Google Apps and Collaboration – a TeachMeet Melbourne Perspective

As I said in my last post, I presented at the October addition of TeachMeet Melbourne. With a Google Summit happening in Melbourne this week, the focus of the meet was Google Apps and Collaboration and lots of first time TeachMeeters attended as a result of being in town for the summit.

Apart from my presentation on Google Maps in Education and related websites that incorporate Maps, there were sessions on Google+ Hangouts, Google Drive and Sites for portfolios, YouTube Video Editor and Collaborative Video recording, Google Calendar appointment slots and a nice intro from Chris Harte about Teachmeet history with a focus on sharing ideas, not apples ( with a hint of a dig aimed at apple with a capital A, I think:P). Finishing the night off beautifully was a heartfelt reflection on the need for looking after ourselves and each other, in itself a form of collaboration (minus Google!)

Below is a collection of tweets from the meet that may inspire you with new insights or encourage you to explore our new learnings further. My twitter tag is noticeably absent from the list – I was too busy as the official timer on the night and possibly got too comfortable on the very oversized beanbag I reclined in for the duration ( the free beer didn’t help either!) Enjoy!

The iPad – What it should and shouldn’t be for Education

This blog originally started as a reflection journal as I begun a pilot program for using iPads at my school. My early posts ( check January and February posts ) were discussions of the pros and cons of iPads. As the year has gone by and I have more time to research, read other iPad articles and experiment more with apps and with the students using them more frequently, I’ve had time to reflect on what iPads are offering schools. I’m not going to debate what model of iPad program to commit to – 1:1 or shared. I’m simply going to concentrate on what I think schools should consider before committing to iPads at all.

What you should use iPads for in schools

Multimedia content creation
I am so sick of the tech press misrepresenting the iPad purely as a content consumption device and complaining that it is not for content creation. I think they confuse content creation with publishing their articles with a traditional keyboard. On the contrary, the main reason schools should invest in iPads IS Content Creation. I’m not talking about Word or PowerPoint documents. That’s 20th century publishing that was meant for office workers and businessmen in the first place, not school kids.

What the iPad offers to children is the ability to capture, develop and publish their learning in the creative, engaging, multimedia way they experience the world. Traditional keyboard/writing based computing held back younger students and limited older ones. Now they can take pictures, record their voices (VoiceThread,GarageBand), create videos and slideshows(iMovie, SonicPics), annotate diagrams (Skitch), explain and record their learning in screencasts (Explain Everything, Doceri, Showme), use animated puppets to tell stories (Sock Puppets, Toontastic), create comic strips or whole comic books ( Comic Life, Strip Designer) combine text,freehand drawing and pictures in mind maps (Popplet, iMindmap) and publish interactive, multimedia books that others can read on their iPads (BookCreator,Creative Book Builder). All from the one device without having to connect any other tech up with wires and search for the files. The iPad is the ultimate one stop shop for student content creation that goes well beyond what they were capable of achieving easily just a couple of years ago. The beauty of all these apps is that they are multipurpose apps. They can be used in all curriculum areas and their uses are only limited by your or your student imagination. A Word Document could only do so much. Multimedia apps can allow for so much more scope for learning.

Portable, anywhere, interactive collaborative learning
The beauty of the iPad is its portability and use anywhere capability. Desktops anchor you to a desk and isolate you from a group. Laptops are still too cumbersome to carry around and the built in cameras and microphones are too restrictive. The iPad frees you up to use it anywhere any time. On a field trip/excursion? Take the iPad along with you and do all your work live and instantly. Take pictures and record a commentary for an instant report. Record footage of your physical activity in PE classes and play back for instant feedback on your performance, in slow motion with iMotion HD. Create a documentary on the spot with the video camera and iMovie. With wifi available, report live from an event with FaceTime or Skype. The physical makeup of the iPad makes for a more social sharing environment that isn’t as easy or effective in a lab of desktops or the one way screens of laptops. The tactile nature of the touchscreen brings students together and the multimedia capabilities can be shared by a group.

Social, interactive Reading the “digital literacy way”
One of the best activities on an iPad is reading, but not in the traditional sense. If you just want to read, get a book from the library – it’s cheaper. Reading on a iPad is a much richer experience and can enhance the educational experience in schools. Reading in iBooks allows you to highlight passages and record annotated notes which are then stored and organized in a dedicated bookmarked section and look up definitions without flicking through a dictionary. Using PDF annotation apps you can do limitless note taking without running out of space on the page.

While you can do the same on a traditional computing device, the use of social bookmarking tools and curation website bookmarklets make collaborative reading a far easier proposition, simply because of the book like experience sitting with an iPad gives you. Having students sitting in a group using Diigo’s shared annotation tools allows for both real conversation and tech based note sharing that can be referred to later. It also allows for collaboration with students outside the group which widens the community of learners you can work with. Individually, finding sites to share with others and then posting them on Scoop-it, Diigo, Edmodo, sharing via Twitter or other social media sites via bookmarklets, share buttons or through apps like Zite and Flipboard just seems more natural on a touchscreen tablet rather than on a mouse driven computer.

Other

Check out my other posts on Writing, Maths and Literacy ( in the Categories section on the right) for my other uses for iPads – I don’t want to repeat myself too much. Suffice to say, the iPad has the potential to change the way we learn and teach if we take the time to research and investigate what others are doing. I have curated a wealth of resources for you to use on my Scoopit page linked at the top of my blog page as well as in my Diigo Bookmarks under the iPad tag also accessible above.

The iPad, however, is not perfect by any means and does have limitations to consider. There are some things it can’t do at all and many things that are best done on other devices. Read on for what they shouldn’t be used for in schools.

What you shouldn’t use iPads for in schools

This list is more about poor decision making about getting iPads rather than the iPad’s lack of ability to manage the task. It’s also more applicable to a school setting ( i use my iPad for a lot of things completely un-school related, which shouldn’t be a factor for getting them for school) and why you are choosing iPads over other computing options. If it can’t do the task as effectively as a “computer”, if it isn’t going to be an improvement and make a profound change to how you use tech in education, if it isn’t going to be any different to what you are already doing with desktop or laptop computers, then consider whether the iPad is really what you want.

Traditional word processing
Don’t get me wrong. I use my iPad for about 90% of the word processing I do. Most of this blog has been published using my iPad. Having said that, if you’re going to jump on the bandwagon and buy iPads and then complain about not having Microsoft Office on it, or that Pages messes up the formatting of the Word Document you just imported or you don’t like the touchscreen keyboard for typing, you haven’t thought about why you want iPads. If all your students do with tech at school is publish stories and reports in Word, then you will find your iPads being underutilized.

Replacing books just for reading or lightening the load in your students’ backpacks.
Personally, I read a lot on my iPad. But, as I outlined in the “What you should use iPads for in Schools” section of this post, I don’t just read with my iPad. Once again, it is a wasted opportunity for changing the way you foster learning in your school if your main reason for buying iPads is to replace books/textbooks with ebooks and PDF scans of textbooks. This does not enhance learning. This does not change the way you teach. Just reading books on an iPad makes no difference to education. It may be advertised to consumers as a great e-reader, and as a way of carrying around a truckload of books to read on a vacation it’s great, but if schools are going to invest vast amounts of money on iPads only to fill them up with ebook versions of novels or PDF copies of chapters from their Maths text books so our children can prop them up on a table while they complete Exercise 7A of the Quadratic Equations Chapter in their exercise books, we’ve missed the point.

If you have invested a lot of time, effort and money in Web 2.0 tools or educational management systems.
While there is much press about the demise of Flash support for mobile devices ( Android included ) and the rise of HTML5 sites, the vast majority of educational sites on the Internet are Flash or Java based. While many are free, educational versions of these sites usually cost a fair investment to use with large numbers of children. iPads don’t support these tools well. Yes, there are workaround solution in the form of dedicated iPad browsers like Puffin and Photon that use server based connections to provide useable Flash experience on iPads, but they are serviceable at best and inadequate or unusable at worst. While I have no experience of it, Moodle is widely used in schools as well and does not play well with iPads. Interactive whiteboard software like Promethean’s Activinspire doesn’t have an iPad version so you can’t create or edit flip charts on iPads with their software. So if your school has invested heavily in Web 2.0 tool licenses, Moodle like systems or have spent the last 5 years training you to make interactive whiteboard flip charts, consider the wisdom of moving to an iPad only set up.

Are you a Google Apps for Education school?
This is open for debate as I have visited schools that are 1:1 iPad schools who use Google Apps. From my experience, the user experience is not good enough. Maybe for word processing it’s functional but the Google spreadsheet experience is woefully inadequate on the iPad. If you have made a big investment in Google Apps, I’d stick with netbooks/laptops.

Website design/blog management
Web site building tools on the web like Weebly or Wix are useable and most of the publishing work of blogs can be done on an iPad. However,if you have an ICT course that is heavily involved in website building or you need to edit graphic elements or widget components of blogs, iPads don’t handle the task completely and you’ll need to stick with traditional computing.

Dedicated specialist software compatibility
Without listing them, there is obviously a huge range of software for specific purposes that aren’t supported and are unlikely to ever be supported on the iPad. While it may seem bleeding obvious, schools need to take this into account before dedicating their entire budget to a 1:1 iPad program.

Final thoughts
I started the year thinking the iPad was the one stop solution. I’ve come to believe now that a multi device option is preferable. 1:1 iPads would be great in an ideal world but the financial reality for school with substantial investments in other tech already doesn’t make it practical for a complete change. My school already has a lot of laptops and desktops in use. They are used for many valid purposes such as those listed above. It’s not reasonable to think we would replace all our resources with just iPads when there are good things already being done with them. So we are going down the horses for courses route. More iPads are likely to be purchased next year and used for all he great multimedia purposes outlined. Web tools, research, Flash and Java Ed sites, word processing, blogging, compatibility issues will continue to be addressed with our computers. I’m starting to think it’s the best of both worlds.

But what do you think? Have I under or oversold the iPad? Are there compelling reasons for iPads in education I’ve left out ? Are there other reasons for not committing to them? Share your thoughts. This is far from an exhaustive post. Join the conversation.

Web 2.0 for the Under 13s crowd

As I lamented in my last post, many of the fabulous Web tools out there are restricted to users 13 and over. This limits what Elementary/Primary schools students can access online to create content to collaborate. To save others at school some time, then, I have compiled a list of popular/well known Web tools that can and can’t be used by children under 13 – 1), so we are legally covered in what we are allowing our students to use and 2), so they know what is available. Please note that generally the sites that allow for under 13s still ask for parental permission ( even Edmodo if you haven’t read the Terms of Use) so a solid school user agreement is needed to use these tools. Some of the sites are not US based so are not bound by COPPA and CIPA regulations. It still requires schools to carefully check out what can be viewed on these sites to ensure they are appropriate to access.

The difficulty with some sites’ policies is that they don’t all state emphatically that Under 13s are not allowed. They just refer vaguely to not being intended for use or not knowingly seeking personal information from Under 13s. In some cases we have personally contacted sites to confirm their policy. I recommend you do the same – I’m not a lawyer; I’m just expressing my opinions. The links below generally take you to the Policy or FAQ sections to explain use/non-use by students under 13.

 

Available to Under 13s – Free Available to Under 13s – Paid Restricted to 13 and Over
PHOTO SLIDESHOW/MOVIES INTERACTIVE POSTER INTERACTIVE POSTER
Animoto for Education (strict supervision expected as outlined in Education Terms) Here is some info about setting up student accounts GlogsterEDU (Teacher account that can be used to create private student accounts linked to Teacher account- 30 Day Free Trial available which saves your work and students’ if you want to continue with paid option )  Glogster (free account not allowed for Under 13s)
SOCIAL BOOKMARKING AND COLLABORATIVE NOTETAKING 3D ANIMATED STORYTELLING SOCIAL BOOK REVIEWING
Diigo (Teacher account that can be used to create private student accounts linked to Teacher account ) Xtranormal for Education (Teacher controlled accounts)GoAnimate for Schools (secure environment)  Shelfari ( access to any type of book on Amazon so right to limit access to 13 and Over )
EDUCATIONAL NETWORK COMIC/CARTOON CREATOR SOCIAL NETWORKING
Edmodo (Secure teacher controlled system) BitStrips for Schools (secure environment controlled by teacher) Twitter and Facebook ( we all know that even though millions are on Facebook)
BOOK PUBLISHING BOOK PUBLISHING PRESENTATION TOOL
StoryJumper Classroom Edition ( Like Edmodo, a secure teacher controlled system) Zooburst for Educators (secure Teacher Controlled environment Sliderocket(recently changed their policy to not allow Under 13s   – confusing because it implies that with parental permission Under 13s can register and yet they blocked our accounts)Prezi (actually limited to 18 and over)
BOOK PUBLISHING INTERACTIVE TIMELINES
3D ANIMATED STORYTELLING
StoryBird for Schools ( same as StoryJumper) TikiToki (Education account has more options) Xtranormal( it is very easy to find some inappropriate animations on Public version – right to block)GoAnimate
BOOKMARKING MULTIMEDIA AVATAR COMIC/CARTOON CREATOR
Symbaloo (no special conditions – can search for general public’s symbaloos but generally a barebones bookmark button site) Voki (Teacher managed environment) ToonDoo (very clear wording in policy about Under 13s -even the ToonDooSpaces for Schools)
FILE SHARING/CLOUD NETWORK COLLABORATIVE NOTETAKING BOOK PUBLISHING
DropBox ( tricky one – not directed towards Under 13s but if permission granted and no Personal Information is provided – teacher sets up account without using child info – it seems to be OK. School discretion I feel on this one. If web based system is avoided, I can’t see a problem – it’s just like saving to computer)  Evernote (paid account required for sharing and collaborating on notes) Zooburst (a pop up book maker not available to under 13s makes no sense to me but laws are laws!?)
MINDMAPPING SURVEY CREATION
Popplet (not sure about this one – am awaiting a reply to an email I sent for clarification – will change here as soon as I receive reply)UPDATE:reply from Popplet says that as long as teacher creates the account and is responsible in monitoring the account, under 13s can use.                          PollDaddy (can’t work out how why this kind of site is restricted but it is. If you have the iPad app at least the students can conduct the surveys but teacher will have to publish them and log in for results)SurveyMonkey (mentions minors for other countries and Under 13s for USA)
COLLABORATIVE PRESENTATION GOOGLEDOCS
VoiceThread ( a free account must be created by a parent or guardian with permission )  GOOGLE ACCOUNTS        (including Public Google Docs. Hard to find this policy without searching- not in Terms of Use section –  but it is clear on Under 13s restrictions)
PRESENTATION TOOL VIDEO SITES
Prezi EDU ( Tricky one – hard to read policy but after checking forums found a response to a question regarding Under 13s from official Prezi rep that stated with specific parent permission Prezi can be used by Under 13s. See forum links here and here ) SchoolTube ( lacks clarity – can view but can’t upload is my interpretation)YouTube (public site restricted to 13 and Over in terms of user accounts – but like Facebook a lot using it anyway.Schools have to be aware of the terms though.)Vimeo (quite clear in the wording of their policy re: Under 13s)
MULTIMEDIA AVATAR                   
Voki (Supervision recommended, parental permission required and personal information avoided
WEBSITE CREATION
Weebly for Education ( teacher creates student accounts )
WIKIS
Wikispaces (parent email or teacher setup only)
BLOGGING
Edublogs ( no mention of Under 13s – Schools to think about level of privacy settings)Kidblog ( must be over 13 to register but can use with permission if someone else registers for under 13 student)
COMIC/CARTOON CREATOR
BitStrips (parent email contact for approval)
GOOGLE DOCS
 GOOGLEAPPS FOR EDUCATION                     School wide implementation required

Permission for Under 13s required 

WORD CLOUDS
 Wordle   Tagxedo
COLLABORATIVE BOARDS
WallWisher 
INTERACTIVE TIME LINES
TikiToki (limited Free account)
NOTETAKING
Evernote ( another confusingly worded policy – suggests the service is not directed at children but then implies that its more about private information and letting parents know its happened. Get permission, create the accounts and probably OK. )

LINK TO SYMBALOO BOOKMARKS FOR THESE TOOLS

Even though I complained in my last post about restrictions, you can see from this chart that there are still plenty of tools available for the Under 13s. Some of the free options are restricted compared to the paid equivalents but you are paying for the secure environments provided by the education versions. I’m going to continue to investigate more possibilities and add to this post during the year. I’ll also be checking in regularly to see if the policies change ( as happened with SlideRocket) to ensure we are complying with legal requirements. I recommend everyone do the same. It’s one thing for parents to let their kids access sites without checking the terms of use but as schools we can’t be complacent.

Contact sites if you are unclear what their policies are saying. Discuss the possibility of using level budgets to pay for some of the paid options – while they do cost money, they may be better use of money than superfluous stationery or an excursion for the sake of an excursion. Above all, if we are to convince politicians and educational leaders that the Under 13s need access to the Web to learn responsible digital citizenship, then as teachers we need to be responsible and vigilant in their use of the Internet.

Would love to hear from others about other tools I have not listed above that are accessible to the under 13s. Join the conversation.

School iPad Program – not as easy as I thought!

One term into the official launch of our iPad program, I thought it would be opportune to reflect on the successes, failures and everything in between. I have to admit, as a self professed, but not certified, iPad/Mac “expert” and ‘All Things Apple’ zealot, things haven’t gone as smoothly as I’d hoped. I would like to blame it all on our proxy server, but I suspect Apple has something to do with it too.

THE SETUP

I set up our iPads before Apple’s Configurator software for managing iPads came out. Regardless, the initial set up was pretty smooth. I set up the base iPad configuration on a targeted iPad and backed it up to my dedicated Mac Mini iPad machine. (Last year, when we trialled a small set of iPads with teachers, I was stuck using an Acer PC Laptop. Windows + iTunes + iPad ≠ smooth management. I strongly argued for a lone Mac to maintain my sanity in dealing with our iPad setup this year.) I set up all the apps in designated purpose built folders, created the school network connection, connected to iCloud, configured the network app FileBrowser to connect to our school network so we could access files and thought everything was ready to go.

In the main it was fine. I set up each of the remaining 34 iPads from the backed up iPad configuration using a 7 port USB hub. I know you can sync more than that with the Mac, but the 7 port hub was bought last year to work with the Windows ‘solution’ ( I was lucky to get 3 connected at one time!) and I never got around to buying a bigger one for this year. In the end, the delay in waiting for the Restores to finish before I could start the next installation meant having 16 plugged in would have meant a lot of waiting anyway. The whole set up took about 2 days to finish and was pretty painless; I had one error on one iPad that I had to reinstall but other than that each iPad’s installation went flawlessly if not a little long in duration but that was because I installed too many apps (more on that later). About a week later, Apple’s Configurator was released. ( missed it by that much!)

The hassles came in the weeks to follow. Due to a lack of forward thinking on my own behalf, there were several configuration set ups I didn’t think to do on the base iPad “image”. It was only when the iPads started being used and teachers and students wanted to email documents that I realised that I had not set up an email account on the iPads. Orginally I hadn’t considered it because of the perceived hassle of everyone wanting to use their own email on a shared iPad. That wasn’t going to work. However, we still needed a system to email work in apps that didn’t support other solutions. In the end, I set up a dedicated account in our school internet-based mail system just for the iPad ( with my account as the forwarding address in case inappropriate mail was being received) so that anyone could SEND emails to their own accounts to be opened on other computers. I also soon realised that I had inadvertently set up the FileBrowser app’s network access and the Edmodo app under my name so that any user on any iPad was logged in as me! All these settings had to be individually changed to fix that obvious security hole. Fortunately, I solved this quickly through the use of my newly appointed Student ICT Leadership team who spent an hour with me changing all the settings. Before you worry about the handing over of responsibility to students, none of this required providing sensitive information to them. I actually recommend training up a small group of students to help with non-critical management that doesn’t need passwords or the like – they’re easier to train than most adults as long as they are trustworthy, which mine are under supervision. They have also helped me with setting up numbered wallpapers for better identification, folder creation and maintenance and other simple management tasks.

MAINTAINING THE SETUP

The next issue to arise is the updating and installing of new apps and system updates. Originally, I had set up the iPads to sync and update wirelessly so that I wouldn’t have to manage that constantly. Unfortunately, I found this too be less than ideal for a number of reasons.

I’m not sure if it was because of our proxy server being mean to iTunes, the wifi being overloaded and inconsistent or a combination of both but I could never get the iPads to consistently sync. Some iPads would end up with newly purchased apps automatically installed while others wouldn’t. Some iPads would backup and update apps while others would deliver error messages to iTunes. Often, someone would open up an iPad to use an app they had previously used to find it in a longstanding waiting to update state, rendering it unusable. Then the emails from the Office complaining about the bills for exceeding our monthly downloads started coming. So I went back to physically connecting the iPads to iTunes and manually syncing for app updates and loading of new apps. This has proved to be less problematic and allowed me to keep all the iPads consistent in setup.

Having said that, with the number of apps I have loaded on iTunes , the download limit for the school is still being exceeded and I’ve resorted to taking an iPad home and updating there with my unlimited iTunes download account and then syncing the updated apps back to the Mac Mini at school. This is clearly not a viable long term solution as I won’t be around at the school forever and my home account can be relied upon as a management system. My ICT leader just informed me this week that the download cap issue is being fixed so that is one problem solved for us but is still a consideration for others to deal with .

Just as frustratingly problematic has been upgrading the iOS system software. As soon as I had set up all the iPads at the start of the year and rolled them out for use , the 5.1 update was released. Sometimes in schools, upgrade cycles are delayed because the benefits of upgrades are outweighed by the hassles of interrupting the workflow of others when dealing with a large scale deployment of devices. From personal experience, though, upgrading iOS was a walk in the park so I decided to do the upgrade straight away. Apple’s own upgraded apps wouldn’t work without the update anyway.

Well, again, not sure if it was proxy problems or trying to manage too many devices from a single computer but it wasn’t smooth sailing. Waiting for each iPad to install, load and restart before the next update cycle for the next iPad could begin meant a lot of wait time. iPad management is not my full time job so this was a time issue that could effect teachers in other schools who also become the iPad person. Occasionally updates would fail and you would have to start again. Once or twice, I’ve discovered one or two iPads in a set not up to date. For some reason, again possibly the proxy server problem, I couldn’t update wirelessly so I’ve just taken them home to run the update. As I mentioned earlier, I haven’t used Apple Configurator software yet because I haven’t had the chance to interrupt the workflow of iPad use to reconfigure the whole set up. Reading some reviews, it seems to be a good solution so will see how that goes at end of year when I reimage and set up for 2013.

GENERAL USAGE
Once all the setup hassles have been tackled, I can at least report the general day to day usage has run smoothly. In our case, all the iPads are centrally stored in one locked cupboard in my office. I set up a borrowing system on GoogleDocs that the teachers use to book out sets of iPads for timetabled sessions. We have five sets of 7 iPads in transportable kits. Instead of spending money on expensive sync carts, we decided to buy dish washing racks from the local hardware store and attached a powerboard to each rack. The iPads fit snugly in the racks and can be easily carried from office to classrooms. There are teachers who don’t like the hassle of “collect and return” but for charging, syncing and security reasons, we want all the iPads in a central locations at the end of the day. Each iPad is also assigned to an individual teacher so they can take one overnight or on weekends to explore. They have to sign an ipad agreement before this happens to ensure due care is taken. There have been occasional care issues with the return of the sets. It would be nice to see teachers take the extra 5 minutes to ensure the cables aren’t tangled or crossed over and the iPads are put neatly back in the racks.

There was a suggestion that the iPads should be available to only the junior grades since the senior grades had access to so much technology and the juniors didn’t but I pushed for a trial period of P-6 access. I didn’t want the situation of 35 iPads sitting idle waiting for the juniors to use them while the older children were hanging out for a chance to get their hands on them for valid reasons. As it stands, everyone is using them fairly consistently and there are still days when some sets don’t see the light of day. More training sessions are needed to showcase their potential use, Once that happens more frequently ( report writing time has delayed that in recent weeks ) I’m sure we’ll see empty cupboards.

FINAL THOUGHTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
After reading this you could either be doubting my supposed credentials as an iPad blogger or hesitating to tackle large scale deployment of iPads. Hopefully you won’t do either of those. Despite the hassles, the general experience has been a good one. My biggest mistake has been trying to do it all on my own. As a lifelong Apple user, I’m used to working out issues by myself but on a big scale you need support. Have a look at Configurator in the Mac App Store. Call Apple. Talk to others in the same situation.

Plan. Have a clear plan for what you want on each iPad. Make sure you know what you want in terms of network settings, mail settings, apps, restrictions and so on before you set up the iPad image you want to use. Think about how you are going to manage the upkeep long term and have an organized plan for that. Do your research. Make sure you have all infrastructure in place that can manage your plan effectively. Know what your school’s Internet usage is. Know how your security setting like proxies are and how they may affect your plan. ( ICT leader has just met with new Education Office expert who informs us that new system coming will solve the proxy problems we have – double Yay!!) Know your budget and for those outside USA, know that the Volume Purchasing Program is on its way and we will need to be stricter on our app purchasing and deployment.
Plan.

I would love to hear from others their success stories and frustrations. This time two years ago the iPad was just a personal media device intended for individual use. In a very short time it has become a must have educational tool without a perfect system to make it happen. It’s no that simple yet.

Continue reading

iPads (or other devices) and Literature Circles – co-starring Edmodo.

Literature Circles Projects
http://www.flickr.com/photos/chowd/488098373/ CC Licensed

Literature Circles have been around forever. Done well, the strategy is an effective way of engaging children in reading, while teaching them specific skills and behaviours we use when immersing ourselves in a text. With clear foci during the instructional part of the Literature Circle session, teachers can direct children to use these strategies to improve their comprehension and how they respond to text.

One of my main concerns ( and the concerns of many I have worked with in implementing Literature Circles) is monitoring the independent reading and meetings as well as the work done by children in between sessions. Technology can play a big part in this and can also be used to enhance, simply and streamline the whole process. This is where the iPad comes in. ( I’ve been neglecting the star of Mr G Online for a while as I’ve been reflecting on education overall). With its ability to act as the actual book ( or text in general), its connectivity and collaborative capabilities and the tools and apps that it can add to the mix, the iPad can be the all-in-one Literature Circle Experience. Using Technology as the tool for creating the preparation for the discussion means there are opportunities for the teacher to check in on the potential online discussions that may occur and have access to the prep work the students have done for the discussion. Read on to find out how the iPad can be used in each of the roles in Literature Circles. Of course, this can mostly be done using laptops or desktop computers as well but the “iPad as book and personal immersive device” makes for a better experience in my humble opinion. With no iPad access, though, you can still do it almost as effectively.

The Organisation
Traditionally, from my experience, students have a quick meeting to decide how much of the book they will read before the discussion meeting and what role/s each member will prepare for during the discussion. Also from my experience, this is sometimes rushed and individuals forget what was organised. Last year, I began organising Literature Circles via Edmodo. During the meeting, group members would post their roles in the Edmodo group environment and record what their reading goal was. No one had excuses and if a group member was absent, he/she could access Edmodo to find out what to do, how much and when by.

Now that Edmodo’s iPad app has been updated with access to GoogleDocs and the iPad’s camera roll, posting documents on the site is now quite easy. Having access to other group members’ contributions to the Literature Circle discussions means more opportunities to prepare for the meeting. This kind of collaborative environment also means the students can contribute to all roles rather than just doing theirs. I think this is better in the long run.

In terms of accessing the books, Kindle books and iPad books are often similar in price to physical books and especially in Kindle’s case, often cheaper. I’m not going to discuss how many copies to buy vs how many iPads. That’s up to your conscience and understanding of Purchasing Agreements. However, if I buy 8 books to share amongst 100 students in rotation, I should be able to do the same with ebooks. Consideration might also be made for using audiobooks for readers who need support. There are a lot of interactive read along books on iTunes as well for iPads which could be good choices for struggling readers.

The Reading Experience
iBooks and Kindle for iPad are the two big players here. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Kindle has a greater range of books and is generally cheaper; iBooks is more integrated with the iPad system so is easier to import other texts into the app for reading and to actually download the text from within the app. Both have great highlighting and note making tools and built in dictionaries. There are two camps when it comes to reading;the “I love turning real pages and holding a real book” people and the “ebooks are so much easier to use” group. You can make that call yourself but for the purpose of this post, I am in the “ebook” camp. By having the text on the iPad, students can easily bookmark multiple sections to refer back to instantly rather than dog-earing every second page of a borrowed book. Any highlighted text can also be saved and accessed, shared via Twitter ( for those with access) for others to access. Words can be looked up and marked via the built in dictionaries. Information or specific text  can be searched for within the text or outside the text via Wikipedia or the internet in general. This allows for quick access to resources that can enhance the comprehension of the text. Multiple shorter texts like PDF files can be accessed through Dropbox or GoogleDocs for all readers quickly instead of wasting photocopying and readers still have annotation tools available through dedicated PDF reading apps like GoodReader or Notability (my personal choices).

Discussion Director
Students can access key instructions on the role of the Discussion Director from attached files either within iBooks/Kindle/GoodReader or via

Coveritlive chapter discussion embedded in Edmodo

Edmodo. This access eliminates the excuse I have often received that the student wasn’t sure way to do. Discussion questions can be posted on Edmodo for teachers and other group members to access before the meeting. This gives them the opportunity to prepare for the questions rather than going in cold without knowing what to consider. It also provides the chance for teachers to support the Discussion Director in framing the questions for quality discussion prior to meeting to help ensure there is opportunity for real thinking rather than the students getting hit with yes/no questions.

Alternatively to Edmodo, students could use the iPad’s VoiceThread App to set up the questions for discussion. This gives options for video or audio responses for those who prefer that kind of response. The Coveritlive app  is another opportunity for multimedia discussion opportunities. Both of these options allow for participation by students who may be absent on the day of the discussion meeting. Of course, absent children could also participate in the meeting via Skype on the iPad. All of these options are of course available through other devices but the simplicity of access to them via the iPad makes it more conducive for the discussion to flow successfully.

Vocabulary Enricher (Word Wizard)
After highlighting the words or phrases in the text, the Vocab Enricher can use either the inbuilt dictionaries in the iBooks/Kindle text or any downloaded dictionary app on the iPad if he wants to copy/paste the information to present to the group. The student could take screenshots of the relevant highlighted pages and upload these to Edmodo for the others to see. This allows the students in the group to be prepared for the discussion by knowing which words will be referred to and will be able to highlight them in their own text beforehand. It means they can also read the words in the context on the page rather than just getting a list of words to think about. You would need to stress that they don’t rely on the dictionary as the purpose is to read in context first.

Cunning Connector
Using VoiceThread, Coveritlive, a shared Popplet or a GoogleDoc, the Connector could pre post the connections she made to a specific part of the text or provide a range of text sections the other students could connect to. Other students could add pictures or video/audio/text comments for a richer experience.By doing this collaboratively, the other group members could contribute to this role and build more connections than the initial Connector made. For me, this is where I would like Literature Circles to go – rather than individuals being assigned a role, everyone takes on multiple roles which then just become reading behaviours to use when reading any text at any time. All of the connections presented in the collaborative document would then be presented at the discussion meeting to be talked about further. At this point I’ll say that some could see this process of online participation is eliminating the need for the Literature Circle meeting. I don’t agree with that. From my experience last year, when I trialled this type of approached with a group on Edmodo, the collaboration online encouraged the children to be more prepared and at the meeting they were more tuned in because of the preparations beforehand. They had more to talk about rather than less. The connections were built upon through feedback which then made them make deeper connections. It allowed me as the teacher to participate and encourage the deeper thinking through making my own connections and asking the students questions.

Summariser
Creative options for more engaging summarising of the text could include Comic strip apps like Strip Designer and Comic Life, both of which can export to Camera Roll for easy importing to Edmodo. The Book Trailer option in iMovie could be a fun and inventive way to share a summary of a chapter. Of course, simple text based options through a basic posting on Edmodo ( others could add replies to improve the summary) or previously mentioned options like Voicethread and Popplet could again be used to summarise.

Having the digital text available at the reading stage also allows for highlighting key ideas as the Summariser reads. He can then go to the Highlighted text section in iBooks or Kindle to view all of his ideas together in a sequential order, thus making it a simpler task to summarise the text.

Literary Luminary
Like the Summariser, having the digital text available at the reading stage  allows for highlighting potential  sections of text as the Literary Luminary reads. She  can then go to the Highlighted text section in iBooks or Kindle to view all of her ideas and then select the one that stands out the most. The presentation of the idea can use the same options previously discussed.

courtesy of Evernote support page

Awesome Illustrator
Using any of the painting/drawing apps on the iPad, the illustrator can come up with a creative presentation here. Exporting the picture to Camera Roll and then to Skitch provides an opportunity for the Illustrator to add annotations like questions or highlighted components  to his artwork. This can be posted to Edmodo for the other group members to analyse in preparation for the discussion.

Travel Tracer
The Travel Tracer could organise the path of the story through a Popplet (or other mind mapping app)  or  a comic strip to present a more visual itinerary. If the book is related to actual locations, the tracer could plot the journey out on a GoogleMap using the MyMaps app. This app makes using Google Maps editing tools easier to use on the iPad than using the Internet version. The tracer can add pictures and text to the map explaining the journey taken during the story. If the map is shared with others, they can also make their own edits through the app.

Final Thoughts

Literature Circles don’t NEED iPads or other computers in order to be successful. I’m not arguing that. This is about enhancing the experience and appealing to the desire for children to engage in more creative ways to share their knowledge. For me, it addresses my concern that sometimes Literature Circle meetings have occurred without a lot of depth in preparation and discussion. Using Edmodo as the collaborative conduit between group members and teacher makes sense to me. It worked effectively last year as well. Adding the iPad as the one all-encompassing tool streamlines the process for me, despite the fact that nearly every suggestion I’ve made can be done successfully with alternatives (often cheaper). So what do you think? Good idea or overkill? Look forward to feedback.

Planning for a new year in ICT – Can growth and change happen?

"It's about the teaching, not the technology" link http://bitstrips.com/r/2004P

I love this comic. It sums up so succinctly the general state of technology in schools today. Over my 25 year teaching career, I have seen millions poured into resourcing schools with banks of computers, glittering new computer labs, trolleys of laptops, digital cameras, color laser printers, iPods and iPads, after hours presentations by technology companies, cupboards full of CD-ROMS and subscriptions /licenses for every imaginable whizz bang software solution.

The result of all this money can sometimes be a printed sheet of paper with Word Art heading and a colourful clip art image at the bottom – the 1990s version of a handwritten story with a stencil guided title and drawing from the 1950s. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve also seen wonderfully innovative teachers use these tools to develop real 21st Century skills in schools. Creative videos, 3D models, interactive slideshows, collaborative online forums, stop motion animations – they’ve all been done and done brilliantly. But they’ve been one offs, part of a technology unit or the result of the ICT or classroom teacher’s enthusiasm for the latest tool from a PD day she attended. Too often when the dust settles, and the student’s excitement levels wane, we all slip back into the routine of typing stories and making yet another PowerPoint presentation with those annoying transitions and text effects. And yes, I’ve been guilty of it as much as anyone in the past so don’t stress.

These reflections have come about as I begin the 2012 year as a newly ordained member of the Leadership Team. At our first meeting we were asked to go away and plan for what we wanted to achieve in our specific area of expertise which we will then present to our team by the end of the term. I’ll be working with out ICT leader on our hopes and dreams for Technology in school. We share the same concerns with the pace of integration and adoption of ICT in education today . We share the same vision of how Technology can impact on Contemporary Teaching and Learning. So in preparation for the upcoming meetings, I give you my hopes and dreams for ICT in schools ( in no particular order of priority or level of reality!)

Collaborative, ‘always on’ staff communication
I dream of a time when;

  • All staff can equally share their ideas for others to read, reflect and comment on at any time, before, during, after and between meetings
  • All staff have access to a shared calendar so that we can keep up to date on what is happening in our school community and plan events without fear of timetable clashes without waiting for the next memo to be emailed/printed or school website update
  • All staff have an opportunity to share newly discovered research, websites, Web tools, information and so on through an easily accessible, always up to date, collaborative environment.

In short, I dream of school system wide adoption of Edmodo, GoogleDocs, Dropbox and Diigo.

Diigo V5: Collect and Highlight, Then Remember! from diigobuzz on Vimeo.

We have the hardware, let’s ALL use it
I dream of a time when;

  • Every classroom has students standing in front of the interactive whiteboards and teachers sitting in front of them
  • Students have control of the use and creation of content on the whiteboard, not the teachers ( and not just when they are presenting their projects)
  • We have to rip the iPads, iPods and laptops out of the hands of teachers and students when we collect them for updates/upgrades because they are always being used.
  • The AV Resource cupboard is ALWAYS empty and ALL teachers AND leadership are waiting to use what is no longer available.
  • The computer lab is NEVER vacant
  • All staff meetings involve using ICT tools ( not just for presentations to watch and listen to ) and this is seen as an opportunity for ICT PD, not just the content of the meeting.
  • Leadership and teachers are seen utilizing ICT tools in as many ways as the students are.
  • All teachers are seeking advice on how to skill up in ICT long after the initial introductory PD

In short, PD has to be regular, consistent, continuous, collaborative, hands on and purposeful (linked to teaching and learning practice)

Student-led ICT development and  improvement
I dream of a time when;

  • Students are free to explore web tools, PC/Mac software, iOS apps and ICT hardware, evaluate its usefulness and present their findings to students and staff
  • Students run workshops in using these tools for interested staff and students
  • Students become the source of information about and for our school and communities beyond through the use of blogs, podcasts and videos
  • Students have a voice in discussions about appropriate use policies at school and are held as equally responsible for how students use and abuse ICT as teachers and parents are

In short, establish an energising, active and supportive Student ICT Leadership team dedicated to the ongoing adoption and growth of ICT in our school

These are my hopes and dreams. Many are way beyond reality for 2012. But without hopes and dreams, nothing is accomplished. Hopefully, this year can start to make some real change around the world in Technology and Education Integration. If we don’t, the above cartoon, redrawn in 2061, will just be a teacher in an even shorter dress going Blah Blah in front of a holographic image being ignored by kids wearing Virtual Reality helmets!

What are your hopes and dreams? Are they getting closer to reality? If so, how did you make it happen? Join the conversation.

 

Can you share iPads – the case for Yes.

PART TWO – the case FOR Sharing
In my last post, I sort of positioned myself in the “iPads can’t be shared” camp. When the boss first asked me about the possibility of getting iPads into our school, one of my first concerns was ‘ for sharing or individual use’. As teachers trialled them last year, they passed them among some eager students and came to the belief it was fine to share them with children who wanted to use them. Everyone has different opinions on the matter. Depends on how much you believe the kids could or should use the iPad. Reality in our situation though is that we are not going 1:1 so sharing is the only option. That being the case, we have to find solutions to the problems I discussed in the previous post.

Dropbox
This is the most obvious and best solution. For those who don’t know, Dropbox is a cloud based network with dedicated mobile and desktop apps that make saving files as simple as saving to a standard file folder. If you want more info, look it up.
With the Dropbox app installed on an iPad, children and teachers are able to save their work from many ( but far from all ) apps and if there is a compatible app on a computer, open it up there as well. Dropbox integration is available in most publishing apps (Pages, Numbers and Keynote being big exceptions) and a lot of other content creation and file sharing/reading apps. You can save attachments from your mail, the internet and other apps as well.

In some apps, like Notability, my favourite note taking app, even have automatic syncing to Dropbox. In my personal use, Dropbox has been a great way of accessing saved files. It is definitely a way of saving and opening files outside of the iPad file system.

However, there still are issues using Dropbox to support shared iPads. The hassle of having to login and log out of the Dropbox app every time a different user wants to access files could make it difficult for easy use. Some students and teachers may forget to do this and save their work in someone else’s folder. The fact that not all apps have Dropbox integration results in inconsistent access. The biggest problem at our school is that Dropbox doesn’t fully function over a proxy server setup that most schools in my system use. You can download your files but you can’t save to Dropbox. I’ve heard some schools have found workarounds to this but we haven’t solved it yet.

So is Dropbox a solution to sharing apps? Sort of – yes.

Googledocs.
Another possibility for sharing is Googledocs. Many publishing apps have Googledocs integration so files can be accessed and saved in the same way as I described in the Dropbox explanation. Same problems arise as well. So again, Googledocs is a “sort of – yes” solution.

Network accessing apps
There are a number of apps that allow you to access the file structures of our computers or network servers. my favorite app, and the one I use successfully is called FileBrowser. It allows me to login to the school network and my computers at home and access any files that the iPad can open. With compatible apps, you can also copy files back into the file system. When it’s possible, it’s a good solution. However, like all of these options, not every app allows you to use Filebrowser to save back, although you can pretty much always open files already in FileBrowser in any app ( except Apple’s own apps like Pages.)

iCloud
No. Least useful option. Good for syncing between personal iOS devices but that’s it. Apple has to do better here. At least integrate Dropbox with your apps. Feel free to disagree.

Email
20120123-195115.jpgMost fiddly but most reliable sharing option. Every content creation app has an email option. As long as your school allows children to email, this will work. It’s just a lot of steps to get access to a file. Having said that, five years ago, it’s what we all did.

Printing
Not quite sharing but obviously a way to hand completed work to someone so you don’t have to keep the file on the iPad. Printing difficulty is another of the criticisms of the iPad which I’m not going to argue about now. It can be done. While there are ridiculously few AirPrint compatible printers currently in schools, my advice is get one Mac on the network ( if you’re getting iPads I strongly advise having a Mac a your syncing computer; Windows and iTunes have a testy relationship at best) and spend $20 bucks on installing Printopia ( click for info). I’ve used it at our school without any problems.

My final solution – don’t care.
Seriously, if you just want to share the iPads and not worry about who’s accessing what, then there is no problem to begin with. If you decide that the iPad will  not be the main content creation device at your school and will be used for specific purposes it best suits, then it’s not an issue. At our school, where the 5/6 students have access to about 100 laptops and desktop computers, the iPads can exist happily as a specific use device.

However, if you are seriously considering iPads as replacements for shared computers and not value added devices, you will need to consider the issues I have raised. Can you share iPads? Sort of. It’s not my ideal setup but it’s something I’m going to have to come to terms with in my current situation (and get that Dropbox issue resolved!).

Again, I would like to hear from others who have successfully shared iPads in their school environment or others who have solved their sharing problems with solutions I have mentioned or ones I haven’t.

 

Can we share iPads?

We are picking up my daughter’s iPad tomorrow. Her secondary school has decided to go 1:1 with iPads. Big, big investment. And decision. Lucky enough to have been sitting on the big wad of funding from the government, the path they have gone down is handing unofficial ownership of the iPad over to the child and the parent under a 2 year contract. We basically get it for free with just a levy to help pay for resourcing. Insurance is optional but if it’s lost or damaged, it’s our responsibility. In return, they hand over a $50 iTunes card and a list of apps that are compulsory downloads and the rest is up to the students. For two years it’s theirs to have.

Of course, most schools can’t afford that kind of sweet deal ( and to be honest, I don’t know the school’s future plans to continue the program beyond the initial purchasing. $3 million government grants don’t appear every two years!) but it is the ideal scenario for using iPads. After all, it was created as a personal consumer device, not a shared, networked computer for classrooms. So this is where my greatest concern with committing to any extensive, long term iPad program for my school. You know by now that I can see massive benefits in the use of iPads in education. But being a practical thinking man first and Apple zealot second, the burning question still remains:

Can you truly share an iPad?

As always, let’s start with the problems first. Since the personal computer went mainstream, there has always been one consistent user interface we could rely on – Save. You finished your work, hoping you didn’t lose it to a crash, and then saved it to some place on your computer or later in life to a networked folder. If someone else came along to use the computer, they could open up the program and start typing without knowing where your work was. With individual logins, even more privacy is ensured.


With the birth of the iPad, the whole saving paradigm shifted to a personalised system. Pick it up, open the app, and there’s your document ready and waiting to continue. Even if the app has a file system, you can’t hide it from others. Everyone’s work is there to be seen and altered. This spells potential disaster and privacy mayhem in the shared classroom environment. Sure, we can set up protocols and trust licenses to encourage responsible use but can we really trust every kid (not to mention unprepared, tech fearing teachers I know) to only touch their work? I can’t. I taught a child two years ago who managed to delete half my class network folders because our system wasn’t secure enough.

In a typical traditional networked computer set up, it doesn’t matter what computer a student uses. As long as the work is saved on the network, they can continue where they left off on any available computer. In its native, right out of the box setup, the iPad is useless in this way. Once you start it on the iPad, it stays on the iPad. (Remember I’m talking just using what comes with the iPad. I’ll cover possible sharing solutions shortly.)

A lot of the programs are iPad only and have no PC/Mac equivalent to continue working on the computer. No, what you will be left with too often without third party solutions are students fighting over access to iPad number 16 because that’s where their Toontastic animated story is. Also, if a child is half way through using an educational game, chances are someone else will take over the next day and wipe out their progress.

Similar concerns are evident in using the Internet as well. Without a lot of training in using the web on the iPad, still opened websites are free for anyone to see as soon as you open Safari. If you’re one of those Internet users like me who likes to save passwords so you don’t have to keep typing them in all the time, well then you’re in trouble on the iPad. If you setup an app to access cloud based networks, then it is open to anyone who picks the iPad up to use.

It sounds like I’ve argued myself into a corner on this issue. Sharing an iPad is not easy. Unlike my daughter, who has personal access to an iPad for the next 3 years, this is not going to be the case. There’s no way we are going 1:1 at our school. We’ve spend enough on ICT already. Sharing a limited number of iPads is our only option. So we need solutions.

I’ll be back tomorrow with my attempted answer to the problem. I know about Dropbox and use it. Googledocs is another possibility. Individual apps have their own ways of dealing with the issue. Of course there is the old fashioned way – email. None of them though are the perfect solution. In the meantime I would love to hear from anyone who has dealt with sharing iPads at their schools. I need help on this one.