The problem with underage bias in Web 2.0 tools for schools

The online world of 2012 is a very different beast to the Internet environment of the late 1990s and and early 2000s. Social networking didn’t exist beyond email and chatrooms, dancing baby animated GIFS predated cats playing pianos on YouTube and publishing on the Web involved uploading fairly static webpages using basic WYSIWYG HTML software like Pagemill. Children,educational institutions and government bodies were new to the whole Internet craze and when nasty popups linking to porn and violence began proliferating, it was a natural and necessary reaction for adults To want to protect our innocent children.

Out of this environment of fear and uncertainty rose two laws in the USA that today have a huge impact on education today – CIPA and COPPA. ( Disclaimer – as an Australian teacher, I had little knowledge of these laws until only recently. I don’t profess to be an expert and would be happy to hear from US readers who can explain them more thoroughly). Circa 2000, when these laws came into effect, they made sense. Today, though, I think it’s time for a rethink. Prevention, banning and blocking needs to be replaced by education, engagement and appropriate use encouragement.

I’m writing about this because of recent events at my school. Last year, a tech savvy group of Grade 6 students started presenting their projects using a number of web 2.0 tools they were using at home. At this stage at school we were only dipping the toe in the water with online tools and at first glance, teachers and students were very impressed and wanted to follow the lead of these trailblazing students. It was only after I checked these sites’ terms of use and privacy policies that I discovered the constraints of using some of them. We knew Facebook was off limits to under 13s ( not that the children were necessarily following that rule at home with or without parental approval) but it didn’t dawn on us that these great educationally appropriate web tools were classified under the same umbrella as the social networking giant.

Fast track to 2012 and much investigation and rewriting of school acceptable user policy later, we had employed a range of web 2.0 tools that we had permission for children to use. Then out of the blue, one particular site changed its policy Terms and our students were locked out of their work the day before an assembly to present their work! We contacted them and were informed that because they were under 13 they were not allowed to use the site. We hadn’t broken their original policy but for some reason, even though we had parent permission, they were no longer allowed access.

So this is my beef. Back in 2000, children needed to be protected. There were no education programs dealing with digital citizenship teaching the children how to behave responsibly. Filters needed to be put in place to prevent risk taking students from accessing inappropriate material. There wasn’t much else for students to do on the Net other than look at stuff and play some Flash games. Fast forward to 2012 and the Internet is now an ever changing hive of engaging educational activity. Collaboration, publishing, blogging, video conferencing, researching and so on keep the students too occupied in real tasks for them to waste their time googling unnecessary pictures. (Yes, I know some still do, but hopefully you get the point.)

Educational authorities are espousing the importance of a 21st Century education but apparently that only begins when you become a teenager. Personalised learning is supposed to be about meeting the needs of the individual student but laws limit a 12 year old to Dora the Explorer and ABC for Kids while his 13 year old friend is creating powerful, interactive, collaborative projects online that are wowing classmates and teachers alike. I understand the privacy protection. As a parent, I put a lot of effort into teaching my children as they grew up about what they could and couldn’t do online. Now they’re both teenagers whom I can trust to behave appropriately.

And that’s my point. In 2012, it should be about teaching the students AND their parents ( and in many cases, their teachers as well ) how to exist online. I believe it is far more effective getting younger children to learn ‘on the job’ so that responsible digital citizenship is second nature to them once they reach 13. Waiting until they’re 13 and throwing them in the deep end without supervised training is a poor substitute.

Education in responsible use is the way we are heading in Australia. We still have our filtering ( which is still a necessary precaution) and our government is going too far down the filtering path for ALL Internet users, so I’m not preaching about a superior government here. But programs to educate responsible Internet use while being able to take risks and learn how to deal with problems are better than prohibition. Having said that, educational leaders here still make their own choices about how far they want their schools to go online but guidelines are guidelines, not restrictive laws that prevent potentially great products from being created.

I know US Congress has its hands full at the moment with more important matters, but any time education is on the agenda, can the conversation go beyond standardized testing, teacher layoffs and education budget cuts and move on to amending COPPA and CIPA to match current practice? It just might free up teachers of younger students to do great things with greater access to great tools.

So what do you think? Should Under 13s have more access to web tools? Or should we continue to protect them from a possible inappropriate animation or slideshow? Join the conversation.

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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.

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The power of Social Networking in Grade 6 with Edmodo

I had a big week in class last week. As I’ve said earlier, my role this year in the 5/6 level has led to me being, among other things, a support teacher in a variety of curriculum areas. The week just past saw me taking workshops and lessons across Reading, Writing and Inquiry. I had a similar role last year but always felt like I wasn’t accepted by the students as their ‘teacher’ because I wasn’t always around due to my other responsibilities. It was only late last year after I attended a Tech Conference and was introduced to the potential of Edmodo that I was able to make a real and lasting connection with the Grade 6 students in a real way. After the conference, I was asked to take a Literature Circle group by the Grade 6 teachers and I quickly saw Edmodo as a vehicle I could use to work with them outside of physical contact time. It worked really well as a test case. This year, with that experience behind, I decided to go full steam ahead with every workshop and lesson group I plan.

At the moment I am involved with the Grade 6 students in a Ballad Poetry workshop ( I wrote about that last week), an Inquiry workshop investigating the issue of Urban Sprawl and a Reading Comprehension group with both Grade 5 and 6 students. ( I haven’t signed the Grade 5 students up with Edmodo yet).

Each of the Grade 6 groups are connected to each other and myself through an Edmodo small group within the main Grade 6 group. I decided to use small groups so that it is easy just to switch groups of children in and out of focus groups rather than give them codes every couple of weeks to join new groups. It has also allowed the other Grade 6 teachers to create and manage their own groups easily while also having access to their students who are working for me.

What I have found already is how engaged the students immediately became the moment they were given the opportunity to use a social networking environment. Children who never open their mouths in discussions were suddenly asking and responding to multiple questions from teacher and student alike. Students who rarely express opinions were involved in debates, linking to websites and Youtube videos to back up their opinions. Individuals who in the past have found it difficult to submit any work on time were uploading multiple revisions of assignments after getting timely feedback. This is just a snapshot of the response I, and the other teachers who quickly jumped on board over the course of the week when they saw the initial response from my groups, received during the week. I want to go into a bit more detail about each group interaction now.

URBAN SPRAWL INQUIRY

I began this inquiry workshop with a shared text outlining the basic premise of Urban Sprawl. What I did differently from the past was I allowed the children to sit with laptops beside them as we read the text. They were allowed to use Edmodo to post reactions, new learning and questions that arose from the content of the text. I had worked with many in this group last year in a variety of settings and some rarely provided any feedback or made any meaningful contributions. It was these very students who became key contributors to the conversation here. The freedom to use Technology and their natural environment of social networking/chatting opened up channels of communication that traditional chalk and talk or rotating brainstorm sheets didn’t engage them in.

One student’s question led to multiple responses from others that deepened the inquiry beyond my initial goals. Questions about the content enabled the group to post new concepts to investigate within the broader topic. As a result, within 3 sessions, I have teams of children investigating issues of traffic and transport, access to facilities like education and hospital services and the pros and cons of megacities, all without me suggesting any of it. I strongly believe based on past experiences without technology that this would not have happened without my encouragement if we had just read the text.

The engagement was evident when they posted their own links to Youtube videos of local politicians talking about Urban Sprawl issues, Annotated Google Maps showing distances from outlying suburbs to city hospitals, and links to maps of train networks as they discussed online the inequalities of train travel for some outer suburbs. I’m away with the Grade 5s on Camp next week but I know that I leave this group with a shared understanding of the issues to discuss with other class members without me being there. HAving said that, as an ubergeek teacher, I have also said I will be checking in via my iPhone or iPad from camp to see what they are doing and would be available to support them online if necessary.

BALLAD POETRY GROUP

I spoke at length in my last post about this so this is more of an update of how these sessions have progressed. All students have taken the opportunity to post attempts on Edmodo. Admittedly, there has not been much interaction between the students in this case but they have appreciated the timely feedback to their questions ands attempts from me. As a result, some (but not all) students have posted drafts of verses for me to feedback on and then responded with edited posts. Each student has uploaded their ballad plans for me to have access to, enabling me to provide advice directly to them. The fact that using Edmodo means submitting digital texts means they are more willing to edit their work instead of rewriting entire texts each time if done via pen and paper.

On Friday, we collaboratively drafted a rubric to support them in their writing but I took it away to polish it up and structure in more detail. There was too much of a delay for some who wanted access to it straight away ( One girl posted a request for it at 7 am Saturday morning) and so one of the students took it upon herself to post a link to an online study guide about Ballads which was quickly appreciated by others through replies. Again, while I’m away on Camp, I promised them I would continue to check in and provide feedback to them, something I couldn’t have done in the past.

THE READING COMPREHENSION GROUP

I had two aims for this group. One was for instant responses and shared feedback on comprehension questions in an open forum. The other was to encourage independent editing and revising of work through the Assignments feature of Edmodo.

We started this group work with a shared reading of a newspaper article, using 3 Level Guide statements to encourage conversation on the article. The children were asked to justify the accuracy of the statements by providing evidence in the text. By having the article linked to our Edmodo group, the children had quick access to the article for cross referencing and were able to copy/paste quotes to back up their arguments. By posting their responses online, we could challenge each others opinions instantly, either through verbal feedback with our online conversation on the iWB or through posting replies either during the group session at school, or as often occurred, continuing the discussion online at home. This challenged the children to question their responses and also to provide further explanation rather than the quick responses we often get through one off replies in standardised tests or one session tasks. The inclusion of social networking tools gives that extra think time and the opportunity to add to your opinions after hearing what others have to say. This helps to develop a deeper level of thinking than we get from one chance only tasks.

As a follow up task, I set them an assignment to submit by the end of the week. I made it clear that I wanted them to submit their drafts online through Edmodo’s Assignments section and that I would respond quickly with feedback and expected a second ( or third) edited response. The students responded positively to this and all but one of the 15 students gave me at least a second revision, responding effectively to the feedback in both structure and additional detail. I’m a strong believer that word processing tools should be used at all stages of the writing process as it encourages students to make revisions if they don’t have to do complete rewrites of handwritten texts. My role as the teacher was to give timely feedback so that they saw the worth of early submission and multiple revisions. All the students who participated fully produced a final copy at the expected level.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Part of adjusting to the concept of 21st Century Learning or Contemporary Learning  (whatever you choose to call it) is playing to the strengths of your students. Social Networking is ingrained in their way of being so it use seems like a no brainer that we utilise that in our teaching. The increased engagement I have seen in just one week of using Edmodo with this years’ Grade 6s for the first time makes me even more convinced of its merit. If it gets more than just that usual 20% who contribute to every lesson involved then it has already made a difference. From what I have seen in this short time frame, along with last year’s experiment, it does a lot more than that.

I’d like to hear from other teachers of your personal experiences of using this type of social networking in classrooms, both successes and challenges ( it wasn’t perfect -one child did manage to post a picture of a mouse on a mouse during the Urban Sprawl lesson!!). Join the conversation.

Wikipedia – what are we afraid of?

WikipediaVia: Open-Site.org

I’m one of the 23% who don’t ban Wikipedia.

I don’t understand the concept of banning an information resource. I get the criticism of Wikipedia. I understand the limitations of Wikipedia. For the life of me, though, I don’t understand banning its use. Why are we in the Educational World so fearful of this Wikipedia thing that 73% of teachers according to this infographic still prevent its use?

We all want our students to be good researchers. Part of this desire, I assume, has led us to develop programs in our classrooms that help to improve our students’ Web Search skills. I mention that because perhaps one of our problems with children and Wikipedia is that 99% of its articles end up on the first page of any Google Search. Are we banning Google Search? No. Well then, instead of banning Wikipedia, let’s look at whether we are educating our students in how to disseminate accurate information from the garbage. Why? – because the other 9 sites sharing the Top 10 Search page are just as likely to be as potentially unreliable as a source of information as the Wikipedia article, sometimes more so. So let’s work out how to support our students in learning good research skills through accessing the tool, instead of avoiding it.

Wikipedia references its sources of information.

Go to any article of useful length on Wikipedia and you will find linked references or quoted text sources. WIkipedia is often a summative recount of all those sources of information. It’s why students go there. It does a lot of the hard work for them. Now, if you want them to do the work, require them to seek out some of those sources and check the accuracy of that information. What is the reliability of the source site? What bias might this source have? What type of website is it? ( you can discuss the merit of .com v .org. v .edu or newspaper articles vs blogs or discussions) If we use textbooks instead of Wikipedia, isn’t this what we would be doing – comparing and cross-referencing for accuracy? Surely it is an easier learning task to check out 10 sources online than trying to flick between 10 different books and random pages within it? Technology isn’t about making it easier so that we don’t have to think. It’s about making it more effective so we do the job more quickly while still learning the same amount or possibly more. If we teach effective use of Wikipedia, this should be the result.

Wikipedia is no more or less biased than any other source of information.

One of the big bugbears with Wikipedia is that it can be contributed to by anyone. This can definitely result in biased, unsubstantiated garbage that needs to be filtered out. Any Obama/Bush/Gillard/Abbott/Lady Gaga/David Beckham/Charlie Sheen (etc, etc) hater can freely post hate speech on a wiki article. Eventually, though, it is found by Wiki editors and removed, but yes, by then it has already spread to the ill informed. But guess what?  This same overheated, one way stream of half truths can be spread by every other form of media from both sides of the political, ideological or religious spectra. We don’t ban our Left wing or Right Wing shock jocks from spouting their diatribes of exaggeration on a daily basis. So why ban Wikipedia? Again, let’s use it along with the extreme views of other media sources to educate our students about fact and opinion, checking out both sides of the debate, fact checking your information. This is of far more educational value than banning a resource that has much to offer, despite its limitations.

Wikipedia is about as accurate as any other resource. Check the stats.

Look at the above infographic. We’re quibbling over 0.94 mistakes per article when comparing Britannica to Wikipedia; 2% accuracy differential when comparing textbooks to Wikipedia. Are those numbers a reason to brand it unreliable and ban it? When any school library would be full of books about the Solar System that still list Pluto as a planet and have atlases without East Timor on the map as a nation? There is no such thing as 100% accuracy. All surveys come with that +/-2% disclaimer. In the 21st Century Curriculum, in which critical thinking is one of the key skills, we should be embracing resources that encourage challenging their reliability and allowing us to edit for accuracy.

Make the students part of the solution, not restricted from the problem

Wikipedia is open source. If we find mistakes, we can fix it. An error in a textbook stays there. A misquote in a news program remains said. If we want to engage our students in truly useful research, then get them involved in editing Wikipedia. Make them check their sources. Get them to be the information creators, not the takers(plagiarisers). That’s real learning. And it’s far more useful than banning.

Throughout history, banning has never worked. Cigarettes and Drugs are still around. Inappropriate websites find ways to be accessed. Hey, Nazis and KKK members are still out there in numbers. Banning the use of Wikipedia is not going to stop us from using it. Just look at the stats above. So let’s get serious in Education and embrace this information provider, using it as a teaching tool for critical thinking. That’s my take. What about you? Does your school ban Wikipedia? Do you agree or disagree? How do you encourage good research in your students? Join in the conversation.

Are iPads cybersafe enough for school?

As Internet use has exploded over the last decade, the biggest issue for education has been how to protect our children from the evils of the Web. And for the most part it has been well meaning and justified. We’ve always battled with bullying issues at school but it’s been taken to a new level with the Facebook/SMS generation and their out of hours cyber bullying. Stranger Danger and neighborhood safe houses can’t protect Emily from her online ‘friend’ who later turns out to be Bill, a 50 year old pervert with a pigtail fetish. We used to send the kids to bed when their was an “interesting foreign film” on TV. Now they can see far worse on any website with more Xs in their title than XeroX! Protecting the innocent is a lot harder than when I started teaching pre-Internet.

To combat this, schools had to resort to proxies, filters and monitoring software. It stopped the kids from seeing the bad stuff, wasting their time on the stupid stuff and allowed ICT co-ordinators like me to check whether Johnny was wasting valuable school bandwidth searching for shooting games to play during wet day programs.

Then along came the iPad. Completely new system designed for personal consumer usage. Through the power of coolness, the magic of Apple and that damned usability factor that made it so necessary, this truly personal tool has made its way into the multiuser, sharing world of the school. Does it play by the rules of what protective schools want? Without spending a fortune on new systems, can we trust the iPad to be a cybersafe computer?

I’ll be upfront here. In my previous posts, I’ve spoken with some authority as an expert iPad user and contemporary tech teacher of the 21st century. In this area, I’m asking as many questions as answering them. I’m asking for some help on this because I haven’t found all the answers ( and neither has our IT guy). So I’m just going to be bringing up what I see as issues, what I think about them, suggesting some ideas and sharing some possible solutions I’ve found with the little research I’ve done so far.

Proxy servers and iOS.
My great dilemma at the moment. As a former school Internet administrator, I get why we need a proxy server. Sites need blocking and monitoring. We need to protect the young kids from surprise viewing of inappropriate sites. We also need to stop older students from trying to find those same sites. Some educators and IT guys blogging on the net want to get rid of proxies. To makes life difficult sometimes. I’m not one of them. But it makes life with iPads a pain. Safari and Mail talk to proxies through iOS settings fine. Blocked sites are still blocked. Monitoring still work. Pre iOS 5, no apps worked with Internet. With iOS, most proxy issues were resolved – with one very major omission for us anyway. Dropbox. Download yes. Upload a big no. Importing into other apps yes. Exporting from other apps to Dropbox no. You get the picture. It makes for a half solution to the whole file management/sharing issue I’ve discussed earlier.

Now if you can live with that and find other solutions to Dropbox, life with iPads continue happily and you can skip this. If like a lot of schools I know, you want Dropbox, you have two options. Difficult workarounds that I’m not familiar with and would really like some help in ( HINT:really need the help if you have solved the Dropbox/proxy issue – PC server, not Mac unfortunately). The other solution is to bypass the proxy. Bypassing the proxy though, then opens up the Internet and disables all that monitoring/ filtering software that has made us feel comfortable with letting the students roam freely online all these years.

No proxy – what now?

Use the iPad but not the Internet.

Definitely an option. There’s a lot more to the iPad than internet browsing. If you focus on iPads in Junior Grades, use the wide range of reading, word study, story writing, or AV Recording apps and leave the Internet alone. Alternatively there are dedicated browser apps with built in web filtering designed to block sites that are deemed inappropriate. K9 Browser(Free) is a good solution if you want students to use the internet safely. You can disable Safari in the Restrictions settings and use K9 instead. It is however, too limiting for older students. There is also the problem of disabling mail links since they only work with Safari.

Teach responsible Digital Citizenship
You can look are the lack of internet security ( related to monitoring/blocking sites ) as a great teaching opportunity. There are many educators in the blogosphere that believe instead of blocking and limiting access to the Internet we should be developing an understanding of what is safe, responsible use of the internet. Often, the children are left unsupervised at home online, viewing anything they find, writing and uploading anything they want to on Facebook and YouTube. We may be the only resource available to them who can guide them to think about what is appropriate behavior. We can be there for them when they find something unacceptable and turn that into a teaching moment. We can show them better alternatives available to replace their unacceptable choices. So an unmonitored, unfiltered iPad isnt an issue in this world of openness and digital citizenship building. I agree with this in principle but am unconvinced everyone can handle the possible problems that arise.

iPad monitoring software is available
There are software options available that can replace the functions of the proxy server while still allowing the iPad to fully function with all Internet reliant apps. I haven’t used them but list them here for you to investigate yourself. The biggest issue for me is it becomes an extra cost and another program to monitor. In the end it just may not be worth the effort and price.

So where does this leave us?
If you are required to maintain a proxy server, are happy with using Safari and Mail for Internet based file sharing, , accept that some apps that sync with the Internet won’t be 100% functional and are more interested in the other uses of the iPad besides websurfing, then there is no real issue.

If you don’t wan’t to compromise, take the risk of bypassing proxies or maybe stick with laptops. The iPad can’t do everything, wasn’t designed to do everything. What it does, it does brilliantly. As an Internet device in the consumer world it’s a winner (Flash limitations aside). As an Internet connected device in a school setting, it has its limitations. Decide what you want. Do you think the iPad is cybersafe enough? Have I over reacted? Are there solutions I’m unaware of? Does it really matter? Comments welcome.

A break from iPad talk – Open letter to our Grade 5/6 students this year about Blogging

Ready to send to the students when school is back in the swing of things and Canberra Camp is over. What do you think?For teachers reading this, you may have already read something about blogging 7000 times on the Internet. Forgive me. Kids, this is for you.

Why do YOU write? Is it because you HAVE to? Is it because your teacher has to have a piece of writing by the end of the week so they can do your reports? Maybe it’s to show your teacher that you understand a topic. That’s a good reason. Sometimes you write to inform other children in the class about a topic you have researched. Another good reason. There are probably LOTS of reasons why we HAVE to write – we go to school!

Now put your hands up if you write because you WANT to. (pause to allow time for children to raise their hands before reading on). If you didn’t put your hand up, that’s OK. No doubt, you’re not alone there. I don’t always want to write. I think sometimes we don’t want to write because we see no purpose to it. ( Before we go any further, just want to remind you that at school, you still HAVE to write, OK? I am still a teacher after all.) Anyway, my point is I think a lot more of you would WANT to write if we could give you some good reasons to write. That’s why I want to talk to you about blogging.

Perhaps you don’t know what blogging is. Blogging is a writing publishing platform on the Internet that allows ANYONE to get their message across to the world. In other words, it gives you a world wide audience. You can share words, pictures, videos, animations, quizzes, polls – anything – and find out what other people think. There are obviously lots of rules we need to go through before we start this blogging thing but we’ll go through those later. Let’s just get back to blogging.

Here are my reasons why I think you should consider blogging.

Audience. Blogging means people other than your teacher, a couple of classmates in a conference and your parents when your file book comes home at the end of the term, get to see what you have to say. Think about that. A reason to write because others WANT to read it. A reason to write about your passions and interests that your teacher and Mum might not find interesting but 100s of children around the world find fascinating.

Sharing your knowledge. Guess what? You know stuff. It’s hard to let everyone know that sometimes when you have to stick to topics in class. When do you ever get the chance to share your knowledge of African capital cities? ( OK, Mr G, this isn’t about you, move on.) Or, your skills in playing a sport, your expertise in making animations? Blogging let’s you share this knowledge with others interested in the same thing. People learn from you and in return you may learn something you didn’t know. Since I’ve become interested in blogging I have learnt so much about Web tools, teaching methods, Maths and iPad ( yes, that’s right – I’ve learnt something from others about Maths and iPads. Shocking!) I’ve taught others too through my blog. It’s a nice feeling. And I want to keep doing it.

Purposeful homework. Your blog could be your homework. Teachers get to see it. Others, including your parents, get to see it. You can toss ideas around with your friends online to support each other. The dog can’t eat your homework! ( boo! Bad joke alert!)

Reflective thinking. “OK, so this is starting to sound like school work now, not writing because I want to.” I hear you say. But hear me out on this one. Seriously, you should WANT to think. It helps you learn and improve. Writing a blog gives you a chance to write down your thoughts. Spending the holidays starting my blog on iPads in Schools has really enabled me to clearly think through what I really believe. Without writing the blog, I would not have a clear plan in my head. I would not have come up with half the ideas if I hadn’t spent the time thinking and writing. Give reflective thinking a go. After a Maths class, spend some time writing about what you just went through. It will help, trust me.

Feedback and collaboration. At school, you get, at best, one chance a week to get some real feedback about your writing and thinking. If you’re lucky, your teacher will give you advice and 3 or 4 classmates in a conference might as well. On a blog, your writing is there for everyone to comment on. Your teacher, your friends, your family, a scientist from Germany, a sports coach from Brazil. Who knows? If it’s good, they’ll tell you why. If it needs work, a random student from the UK is more likely to give you honest feedback than your best friend will. Maybe other teachers from around the world will give you added feedback to support your teacher’s advice. It happens. You can also start up shared projects through your blog. It really can be a great opportunity if you want it to be.

It helps you feel good. Sometimes there has to be selfish reasons too. I have to be honest. I got a huge ego boost this week when I saw my blog appear on Google Search, Scoop-it and Zite Magazine’s Top Stories section on my iPad. Watching 33  countries’ flags appear on my blog and seeing the views counter tick over from 800 to 1400 overnight gave me a buzz. It’s a far better feeling than seeing your writing sitting on your teacher’s desk for a week or waiting 5 days for a response to an email you send to your colleagues. Knowing that other people want to read your work inspires you to want to do more. Especially when they tell you. So go ahead, kids. Do it for the attention… But do it well or you’ll lose your audience.

There are a lot more reasons for blogging than this but it’s a start. Of course we can’t do anything without the go ahead from school. There are a lot of rules and permissions and other important necessary stuff to go through before we can get started. You can get it going, though, if you tell us you really want to do it. So I ask you – do you want blog? There are massive numbers of kids out there on the Internet doing it right now. If you want to join them, let us know and we’ll see what we can get started.

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.

 

Web 2.0 = iPad fail?

One of the biggest moves we made in the 5/6 level last year was the integration of “Web 2.0” tools into our teaching and learning practices. Many of the tools entered the classroom psyche through tech savvy students bringing in presentations made at home that wowed adult and child alike. Other tools were introduced by teachers after discovering them on the Net themselves or through my recommendations on our Edmodo page.

Once the students were introduced to them, the ‘digital natives’ took them on board and before we had a chance to ‘check the site policies’, we had projects presented through Glogster, Xtranormal, Prezi, YouTube as well as iMovies from the “Mac Kids”. And the quality and depth of their work was outstanding and engaging! So the last thing we want to do is take these tools away ( although once the dust settled and I had the chance to check the site policies, some of these tools were supposed to be out of bounds for our “Under 13s”. This is something we will have to deal with this year with some deft policy/user agreement and parent permission note writing!)

Which once again brings us to Part 2 of “Do we NEED iPads?” titled “Web 2.0=iPad Fail?”.

Probably the single biggest criticism of the iPad since its birth has been its inability to work with Adobe’s Flash technology. So many interactive websites use it for their animation, video and content creation tools. While a new standard known as HTML5 is slowly being embraced on many major sites like YouTube and many big news websites so iOS users don’t miss out, in the Education Website world which we live in, Flash dominates. Javascript is also an issue.

The problem is that so many sites that the children started using last year for their projects and presentations DON’T work on the iPad. Glogster? Useless. Prezi? No go ( the iPad has a Prezi viewer app but students need to create them first ). Xtranormal? Nope. On top of that, popular sites like NLMV for Math Manipulatives and Jenny Eather’s Maths Dictionary for Kids are also non-functional on an iPad because of Flash and Javascript incompatibilities. Lots of sites the students find with Google for research or online Maths and Literacy games end up having a ton of Flash based animations that bring up blank pages and expressions when visited on iOS devices.Even sites that just offer file uploading options don’t work with the iOS file system.  It might be OK for Steve Jobs RIP and my fellow Apple disciples  to tell us “Flash Sucks” and they hardly notice it missing in their world but in the educational world, it is quite pervasive.

That being the case then, is the iPad too crippled a device to invest in when so much of what is on the WWW for education is out of reach? Short answer – No. Long Answer – No with a bit of Yes and Maybe thrown in the mix.

What the iPad lacks in Web 2.0 access it easily makes up in alternatives through its Apps. To begin with, some Web 2.0 tools have now released their on iPad apps so that they can be used anyway. VoiceThread is a good example of this; Popplet and Coveritlive are others. Any unqualified to speak, anti-iPad blogger who is still pushing the “iPad is for media consumption, not creation” line is completely unaware of the huge array of apps that children can use for content creation. Apple’s own iWork apps ( Pages, Numbers, Keynote) as well as iMovie and Garageband are great, easy to use tools that produce fantastic results for students. There are now ebook creating apps like Book Creator, Demi Books Composer,and Creative Book Builder and other creative options like StoryPatch that make great books for others to explore. Creative visual story/animation/comic apps abound that give children great scope in presenting their learning. Try out some of the following:

ToonTastic  SockPuppets  iStopMotion ( yes its on the iPad)  iMotion HD  Animation Desk
PhotoPuppets  Comic Life  Strip Designer  ScrapPad

Then there are the photo editing apps like Snapseed, Iris and Pixlromatic that are so easy to use and produce great results and Screencasting apps like ShowMe and Explain Everything that can be use to demonstrate their learning in so many ways. Not to mention all the Maths and Literacy apps that easily match the stuff on the Flash Web.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the Web apps like Glogster, Prezi and Xtranormal. So do the students. I want them to use them. Eventually, many of them will convert from Flash to HTML5. Rumour has it that Glogster is close to doing so. Others will follow. We hope.
From what I hear from others on PLNs I’m part of, a lot of these sites are blocked by a lot of schools anyway. That’s a shame but helps my argument. At our school, iPads or not, they still can still use the web tools with the access to laptops and desktops they have anyway. So we can have the best of both worlds. My point is though that the iPad can offer plenty without the Flash dependent world of Online Ed sites. My argument in my last post was that the iPad had to be a different experience to warrant the cost anyway.With the app model instead of Web 2.0, they are.  So does No Web 2.0 = iPad fail? I don’t think so. But what do you think? Is no Flash a no iPad for you?
Next up: my biggest challenge. Can we share iPads?

Do we NEED iPads?

Those who know me are aware of my great cynicism. I always focus on the possible negatives before I look at the positives. It’s why my Year 11 English teacher put me in the debating team. I have challenged every educational initiative introduced in the last 25 years before I have accepted or rejected them.

Which leads me to the iPad in the classroom. While I am a huge fan of the device now, this time last year I had no intention of having one and only became addicted because of a generous gift. Of course I want the iPad to be a success at school but I can see a lot of issues that should be addressed. So in true Mark Gleeson fashion I am going to convince myself that my school needs iPads by convincing myself and you that my school doesn’t need iPads! (here’s hoping I lose!)

20120117-182920.jpg

Here are the main points I’m going to argue on behalf of my school

  1. We already have laptops. How is the iPad going to be a better experience? Do we need yet another ICT device to add to our collection of gadgets
  2. A lot of the latest and greatest web 2.0 apps are flash based and don’t work on iPads. Are we limiting our children’s access to what is needed?
  3. The iPad was designed as a personal device. Can we get the best out of them if the students have to share them.
  4. Do teachers need to believe in the benefits of the iPad for them to be successfully integrated into our school curriculum?
  5. Can we ensure their safe and responsible use without the ability to monitor activity on iPads?
  6. Where’s the proof they will improve learning and engagement?
  7. Does the school need clear criteria for investing in iPads?

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to attack each of these issues. Feel free to join in the conversation.