Author: admin

Easy and Cheap Digital Signage

Easy and Cheap Digital Signage

Today I wanted to share a very easy way to set up digital signage at your school. I first learned about this while listening to an episode of the Check This Out Podcast. In the podcast, the cohost Brian Briggs shared how he used a Tv, Chromecast, and Google Home to set up digital signage in all of his schools.

I really like this method of digital signage because of the low price point, ease of set up, and the fact that we can collaboratively manage what goes on the screen. So far I have set it up at two of my campuses. While one campus has not utilized it fully, the other loves it and is constantly updating

What can you use this for?

Before we get into the technical info I wanted to share some ideas for how to use this form of digital signage. Below are a few ways that my schools are currently using their digital signage:

  • Share photos of what is happening on campus in real-time. Since this method uses the Google Photos app pictures can be sent to the Tv seconds after they are taken.
  • Share a slide show of announcements for the week.
  • Share a copy of the flyers that have been sent home.
  • Spotlight big events.
  • Spotlight teachers.
  • Spotlight the bright spots on campus.
  • Use to promote the school’s initiatives

The Technical Info

Step 1

Download the Google Home App (iOS /Android). You will need this app to set up your Chromecast.

Step 2

Follow these steps to connect your Chromecast to your network.

Step 3

Create an album in Google Photos specifically for the Chromecast

Step 4

Open up the Google Home app that you used to set up your Chromecast. On the home screen tap on the Chromecast’s icon and then click on the gear to access the device settings.

Step 5

Scroll down the settings until you see Ambient Mode. Click on Ambient Mode.

Step 6

Select Google Photos as your photo source.

Step 7

Select the photo album that you created in step 3 as your source.

Step 8

Upload photos to the photo album using Google Photos.

Step 9

Use the Google Photos app on your phone or computer to manage the photo album. You can also share the album with anyone who you want to add photos.

Quick Notes

Below are some quick things to keep in mind when uploading pictures:

  • The larger the photos the better. If a photo has a low resolution it will not show up on the screen.
  • Landscape photos are best. I have found that this sometimes does not play nice with photos that were shot in portrait mode.
  • If you are going to upload pictures of Google Slides I have found that the dimensions below work best. If your slides are too small they will not show up on the screen.
Managing Phone Notifications

Managing Phone Notifications

Over the past few months, you may have noticed that a lot of my posts have focused on different ways that you can use technology to save time and work more productively. As a father of two little kids, my time has quickly become one area of my life that I protect. Making sure I am around for their activities and to see them grow up is something that I feel is super important for both them and my wife and me.

Today I wanted to share some thoughts about an area that I still struggle with but feel like I am getting better at.

A few years ago I read Nir Eyal’s book Hooked. The book is about how to positively build habit-building products. In the book, Eyal shares that in order to build a habit-building product you need to have some sort of internal or external triggers.

One of the worst external triggers we face is the dreaded phone notification. Something like a push notification or red dot can be extremely distracting and take us out of our current situation. I know myself I have found myself stop mid-conversation with someone to check my phone because I got a notification.

A few years ago I went through all of my notifications and tried to cut out the ones that I felt were not really needed. One of the first to go was email notifications, then Facebook (ultimately I purged the entire app from my phone), and then anything else I felt was causing me to get distracted. While this helped a lot I still had a hard time sometimes choosing which notifications to turn off.

A few months ago Nir Eyal published a new book about being indistractable. Since I enjoyed Hooked so much I had to pick this book up. In the book Eyal shares about how to master your internal triggers, make time for important work, and how to hack back external triggers.

In the introduction to the section on hacking back external triggers Eyal shares a great test, you can use to determine if you should mute a notification.

Is the trigger serving me or am I serving it?

Indistractable by Nir Eyal

If you are not sure if you should turn off a notification ask yourself is the trigger serving you or are you serving it? In the book Eyal points out that not all notifications are bad. Notifications that remind us about healthy habits (Apple Watch’s stand notification, meditation reminders, food logs, etc.) can be super helpful for building good habits or staying on track to meeting a goal. Notifications about what a celebrity recently did or who liked your picture are distractions and keep you from meeting your goals.

A notification is a great tool. When used correctly they can inform us about important things. When used incorrectly they can become distractions that keep us from meeting our goals. If you are looking for more ideas on how to regain your focus I highly suggest checking out Indistractable.

Managed Bookmarks in Google Chrome

Managed Bookmarks in Google Chrome

A few weeks ago I attended the CUE Rockstar Admin camp in San Diego. While I was there I was able to connect with a few other Directors of Technology and share some best practices. Today I wanted to share a very easy to implement tip that I learned during one of those conversations.

One of my big goals this year is to help people work more efficiently. There are only so many hours in the day and most of us have lives and outside of work commitments that need our attention. This means that working efficiently is very important. One of the ways that we can work more efficiently is to be organized. This is especially important for leaders because we get bombared constantly with requests and people wanting our time. If we are unorganized it becomes very difficult to work efficently when we do get free time to work. Don’t believe me? Check out this quote below.

Many workers spend as much as 20% of their work week looking for internal information that they need to accomplish tasks, whether that’s digging through folders of documents or tracking down a colleague to answer their questions.


When I was a site administrator I always stressed that we needed to be organized so information was easy to find. I introduced to my organization the idea of creating a staff portal to act as a table of contents for our Google Drive and important websites. I also made sure that we pushed people towards using the portals….not an easy task at first. Now as the Director of Technology for multiple sites I am looking at ways that we can globally manage our information and make sure that people have the necessary information on Day 1. That is why I was very excited to learn about managed bookmarks in Chrome.

Why Managed Bookmarks?

Below are some of my goals in pushing out manged bookmarks to my staff and ultimately students.

  • Never have to hear “What’s the url again?” when it comes to our day to day organization websites.
  • Make sure that it is easy for people to find new web resources we want them to use.
  • Make onboarding easier. Instead of having to provide a piece of paper or email with all of the websites we use, I now can log them into Chrome when I am setting up their laptop and have everything ready to go on Day 1.
  • For my teaching staff, they will no longer have to wait for students to manually try and enter a website into the Omnibox which of course they end up spelling wrong which means valuable class time is lost. Now they can just instruct the students to log into Chrome and then automatically get the list of sites they need.

What are Managed Bookmarks?

Imagine that you had the time to go around to all of your computers and put a custom bookmarks folder that contains all of your important websites. While this would take forever to accomplish it would, in the long run, save you so much time because users would be able to quickly get the information that they need. Lucky for us Chrome makes setting up these custom bookmark folders easy with Managed Bookmarks.

Managed bookmarks are bookmarks that your G Suite administrator creates that can be pushed to users. When you push the bookmarks to a user it shows up in their Chrome Bookmark bar as a folder like in the picture above. The folder is dynamic so any time you make modifications in the admin console they are quickly reflected for the user.

Pushing out Managed Bookmarks

To push out a folder of managed bookmarks you need access to the Chrome management section of the Google Admin Console. To access the Chrome management section click on the three lines in the top left-hand corner, then scroll down to devices, click on the > next to Chrome management, and then click on settings. That will open up the screen below. Once you see this screen click on User & browser settings.

The first thing you will notice on the next screen is that your organizational units are brought up on the left-hand side. When creating managed bookmarks you can differentiate what bookmarks people get by selecting on the different OUs. For example, in my domain, I have our middle school and high school staff in separate OUs. Since it was set up this way I was able to push out two different sets of bookmarks to each school. This allows me to customize them to meet their needs. One of my goals next year is to push out a series of managed bookmarks to our students so they have all of the links they need.

After you have selected the OU that you want to push the bookmarks to you will need to find the section called User experience. It is pretty far down on the page of settings so I would suggest using a Command + F to open the find search. I normally find this section by typing “exper”.

The next step is to name your Bookmarks folder. Keep in mind that the end-user will see this name so you want to make sure you keep it professional. In my organization, we have titled our folder YPICS Bookmarks since YPICS is the name of our CMO. After you have named the folder you can click on the plus sign to add bookmarks.

To add a bookmark you need a name (this will show up for the end-user) and a URL. One frustrating part of adding bookmarks is that you can not drag and drop to reorder the bookmarks. I ended up creating a list in a Google Sheet of all the names and URLs so I could do all of my organizing before I entered them into the system.

When you are done entering all of your bookmarks make sure you hit save in the top right-hand corner.

Troubleshooting Tips

My experience so far is that it takes maybe 2-3 minutes for end-users to see the bookmarks in Chrome. Below are some common issues that came up when I pushed out the folders

  • If they can not see the bookmarks make sure that they are logged in using your school domain account.
  • If they are logged in and still can not see the bookmarks make sure that they are syncing Chrome.
  • If they still can not see the bookmarks pull up their account in the Admin Console and make sure they are in the correct OU.

If you need any help setting this up please don’t hesitate to reach out! You can reach me by visiting my contact page.