For this week’s blog, I opted to focus on a handful of extensions that I could see myself using the second that I return to work on Tuesday – UBlock, DF Youtube, and Grammarly.
Before I dive into the benefits (and potential drawbacks) of the aforementioned apps, I figured it would be worth adding a little bit of context. I am currently in my 4th year of teaching at Martin Collegiate teaching English Language Arts and Social Studies to grades 9/10 as well as Core French to grades 9-12. Also, aside from one, I had never heard of any of the extensions that were listed as options (which is part of the reason why I’m excited to be taking this class, it’s always nice when I can actually take something from a grad class and use it in my own classroom).
The first two extensions that I looked at – UBlock and DF Youtube appeal to me because of their potential to reduce minor headaches. I, like many other teachers, use a data-projector fairly religiously. Since I teach Social Studies, I’m constantly using the data projector to project whatever current event or website that I’m discussing for all to see. While most of the news websites that I frequent tend to be free of annoying pop-ups, I do stray from those websites from time to time. It is quite frustrating to be engaging in a serious class discussion about the current events of the day only to have a popup advertising an obscure product rear its ugly head. It certainly doesn’t destroy my lesson but it can potentially disrupt the flow and distract some of the students. That said, pop-ups are far from the only disruptive form of advertising on the web. The Nielsen/Norman Group did research in 2017 on the most hated online advertisements and each form is disruptive in its own way. Personally, I find the Prevideo no skip (When you play a video on a website, an advertisement plays first) and Retargeting (when you play a video on a website, an advertisement plays first) to be the most frustrating from a teacher’s point of view. Any video where you are forced to view an advertisement first is disruptive – especially when the content of the video that you’re attempting to watch is serious in nature. Retargeting is frustrating because a) it distracts students and b) they’re intrusive! It’s not so bad when I’m at home but I don’t need my students knowing my shopping history. It just goes to show you that teachers need to be careful when using a work computer or signed into a Google account associated with work.
All of this brings us to uBlock, an app that claims to be “an efficient blocker: easy on memory and CPU footprint, and yet can load and enforce thousands of more filters than other popular blockers out there”. It is hard for me to properly judge the effectiveness of uBlock since I’ve only been using it for a few hours (I previously used “AdBlocker” and found it to be merely adequate) but if it can deliver on its promises then I’ll appreciate having one less headache to deal with when I’m in front of the class. uBlock can also be beneficial to students when they’re researching for a paper. It’s hard enough to remain focused when there’s 30 other students in the class so any tool that can help minimize distractions on a computer is potentially helpful.
The benefits of DF YouTube are fairly similar to uBlock. I make frequent use of YouTube in my class and the ability to have greater control over that experience is quite appealing to me. The ads before the videos are frustrating but they’re not the only distraction. DF Youtube’s ability to clean up the main page and hide recommended videos, the trending tab and the toxic comments is greatly appreciated. Like uBlock, I haven’t spent enough time with DF Youtube to adequately judge its effectiveness but I did notice that the “hide related videos (end of video)” feature wasn’t working during my initial test run. Overall, this appears to be a tool that I’ll appreciate but that my students won’t really notice (still a handy tool to have though!).
While useful, both uBlock and DF YouTube aren’t going to greatly enhance my teaching experience. The next extension that I’m going to look at, Grammarly, has the potential to be more of a “game changer”. As both an English teacher and an old man, I’m constantly ranting about the state of grammar in our schools.
Prior to this class, I had heard of Grammarly (thanks to several of those annoying YouTube ads that I just finished complaining about) but I never thought about using it, choosing instead to rely on the standard spell check feature, Google Read/Write and my own teaching skills/lessons. After installing Grammarly, the first thing that I noticed is that it is currently not fully compatible with Google Drive – a problem because my class is quite Google-centric. On the bright side, I was able to easily upload an existing document into Grammarly. The document that I chose to upload was an assignment from a previous Masters class that I did quite well on. Overall, I was fairly pleased with what I saw. I was provided with a handful of suggestions for ways to improve my writing and the overall experience seemed user-friendly. The downside is that in order to correct the apparent 19 wordy sentences, 17 word choice issues, and 6 “intricate text” problems, I need to upgrade to the premium edition for the low-low cost of $140/year. This leads me into my question of the day, does the free version of Grammarly do enough to warrant having every one of my students download it? Does it actually provide an experience that students aren’t already getting through a standard spell-checker or good old fashion teaching? I ask because I genuinely don’t know and am hoping that one of my friendly classmates can shine a light on its benefits? In theory, any tool that will help students with their writing is a tool worth having but I’m not sure if it isn’t just more of the same?
With regards to Google+extensions+privacy, like Amy stated in her post this week I don’t get particularly hung up on privacy concerns. I understand that it’s a major issue and I should probably be more concerned than I am but at the moment, it’s not something that I spend a lot of time thinking about (maybe I will change my tune by the end of this class).
In conclusion, the extensions that I looked at appear to be helpful tools but they don’t appear to be “game changers”. But that’s okay! A tool doesn’t have to redefine a student’s/teacher’s experience in order to be effective.
Note: As already mentioned, my relationship with these extensions has lasted mere hours. It would be interesting to come back to this blog post at the end of the semester to see if my thoughts/opinions have changed.