying information. Learn more about these methods, as well as other link text considerations, on the W3C’s online accessibility guideline documentation.

Utilize Accessibility Tools and Evaluation Methods

While implementing digital accessibility is an imperative, it can be challenging for a teacher alone to accomplish alongside their other responsibilities. As such, both individuals and institutions are encouraged to make use of proven accessibility evaluation tools whenever possible.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) maintains a database of over 100 accessibility evaluation tools, which can be used to assess everything from color contrast to ADA compliance. While the LTC does not endorse any of these tools, this collection is a great place to start if you want to better understand how digital accessibility both looks and operates.

For more information on digital accessibility auditing (including W3C’s evaluation methodology), visit their Assessment hub.

Taking the Next Step Toward Digital Accessibility

Everyone in education has a role to play when it comes to making digital learning content accessible. With the right knowledge and skills, you can ensure that your digital learning environment is inclusive and that all of your students, regardless of disability, have the opportunity to fully engage online.

The Learning Technology Center (LTC) is here to support you toward those goals through our free resources and knowledgeable statewide team. Contact us to learn more about how your local RETC can help your classroom bolster its digital accessibility. You can also discover three more ways to make your digital content more accessible on our Blog.

The LTC also strives to keep K-12 school districts up-to-date on the latest state and federal accessibility guidance – including Illinois’ new online learning tool accessibility mandate. Legal briefs and analysis of these standards can be found on our Accessibility hub.

Illinois’ New Digital Accessibility Law – What Education Leaders Need to Know about HB 26

Effective August 1, 2022, Public Act 102-0238 (also known as HB 26) requires 3rd party curriculum content to achieve Level AA accessibility conformity, as outlined in the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (W3C WCAG).

In conjunction with existing ADA and Section 504 requirements, this new guidance will ensure that all students, staff members, and parents can fully utilize a school’s online media, regardless of physical or cognitive disability.

While solutions will vary from district to district, many will need to take steps over the course of this year to bring their school’s online media into full compliance. This may include assessing common problem areas and making plans to both remedy and maintain those non-compliant elements over the long term.

Before making upgrade plans, district leaders should strive to fully understand what’s being asked of them under the state’s new accessibility guidelines. These following questions should clear up confusion and help you pave a path towards compliance this year.

What is the W3C WCAG?

Created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are a set of standards designed to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities. Specifically, these guidelines outline both how an accessible website should appear and function, starting with the basic navigation and continuing upward through perceivable website content (text, images, sounds, etc.).

The WCAG are structured around the following core principles, which inform their practical recommendations. According to the guidelines, all web content should be:

  • Perceivable – Web content should be accessible to a variety of senses, including vision, hearing, and touch.
  • Operable – All navigation elements should be robustly operable, including without the use of a mouse and without the need for specific timing.
  • Understandable – Web content and operations must be easily understood without the need for outside assistance or guidance.
  • Robust – Users must be able to access content with or without the use of assistive technology.

What are WCAG’s Level AA Criteria?

Compliance with the WCAG is based on “success criteria,” which are divided into three tiers – A, AA, AAA. Each tier includes successively more rigorous standards for creating and maintaining robustly accessible web content.

Under HB 26, Illinois K-12 schools are required to achieve Level AA conformance, which includes the following criteria:

  • Contrast ratio of at least 5:1
  • More than one option for locating a webpage
  • Audio descriptions for pre-recorded content
  • Live text in lieu of text on images
  • 200% zoom functionality without the loss of content or function.

This is not an exhaustive list of Level AA criteria. A full list of Level AA criteria (including requisite Level A criteria) can be found on the W3C’s website.

How Can I Make my Web Content More Accessible?

Starting as soon as today, there are several actionable steps school districts can take to bring their web content closer to WCAG Level AA conformance. For example, an assessment team can begin reviewing all of the district’s blogs, social media, digital documents, and other web media to look for these common problem areas:

  • Missing text descriptions – In order for an image to be perceivable by a screen reading device, it must include alternate text or an “alt tag.” These encoded captions describe an image’s appearance or functionality, ensuring that it can be interpreted by someone who is blind.
  • Lack of alternative navigation – Often, important web content can only be accessed via navigation with a mouse. This can create barriers to access for those using an alternative interface devices and users with disabilities affecting fine motor control.
  • Improper color combinations – Web content must use text/background color combinations that provide adequate contrast between differing elements. Otherwise, important content may be difficult or impossible to interpret for users with low vision or colorblindness.
  • Missing or incomplete video captions – All video content shared by a school should include complete, accurate captions. Otherwise, the audio component of that video content may become inaccessible to users who are deaf, hard of hearing, or utilize a text-to-speech device. 

Working Together to Making Learning Accessible to All

As Illinois schools work to make their digital classrooms more inclusive, the Learning Technology Center (LTC) is ready to support administrators and teachers alike.

Administrators and education leaders can learn more about HB 26 over on our new K-12 digital accessibility hub. There, you’ll find links to a variety of free resources – including a sample accessibility policy template and a WCAG 2.0 quick reference guide.

Teachers can also make an impact on their classroom’s digital accessibility right now. Our recent blog offers three actionable tips for making images, videos, and text easier for all students to engage with.

3 Tips for Making Digital Learning More Accessible

Whether it occurs in or out of the classroom, digital learning has opened new opportunities for students to engage with content and communicate with teachers. Just like traditional learning, though, digital content is not always accessible to all learners, and students with physical and cognitive disabilities may need alternate means of engagement to fully participate.

There are a few steps you can take today to make the content you provide to students online more perceivable, operable, and robustly understandable for all learners. The following steps are a great starting point and can be easily incorporated into your lesson planning process.

Bonus: The following tips can also help your classroom’s online learning practices conform to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1. These guidelines provide a wide range of recommendations for making online content more accessible, making them a great resource for educators interested in supporting their new methods with expert-backed best practices.

Add Alt Text

While visual graphics are common in many kinds of educational material, they are not readily perceivable to students utilizing screen readers and speech input software.

To make digital images visible to these types of alternative engagement devices, teachers should utilize alt texts (also known as an “alt tag”). Alt text is a set of written information that is embedded in an image’s data and describes either its aesthetic or functional qualities.

A grey cat seated on a blanket

For example, the above photo appears on a webpage beside a set of text describing different cat fur colors. Because this photo only serves to visually supplement that information, a short description of the image’s content will suffice.

“A grey cat seated on a blanket”

ltcillinois.org home

By comparison, the above image serves a functional purpose on a website. When clicked on, it leads users back to the website’s homepage. As such, its alt text should effectively communicate this function, rather than its visual appearance.

“ltcillinois.org home”

For more information on how to implement alt text, check out the W3C’s Web Accessibility Tutorial on alt text usage.

Utilize Closed Captioning and Transcripts

Closed captions are another proven method for making audio-based video content accessible to viewers who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. These synchronized subtitles 

can be added to pre-recorded videos using the video editing program of your choice, such as Adobe Premiere Pro, or added on streaming platforms, such as YouTube

YouTube’s speech recognition software even allows for auto-captioning, which teachers can edit as needed to create quick, effective captions (Note: auto-captions by themselves do not provide adequate accessibility unless that have been properly checked for accuracy).

While implementing closed captions may take some practice, you will find that they can be seamlessly integrated into your video post-production process. This WC3 checklist can help you understand both the skills and tools you’ll need to make a habit out of closed captioning.

Follow Text Best Practices

Text is one of the most common problem areas when it comes to online accessibility. Since text often communicates essential information, you should always check your text formatting to ensure it is accessible to as many users as possible.

Here are just a few recommendations for keeping your text legible in a variety of digital formats:

  • Fonts – always use a font that provides full readability in a variety of sizes and contexts. Tahoma, Calibri, Helvetica, Arial, Verdana, and Times New Roman are preferred, while stylized fonts should be avoided.
  • Color – always choose a font color that maximizes visibility and contrast. In almost all cases, black text on a white background is best.
  • Bold and Italics – Avoid using bolding and italics to emphasize a particular word or words. Most screen readers do not announce these text styles. Semantic markups should be used in their place.
  • Justification – In most circumstances, text should be left-justified by default. Full justification should be avoided and center justification should be used sparingly on no more than one line of text at a time.

Working Together to Make Learning Accessible

Making online learning accessible doesn’t need to be an intimidating challenge. With the right planning and knowledge, you can create an inclusive online learning environment that provides learners with multiple means of engaging with curricular content.

The Learning Technology Center (LTC) is committed to helping Illinois K-12 educators create robustly accessible content for both their physical and digital classrooms. Learn more about our latest resources – including tutorials, trainings, and auditing tools – over on our Accessibility hub.

The LTC also strives to keep K-12 school districts up-to-date on the latest state and federal accessibility guidance – including Illinois’ new online learning tool accessibility mandate. Legal briefs for these standards and requirements can also be found on our Accessibility hub.

“Keeping it real with real educators” – Takeaways from IETC 2021

The 28th annual Illinois Education and Technology Conference (IETC) wrapped up on November 19 after three days packed with exploring edtech’s latest integration strategies and best practices. This year’s conference featured a hybrid experience that offered attendees the opportunity to join us in Springfield or take part in online-exclusive sessions – all while enjoying the hands-on learning and community atmosphere for which this conference is known.

In-person and virtual attendees at IETC 2021 had the opportunity to learn from two of education’s Midwest voices – artist and educator Manuel Herrera and Illinois’ own Dwayne Reed. Both keynote presenters highlighted the untapped potential present in every classroom, and showed how today’s educators can unlock new pathways to learning by harnessing sketch-noting and personalizing SEL-informed experiences.

“[Dwayne] had a passion about his profession that was infectious,” one keynote attendee noted. Other attendees were quick to praise Manuel’s emphasis on interactivity, both during his keynote and his breakout sessions later in the day.

Learning Together Again

In keeping with IETC tradition, this year’s 500+ attendees and 60+ presenters found fresh ways to join together and share their outlook on emerging edtech trends. That included during this year’s social game, IETC-opoly, through which attendees walked away with a treasure trove of great prizes – including an iPad and Oculus 2 VR headset.

For many attendees, though, the real prize was the opportunity to reconnect with friends from across Illinois and share their earnest thoughts on today’s edtech challenges. Said one satisfied attendee, “keeping it real with real educators is so powerful to our craft.”

Post-Conference Resources Now Available

At no extra cost, all conference attendees can now access this year’s post-conference archive of virtual presentations and presenter resources. Instructions for accessing this limited-time Canvas course can be found in a December 1 email titled “#IETC21 Virtual Session Recordings are HERE!”

Thank You for Learning with Us

As always, the entire IETC committee would like to extend a warm “thank you” to all of this year’s attendees and presenters, who together made IETC 2021 one of the most engaging and enriching conferences to date. The committee is also grateful to this year’s sponsors, whose financial support continues to secure IETC’s place at the heart of Illinois’ edtech community.

Already, we are laying down plans to make IETC 2022 an even more dynamic and formative experience for every educator, administrator, tech coach, and IT leader in attendance. We look forward to learning from your feedback and to seeing you next year at the new home of IETC.

See you in 2022!

Embrace Enhanced Security & Accessibility with New Google Classroom & YouTube Updates

As we roll through the final months of 2021, Google continues to put out fresh updates that can help your classroom hit the ground running next semester. That includes recently announced upgrades to Google Classroom and YouTube, as well as security and accessibility improvements that can help your students engage with their digital learning tools with a greater level of stability and ease.

Here are just a few of the most important Google updates announced this past summer and fall. For more information on Google updates announced in the first half of the year, check out our previous Google update digests from March 2021 and July 2021. We also have Google update digest from early November, covering updates to Docs, Sheets, Drive, and more.

Keep Everything Safe and Up-to-Date with Classroom

Since the onset of widespread remote learning last year, Google has been continuously upgrading Classroom to help it meet the needs of today’s remote and hybrid learners.

This has included making necessary security updates to their core video meeting system. In particular, students will now be directed into a waiting room before joining a video call and those not appearing on the class roster will now need to be admitted by the class teacher before being allowed to participate in the video call.

On the teacher side, Google has made a couple noteworthy upgrades that are sure to save educators time while facilitating remote and hybrid learning.

The most noteworthy of these upgrades is the ability to automatically sync classroom rosters with an existing student information system (SIS) via Clever. In practice, this much-requested feature mitigates the need for manually creating new classes in Classroom, so long as information in the school’s SIS is kept up to date (Note: this feature is only available to Google Workspace for Education Plus users at this time).

Reach More Students with Improved Accessibility Features

In addition to larger, app-based upgrades, Google has also rolled out several smaller (though no less impactful) improvements geared towards helping all students more fruitfully engage with their digital learning.

The first of these upgrades is available now in Google Meet. In that app, users can now utilize the app’s live captioning system in five new languages: Spanish (Spain and Latin America), French, Portuguese, and German. While this feature remains in beta at this time, its core functionality can presently help improve information sharing, learning, and collaboration in multilingual classrooms and districts.

Meanwhile, over in Google Docs, Google has improved the way the platform delivers suggestions while in braille mode. To that end, users utilizing assistive technology, including screen readers and refreshable braille displays, can now receive detailed suggestion information in line with the rest of the text.

Finally, Google has rolled out a new font across all of Workspace that was developed with vision impaired users in mind. This font, Atkinson Hyperlegible, is now available across all of Google’s core apps, including Docs, Slides, and Sheets.

Enhanced Privacy and Control Options

As part of a larger initiative to improve privacy and security for all users, Google is currently rolling out a number of upgrades to Google Workspace for Education designed to keep students in particular from accessing unsafe or unsuitable content while working through their school’s domain.

Several of these changes have already rolled out, including the introduction of new age-based settings on September 1, 2021. These settings require primary and secondary institutions to indicate the age for all users, including if those users are under 18. Those who are under 18 will receive a different user experience when utilizing Google apps and services going forward.

The most notable of these UX changes can be seen over on YouTube, where K-12 users marked as under 18 will no longer be able to post videos, comment, or live stream using their school Google account. These students will still be able to view videos sent to them by their teacher, however.

You can read more about these privacy and security upgrades – including the new default K-12 Chrome user experience – over on the Google for Education blog.

Stay Up-to-Date on the Latest from Google

No matter which Google apps or services your classroom or district uses, the LTC is here to help you make the most of your digital teaching capabilities. That’s why we offer a variety of Google-focused professional development opportunities, as well as free, online courses designed to help you grow your Google knowledge on your own time.

As a Google Cloud Partner, we can also help you find the resources you need to make full utilization of Google’s latest updates a reality in your district. A great place to start is over on the LTC Community, where you can problem-solve and share resources with other educators in our topical Google Network.

Collaborate Efficiently with Updates for Google Docs, Sheets, and Drive

Month after month, Google continues to roll out updates and improvements designed to enhance their users’ experience – including those of students and teachers in the education sphere. In fact, several tools in the Google Workspace for Education suite have received noteworthy updates since our previous update digest in July.

The LTC is committed to keeping schools, districts, and classroom educators updated on the powerful learning tools at their disposal. That’s why we’ve taken the time to highlight some of the most important updates that you can utilize in your classroom as soon as tomorrow.

Do More in Docs and Sheets

Across the board, Google has begun implementing new functionality known as “smart canvas” into many of its most popular apps. For example, in Google Docs, users can now type in an “@” sign to pull up a specialized drop-down menu that suggests content relevant to their current project. This can include recent documents, contact cards, and other media that a user can then select and insert into the document with a single click.

In addition to universal insertion, Google Docs users will soon be able to more easily create and insert qualified citations into their work. Specifically, users will be able to select and automatically fill several key citation fields based on a new database of archived sources. This function is presently rolling out and should be accessible to all users by November 29, 2021.

Starting soon, Docs users will also be able to easily and succinctly submit their documents for review and approval without needing to leave the app. Teachers, in turn, will receive notifications when their students request a review, which also locks the document in question and prevents further editing until approval is given. 

Meanwhile, over in Google Sheets, users can now more easily navigate between a series of comments using a set of inline arrow keys. Users are also now able to execute several basic operations (including moving, deleting, duplicating, and copying) on multiple tabs at once.

Also, if you’re looking for commonly-used functions in Sheets, you may have noticed some recent changes. That’s because Google has updated the Sheets interface to provide more user-friendly menus. This reorganization was designed to make Sheets more broadly intuitive, especially on devices with smaller screens.

Collaborate More Efficiently with Drive

Google Drive remains at the beating heart of Google’s collection of business and educational apps. As a result, they’re currently making efforts to make this core app more accessible in more situations, including when internet access is weak or unavailable. Users (including those on ChromeOS) can now select certain types of important files in their Drive and access them offline without needing to pre-download said files.

Finding any files, online or offline, is getting easier in Drive as well. Using the existing search bar at the top of the Drive interface, desktop and mobile users can now search for files within a specific folder.

On the back end of Drive, several other important upgrades have been announced in recent months. First, new trust rules have been rolled out, allowing system admins to better control and manage who has access to which files on a more individualized and categorical basis.

Also, via updates implemented at the end of July 2021, users can now more efficiently stamp out bad actors in their domain by blocking them from sharing with them on Drive. This can be particularly useful on a case-by-case basis to negate the effects of spamming and abusive behavior on individual users.

Utilize Templates in Sites

Over the past year, more schools have begun using Google Sites as a teaching tool, providing students an opportunity to develop webpages in a succinct, user-friendly environment.

Now, students can fine tune their Sites to meet their personal style thanks to a new set of customization options. In particular, these new options allow users to customize their website’s font, colors, imagery, navigation components, button styles, and more.

These customizations can also be incorporated into another Sites update, namely the ability to make and distribute templates within an individual Google domain. Through this, schools and educators can easily distribute pre-made templates to students without needing to spend time formatting and structuring new projects.

Along the way, students may find the need to revert one of their Site pages to a previous version. Previously, this function was only available to an entire Site at once. After an update rolled out in September, users can now roll back individual pages on their Site and restore previously deleted or modified content with relative ease. 

Here to Meet your Google Needs

Through updates large and small, you can count on the LTC to provide you with timely information that can help your classroom or institution make the most of their Google tools. Keep an eye on the LTC blog for another upcoming digest covering recent improvements made to privacy and accessibility in Google Classroom, YouTube, and more.

As a Google Cloud Partner, we can also help you find the resources you need to make full utilization of Google’s latest updates a reality in your district.

For more information on LTC-facilitated Google professional development (including our popular “Hey Google! What’s New?” training), contact the Regional Educational Technology Coordinator (RETC) for your area. You can also grow your Gmail, Drive, and Classroom knowledge on your own schedule by taking part in one of our free, self-paced online courses.

For more information on Google updates announced in the first half of the year, check out some of our previous update digests from March 2021 and July 2021.

Harness EdTech’s Renewed Potential at IETC 2021!

In just under a month, educators and technology leaders from across Illinois will gather together to learn and explore while forming the connections that allow our statewide edtech community to flourish year after year.

It’s all happening at IETC 2021 – and you’re invited!

With a new look and renewed commitment to leading conversations about today’s edtech innovations, IETC 2021 is set to offer educators and tech leaders an unparalleled opportunity to expand their professional horizons. 

At the same time, this year’s conference is still committed to fostering the kinds of connections past attendees know and love, a factor LTC Executive Director Tim McIlvain believes helps IETC stand out from the crowd.

“IETC has a rich history and offers an intimate experience for attendees,” he says. “No other edtech conference creates a sense of community and belonging like IETC.”

“Best of all, most of our sessions are facilitated by home-grown practitioners,” he adds, referencing this year’s slate of 60+ speakers and presenters. “Illinois is full of excellent educators and leaders, and we love to highlight practices and strategies that are working to transform the educational experience right here at home.”

Two Unforgettable Keynotes from Nationally-Recognized Voices

In addition to a schedule packed with informative workshops and roundtable discussions, IETC 2021 is proud to welcome two nationally-recognized voices to the center stage. Both bring with them insights on the future of teaching through technology, making these a pair of engaging keynotes you won’t want to miss.

Manuel Herrera

Drawing as a Thinking Process

Join Manuel as he shares how using simple sketches can help students and teachers think openly about their ideas. Learn strategies to support your students as they quickly generate designs, and then share them for perspective and constructive feedback.

As you step into the sketch arena, you’ll begin to shift your mindset from seeing drawing as an artistic process to seeing it as a thinking process and beyond.

Dwayne Reed

Being the Educator Your Scholars Need

Filled with tons of SEL, restorative justice practices, and trauma-informed talking points, Reed will help educators re-discover their “WHY” of teaching, and will emphasize the importance of building and maintaining positive relationships with scholars.

Each participant will leave with dozens of practical, relationship-building strategies which can immediately be implemented in their classroom or school environment.

Three Days Packed with Insights and Resources

As hosts for this year’s conference, the LTC staff is also sharing their wisdom over all three days of IETC 2021. Check out what our team has to offer and mark your calendars so that you can snag a front row seat!

Empower Student Voice and Choice in Your Classroom!

Presented by Ben Sondgeroth

In a traditional classroom setting, students are often given only one way to respond to content from their teacher. With technology, we can empower students to demonstrate their understanding in ways that best fit their learning styles! By giving students voice and choice in their learning, we provide students with an opportunity to take ownership of their education and empower them to become better learners.

Join us as we explore the many amazing ways technology can give students voice and choice in their learning!

3D Printing FUNdamentals

Presented by Joe Cipfl

Are you wondering what’s next in your technology integration? Do you want to take your tech integration to the next level?

Join us for an informative session on the basics of 3D printing and 3D printers. We will explore the fundamentals of 3D printing, the software and apps needed for successful printing, the best printers for education, how to plan for a 3D printing space, and some curriculum integration essentials.

3D printing has SO many real-world, practical applications and can be easily integrated at any grade level across the curriculum. Come see how!

Get Certified by MicrosoftEDU

Presented by Colleen Kaplan and Holly Kelly

Interested in becoming part of MicrosoftEDU’s elite Showcase School Program? Want to learn the difference between MIE, MIEE, and MCE?  Heard about Minecraft Global Mentors but don’t know what they actually do?

Join this session to learn about Microsoft EDU’s paths to certification and recognition for both you and your school or district!  We will cover what the various processes entail, from laying the groundwork in your school community, to the application process, to the benefits and perks of being accepted into each of the programs.  

Learn, Explore, and Connect Like Never Before

For nearly three decades, IETC has offered educators, administrators, and IT leaders the chance to gather together annually and engage with the latest trends in educational technology. This year’s conference will continue that time-honored tradition and reinvigorate our community as we set our sights on building edtech’s brighter future.

Now’s the time to grab your ticket for the most engaging edtech conference in Illinois. Register for IETC 2021 today and make plans to harness today’s technology to enhance student learning.