Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Groups in the Social-Distanced Classroom

Last week, I posted some late night musings on how a face-to-face classroom might be different under social distancing. I was surprised at the number of people who viewed that post — nearly 100 in the first day. And because I can’t ask questions like that without searching for answers, I’ve begun collecting some tools and brainstorming some ideas for how we could do group work in a social-distanced classroom.

I will continue collecting these tools on my discussiong group for my textbook,  A Writer’s Craftsince I am thinking primarily about how creative writing can be taught using something like the group work I’m used to doing. Even trying to wrap my brain around this, though, has me thinking about how much more efficient it is to have students sit next to one another and talk. I can give them index cards with instructions, and I can pass those out rendomly to different groups to get them through a prompt. Or I can have them all write the same prompt individually and then turn to a partner or a group and share what they wrote. It all seems effortless compared to exchanging even short files with partners in a digital forum. But you have to sit exchange paper or sit near someone and talk: in either case, you’re also exchanging germs.

Lecturing can be deadly in a creative writing class, though, since it thrives on active learning. Students learn to write by doing, not just by being told what to do. While I’d love to find a way to electronically pass index cards around groups of 2-4 students (not share with everyone at once, but pass messages around a group), and I’d love to find a way for students to talk in a group without actually talking (since we’ll be in the same room but too far away from each other to talk quietly), I might be willing to settle for some other activities for students to do to break up a lecture and get them writing and thinking together. That’s why I’m looking for active ‘toys’ that can be adapted to creative writing tasks. Here’s what I’ve found so far. If you have suggestions, please let me know!

Hypothesis looks like a great way to read and comment on texts together. The text needs to be either a PDF or a web page. It might be good for making comments on a draft the student saved as PDF (as long as that isn’t public) or on a poem or story in an online journal. The group can write annotations of text to critique it or they could write creative annotations to respond to or make found poetry or found art out of something online.

Educaplay offers a number of games for use in the classroom. Some that seem promising are the Dialogue Game, Fill in the Blanks, Riddle, Unscramble Letters, and Unscramble Words. My main question (not having tested these yet) is whether students can create their games or whether the instructor has to create the game for students. Either could be useful, such as a fill-in-the-blanks game to create a poem with the blanks ro a dialogue game to create dialogue for a scene.

Draft is an online word processor that allows collaboration on drafts with the people you invite. This could be useful for sharing group work, especially if you don’t want to use Google Docs or Office 365.

Google Docs also allows users to share documents and collaborate on drafts. This could be used to share documents in groups and to allow readers to comment or add content to a draft. One advantage for Canvas users is that Google Docs is the default method for Canvas’s Collaborate feature

Speaking of Canvas, the Pages feature can also be used for collaborative writing. A page can be set to be editable by students. You could use the Groups feature to put students in groups and then give each group a page to compose in with the exercise instructions. They could write together on this page.

Trello is actually a project organizer for group planning, but it seems like it might be adaptable to smaller projects like group work. You can set up cards that can be annotated or commented on, and you can even create automated workflows. The free account allows unlimited users and up to 10 boards, so I could see using it for group work 10 times in one semester before I had to delete my boards. Or possibly, if I could have one board per class, and then create each group activity as part of the board, I could keep our work available all semester long. Assigning people to work on those activities might be a challenge, especially if I wanted to be in different groups each time, which I do like to do.

Quizlet seems primarily geared toward study aids and tests, but I wonder whether some of their ‘sets’ (like flashcards) could be adapted to group work. I haven’t explored Quizlet too far yet because I keep getting put off by the emphasis on learning rather than creating, but like Trello, I think somehow it might be adapted to more creative group activities.

I’m primarily looking for free tools that can be used without requiring a lot of cumbersome logins. Ideally, I could find one or two, maybe three tools to use for a few types of group assignments, so students don’t get bored doing the same thing all the time. I don’t want them (or me) to have to keep up with too many subscriptions or login information, and I do need whatever tools I use to be accessible on a phone, so that they don’t have to bring a laptop to class (though typing might be easier on a laptop). And I want to be able to adapt the same tools to an online class if we have to go back to all online instruction at some point.

I’ll keep adding to this list of tools in the discussion group on Goodreads for my textbook.

@ATThelp Conclusion

After playing phone tag with Delva, we finally connected. At first she didn’t seem to understand what the problem was, but after I explained the delays we had encountered with our upgrade to fiber, she said was able to offer a $50 credit. It took over a week after our installation to get through to someone who would actually do what had been promised, but it has now appeared on our account. And we did get our upgrade to fiber internet, which is working very well (and the installer was great). So that closes this chapter in our ATT story.

Phone tag with @ATTHelp

Before I continue my little rant at ATT, let me say that we did finally get our upgrade from DSL to fiber, and the technician who came out was very friendly and helpful. I have no complaints about him, though I did have a terrible experience the first time. And now I’m stuck in customer service limbo.

As you can see if you read the post linked above, we waited all day for the service tech to arrive the first time, only to have him cancel and claim that he had called us (which he hadn’t). So we got bumped to the end of the line and made to wait two weeks for the next appointment. Along the way, I’ve been in touch with ATT customer service through @ATTHelp on Twitter and through their website chat feature. At the time, when I told them about the terrible service I had received, I was promised that they would offer me a deal to compensate, once the upgrade was installed. Now, that appears to be another lie. Here’s the transcript, where Hernando promised a deal as compensation for the poor service I received.

ATTChatTranscript1

It’s now a week after our installation, and no word from Hernando. @ATTHelp did respond after a couple of days, and after I sent them the transcript above they said they would “review your compensation options.” As usual, though, then they disappeared with complete radio silence. Here’s the last I heard from them:

Screen Shot 2020-04-08 at 6.17.21 PM

Last night, I got a call to my cell phone, which I just tried to return. According to her message this is someone in ATT’s president’s office. Maybe we’re getting somewhere? Or will we keep playing phone tag? Delva is supposed to call me back within one business day. We’ll see what happens!

ATT Run-Around Follow-Up, Part 1

This morning, I was contacted by Hernando on ATT’s Social Media team @ATThelp. He said he wanted to help with the issues I experienced yesterday, so I connected to chat with him (it took a couple of tries before I got to the right person). I had already been looking into whether I could change our upgrade to one that didn’t involve a new installation, but ATT wasn’t showing me any options for service anymore.

Hernando did apologize for my experience yesterday, blaming it on the worldwide crisis. Though I agree, I also know that ATT can be hard enough to deal with in normal times, and I’ve had this kind of service before. He couldn’t change my install date, though he did say he would watch and let me know if an earlier date became available. And he made me a vague offer of a deal and perks, once the installation was complete. He gave no specifics of what those would be, though. Here’s a little bit from our transcript.

Hernando : I can confirm they are set for April 2nd if you agree I can hold the case so we can ensure the install
Hernando : and after thats completed we can check further options to compensate you due the long wait

I also asked him to check on whether we could get an upgrade to a higher speed without an equipment upgrade. I know those options were available to me when I initially ordered this upgrade over a week ago. According to the ATT website, I should be able to double, triple, or even quadruple my speed for the same price. Of course, that’s not better than about 80x our current speed that I’d get with fiber, which is also the same price for new customers as the lower speeds (though fiber isn’t available everywhere). I could live with a higher speed, even if it’s not fiber, if that meant they didn’t have to send someone to my house, my cost wouldn’t go up, and they could switch us over right away. But Hernando said I didn’t have those options anymore. Their website won’t show me what’s available in my area online. It tells me I have to call to place an order.

So we’re stuck in limbo, hoping that Hernando really will come through with promised deals, but mostly hoping he or someone will actually flag our installation order so that it actually happens instead of getting delayed again. That will probably depend on what the situation in our state looks like in another two weeks. Our only other options are to cancel the upgrade and live with the speeds we have (and the dropped service, which we’ve been experiencing periodically and which is usually fixable by rebooting our modem). Or we can explore switching to the cable company for internet. They could get us about 10x our current internet speed for a little less. We’d just have to port our phone and change some old Bellsouth email addresses that we don’t use much.

ATT Support Run-Around Yet Again

There’s nothing like a little ATT tech support to get your heart rate and your blood pressure up. Not the most enjoyable form of ‘exercise,’ but it still feels like a workout. Anyone who’s read this blog very long knows that this isn’t my first run-in with ATT, but it may be the worst customer service day I ever had, so it may be my last.

Everything started fairly normal. We had put in a request for an upgrade that we’d wanted to do for some time, and the tech guy was supposed to come install between 9 and 11 in the morning. Their tracking website kept pushing the time back from 10 to 10:15, then 10:30, then it went past 11 and the site said the installer would be here by 1pm. None of this was that unexpected, though by the time 1pm rolled around with no call and no indication of when they would arrive, I was concerned.

So I got on chat and tried to find out more, since the website had stopped displaying any information other than a notice that they had missed the appointment. Like I hadn’t figured that out. I was given the option to keep the appointment and wait or to change it.

ATT support chat sometimes has been pretty good, but this time it turned utterly surreal. The support person I got seemed helpful. She said she had contacted the installer and he would be to my house within the hour. I asked if she could guarantee it, since I’d been given several times already and none of them had been true. She said he was guaranteed to arrive within the hour, and she gave me a phone number I could use to contact him.

When the hour had nearly passed with no word from the installer, I called the number 866-341-2662 (don’t call this unless you enjoy being tortured). I was asked for my ATT Phone User ID. Now, I had no idea what that was, so I tried a couple of numbers that I thought it might be, then hung up and tried to reach support on Twitter @ATThelp (no they don’t help, at least not today). Three or four people claimed to want to help me, but when I sent them my account number, they claimed they couldn’t find it. When I sent a screen shot to prove it was my account, they said they would check on it and then disappeared and didn’t reply, even after an hour.

No, I didnt wait that long. I tried chat again and was told I needed to call that dispatcher number again. We had reset my PIN (that I also didn’t know), and the chat agent thought that was probably the Phone User ID that number asked for. Nope. That didn’t work, so I pressed ‘star’ to get help with the ATT Phone User ID. All they told me was that it was the same as my Global User ID (what the F?) but it was all numbers. I should take my Global ID and translate it by giving each letter a number, where A = 01, B=02, etc. I did that with our account username, but that didn’t work either. So I gave up and tried chat again.

About this time, five hours after the installer was supposed to arrive at 11, I finally got a text that the installer was on his way. It showed his name, picture, and the supposed location of his truck. He would be here in half an hour. I still wanted to know what the mysterious ATT Phone User ID was, so I stayed on chat. The chat agent confirmed that my installer was on the way and eventually revealed that the ATT Phone User ID was a code that traditional phone customers might have (though I don’t know that they know it). We haven’t had traditional phone service in a number of years, since we switched to Uverse, so I couldn’t have provided this number, but I needed to have it to talk to the dispatcher. The chat agent apologized and said she would make sure it didn’t happen again (how exactly?). I left the chat hopeful that the installer would arrive, even though it was now after 5pm.

Then I got a text that the service call was cancelled and I would have to reschedule. I tried to find out why, but got nowhere, so I eventually texted Change to set up a new appointment, only to find out that the next available one was in thirteen days! Unsatisfied, I tried chatting to see if I could get something sooner by explaining that I had waited all day for the installer who cancelled when he was on his way. After much waiting and being passed between two chat agents, I was finally told that the installer claimed I hadn’t answered his call, so he had cancelled the appointment, and that is why I would have to wait.

Now, I had been by the phone all day. In fact, I had been by my cell phone and my land line, and he had never called either. The only calls from ATT that I had receied were from the customer service agent who helped me reset my pin hours before the installer said he called me. But at that point the chat agent stopped responding to my questions.

Now, I get it that everyone is overwhelmed, understaffed, and overworked since everything has either shut down or gone crazy due to COVID-19. If I had been told that they were sorry that my appointment would have to be delayed, and if that meant gettting my installation tomorrow or as soon as they could get to me, that would be a completely different story.

But I was lied to several times by ATT. By agents on the phone who gave me a bogus number to call, by chat agents who ‘guaranteed’ service within the hour, by the website that kept telling me the installer would come soon even when he didn’t come all day, and finally by the installer who claimed he’d called me when I know he didn’t. I wouldn’t mind if he said he couldn’t come after 5pm, even though I’d waited all day for someone to arrive. But to be told a lie as a reason to bump my appointment to the back of the line instead of keeping my place in line and getting my installation done the next day or soon, that is the worst customer service imaginable. Okay, things are bad right now everywhere, but at least tell the truth. Is that too much to ask? ATT, you might even gain some sympathy and keep customer loyalty.

Dealing with Spam on WordPress

For a while now, I’ve been using the WordPress desktop app instead of the web interface. Mostly that’s gone well, but one serious flaw is in handling spam comments. I still get many spam comments filtered out (thank you Akismet), but it’s easy to forget about them. This morning, I happened to check, and found there were over 1,600 spam comments.

Using the app’s interface to deal with this many comments was simply impossible. You can only review 20 comments at a time using the “Bulk Edit” feature. I’m sorry, 20 isn’t bulk when facing 1,600! I could select 20 at a time, review, and then delete. But then I had to go to a new page, click on Bulk Edit again, review, delete, repeat. I tried changing my settings for how many comments to view (as suggested in Help), but that didn’t change the number displayed in “Bulk Edit.” I also tried selecting multiple pages of comments, but only the last page was deleted.

So finally, I went to WP Admin on the left-hand menu. This took me to the old web interface (which fortunately is working again in Safari, so maybe I can just return to it), where I was able to view Spam comments the old fashioned way. I could have reviewed every one and at least not had to choose “Bulk Edit” so many times to do it (since that’s the default view). But facing about 1500 messages to scroll through, most of which would be long and full of gibberish and links, I opted for the “Empty Spam” command at the bottom of the screen. Poof, they all disappeared.

My apologies to anyone whose actual comment might have been caught in this spam purge. In my experience, that’s very, very rare, so I doubt it happened. WordPress is usually very good about alerting me when there’s a real comment (or one that’s potentially real) and allowing me to decide wither to accept, reject, or mark as spam. And it’s very good at filtering out spam and leaving the real messages for me to approve. As long as I remember to go to WP Admin, spam will be much easier to deal with in the future, and I hope I don’t let it build up quite that much!

Solving Uverse Gateway Issues

One of my most popular technology posts has consistently been one I wrote about our ATT DSL modem back in the day before Uverse. We’ve been on that for a few years now, and I suspect many people have switched over, too, because traffic to that post has gone way down. It had a good life.

Fortunately, I haven’t had as many problems with Uverse as we had with the old modem yet. But lately we have had a few times where it dropped our connection suddenly. The fix has been to restart the gateway.

Usually when this happens, all my lights are green, though sometimes one might be flashing. I may have to record which one if it happens again. I begin getting errors on all my services that the certificate has expired (but what it means, I suspect, is that it can’t connect to email, etc.).

I have bookmarked the Uverse gateway’s status page in my browser, and since wifi is still operational, I can go there. That should be http://192.168.1.254, but check your gateway documentation if that doesn’t work for you. It may have a different default address. From here, I can confirm that the connection is down, and I can restart my services (Connection to ATT, WiFi, Phone). You can try restarting individual services, though that hasn’t worked well for me. What has worked to restore service is to click on “Restart Your System” and reboot the whole gateway.

This has happened to us twice in a week, so I hope it doesn’t mean the Gateway is going out. When we first switched over, ATT came out a couple of times and replaced our gateway. The service tech said they weren’t very good and they had a lot of problems, but once we got a decent one, it’s lasted a couple of years. Maybe it will be time for us to upgrade our service to fiber and maybe get a new gateway.

Here’s hoping it doesn’t come to that, or at least that I don’t have more hassles to vent about. But if I do, I’ll be sure to write about them here!