Edmodo vs Blogging

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When introducing transformative teaching practices involving technology, you have to be careful not to overload the senses of the tech novices on your staff. What took über geeks like me a couple of hours to master can take a life time for others. This year at my school we’ve begun to dip our toes into the waters of online communication (some staff are already swimming while others are still sitting on the edge thinking they’ll drown without support). We’ve introduced both Edmodo and blogging to varying degrees this year. Grade 6 embraced Edmodo from the start and used it in many ways, following in the footsteps of a trial program I began with some of the current teachers last year. Grade 5 came to the party a bit later and are working towards good practices with support from current teachers who were part of the trial last year. Grade 3 and 4 have recently jumped on board and are currently in the experimental stage, with some of the more tech savvy trying out more advanced features.

The Grade 6s have taken to blogging this term, although more as private digital portfolios rather than true blogging with a global audience. However, class blogs have started to surface ( still limited to class member only access) and this has started to blur the lines between Edmodo and the class blogs. Our ICT Leader recently attended a network meeting and other leaders there questioned the purpose of Edmodo if they were already blogging ( until they actually investigated Edmodo – few actually knew of its existence). The point for me though is how to make a convincing argument for both Edmodo and blogging being transformative teaching and learning tools that we should be embracing. The purpose of this post then is as a reflection tool for me to consider the purposes of both platforms before selling them to the staff. It’s also a cry out for you, the reader, to share your experiences of both Edmodo and blogging. Do you use both or tend to focus on one?

In a nutshell, I see Edmodo as an all encompassing classroom management/teaching and learning/collaboration system. Blogging, on the other hand, while it can be used for all the purposes just mentioned, is a tool for writing, publishing and sharing your body of work, be it major writing tasks or quick reflections on life or school work. While it aims to share and craves feedback, blogging is a personal tool. Edmodo, however, it more group oriented. Because of the differentiation between the two, I think they should both be part of classroom practice.

EDMODO
Groups – My favorite feature of Edmodo and a big difference between itself and blogging. I’ve written a few posts on how I’ve used groups to organize my lessons with different small groups. In a contemporary open learning environment in which children are grouped by needs and interests, I appreciate the convenience and ease of creating groups for different subjects or smaller groups within that group so that specific groups of children can collaborate and discuss.It takes no time to set the groups up and they can be altered at any time. These groups are then linked to other features listed later. It’s simply a feature blogging doesn’t offer (as far as I can tell – correct me if I’m wrong)

Collaborative Discussion – the simplicity of the Edmodo discussion wins me over compared to blogging. Simply add a note explaining the topic of the discussion, which can include images, videos, embedded links to other web tools, links to other sites, click Add and the discussion begins. All it takes is to hit the Reply button and the discussion is in full swing. The one feature I would like Edmodo to add is the ability to reply to a specific comment like you can in blogs. It can be a bit cumbersome having to write a reply to someone who wrote something 10 comments back.

Assignments and Gradebook – I love this feature because it becomes a class management system. While I appreciate the ability to comment on a student’s blog, for assessment purposes you would prefer to communicate directly and privately with the student. Using the assignment feature, children can send their work directly to you for feedback and assessment. The feedback is only seen by you and the student and the child can resubmit their work as a response to your feedback. Each assignment is linked to a student’s Gradebook where a teach can store grades ( of your choosing) and comments.

File Sharing – as I mentioned in the Collaborative Discussion section, sharing files is very easy with Edmodo. While you can do this effectively in blogs through widgets and links, the Facebook like nature of Edmodo makes sharing a link to another site quickly more timely than blogs. Of course, it can get a little messy when the posts come in thick and fast and they get lost at the bottom of the page or move to the Previous page section, a feature shared with blogs and other social network sites……which leads us to the solution to this problem>>>>>

Folders and Tags – Tagging is an easy way to group posts around the same topic so you can access then from your tag list later on when they disappear of the front page of posts. Folders can also be set up to store specific posts on a common topic. Both tags and folders can be shared, although only the creator can add to them.

Polls and Quizzes – while more advanced polls and quizzes can be created by dedicated web tools and embedded on blogs, the polls and quizzes on Edmodo can be created much more quickly, albeit only by the teacher. Quizzes can be multiple choice, written answer or fill in the blank and can be useful in collecting data for a range of subjects.

Calendar – the Edmodo calendar is a effective way to help your students manage their time. Teachers can add daily events to the calendar and all assignments are automatically added as well. You can post events for specific groups as well so only those who need to see the event do. It adds or the class management capabilities of Edmodo that is simpler to use than blog calendars. I would like student’s to be able to add events, though.

Library/Backpack – for teachers it’s called Library; for students it’s the Backpack. Either way, it offers a easy to use file uploading and storing system, handy, when you do work at home or school and want to continue it at the other location. Better than emailing or USB data stick.

Extrinsic motivation through Badges – Not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like to use stickers or awards, Edmodo has its own reward system called badges. You can create your own (but it’s a lot easier to just grab badges already created by other Edmodo teachers – I’ve collected 190 of them from my connections) and to encourage or acknowledge student effort or work, you can simply select their name in your class list, select a badge and award it to the students. There’s a badge made for just about anything and many come with a comment. Used wisely, it’s a good way to collate a whole bunch of comments for your student reports without doing any more work than giving that badge toa student.

BLOGGING
I’ve written a few blogposts about the benefits of blogging that you can read here if you haven’t seen them. Here’s what I think differentiates blogging from a system like Edmodo.

Open/Closed Collaborative Discussion – Blogging can certainly allow for collaborative discussion and provides you with a level of control over who takes part on the conversation. If you have a public blog, anyone can take part in the conversation. If you have more rigid privacy settings, you can restrict who participates. For me, though, Edmodo is the better option for instant, collaborative discussion and feedback. With most school blogging wanting some level of moderation of comments, there is the time consuming and inconvenient need to approve every comment before it is seen by others. Edmodo, on the other hand, allows for instant posting and replying because of its secure, closed environment. Yes, popular blogging platforms allow for the set up of dedicated forums but to go through the process of setting up that, it makes more sense to put a link to Edmodo on your blog and use that as your forum.

Collaborative Assignments – This is where blogs exceed Edmodo in the collaboration area. While you can share resources, have debates, and contribute to each others work collaboratively on Edmodo, blogging allows for full scale project collaboration. Individual or class blogs can give access to other users to publish work together. Users can either create their own posts or have permission to edit other users’ posts. Images, embedded web tools , videos, comments can all contribute to a shared project between two users, a whole class or even multiple classes – in your own school or worldwide. Yes you can create groups in Edmodo for different classes to share work in but it’s not as wide ranging as blogging collaboratively.

Publishing and sharing work – it goes without saying that blogging is about sharing your ideas, interests, passions and work of any nature with others. Edmodo is great for sharing a link to your blog, but the work all takes place on your blog, in all the ways I’ve outlined in the other categories in this section of this blogpost.

Tags and Categories – Edmodo and Blogging are very similar in this area. Tags are a great way for creating access to specific posts by using keywords related to posts. Categories allow you to group posts under subject areas. Blogging categories offer more flexibility than Edmodo folders in that you can file a single post under multiple categories.

Audience – One of the benefits of Edmodo is that it is a secure, teacher controlled environment restricted to teacher control and a clearly defined set of users. This is also a drawback if you are looking for a wider, open audience. Blogging gives you both options. If you are looking for purpose for writing well, audience is important. Yes, you can keep your blog private or control who views it, but you can open it up to the whole world to share in your journey and provide you with feedback and incentive. Student bloggers get the opportunity to decide on their audience access and the level of communication they have with them. They don’t get this choice with Edmodo, which his heavy on teacher control.

As a portfolio – While Edmodo has its backpack/library for no fuss, easy to access file uploading and storing, it works more as a filing system. Blogging offers more of a publishing/presentation tool feel to storing your work. It can act as an adequate word processing/publishing option with decent formatting tools, weblinks and ability to add images. It allows you to embed web tools for instant viewing of linked work, whereas Edmodo, while offering embedding, requires you to click on the embedded link to view the file ( albeit within Edmodo). Stored files on Edmodo are private ( unless shared in folders or individually posted to specific groups) whereas on a blog you can open it up for anyone ( or a limited few ) to view and comment on.

I think the feature sets I’ve outlined for both platforms show a clear difference in usage but also shows how beneficial they can both be. Nevertheless, I’d like to hear from other users of Edmodo and blogging. Have I missed something that you think is important to either? Do you have uses of either that eliminates the need to use both. Please join the conversation.

Transferring files to and from iPad using FileBrowser

Many users bemoan the lack of connectivity when discussing the iPad. True, I would love Apple to include native wireless networking similar to the Mac Finder that has access to all files on either iPad or Mac/PC. There are very useful options out there, however, that do the job very effectively. My favorite app for connecting to computers without iTunes or a cable is FileBrowser (available as a universal app for both iPhone/iPod Touch and iPad ).

I’ve been using Filebrowser for a long time and I find it great for transferring work to and from any computer that shares the same wireless network as my iPad or iPhone. It is very simple to set up – all you need is file sharing/network name of the computer you want to access and the username and password for connecting to the computer. At school, I had no problem connecting to a Windows based server with security settings without the IT technician’s assistance. (For full set up instructions and user guide, visit the app creator’s website. They will also give you good email support if you need it.)

Many apps will open in …. Filebrowser, especially PDF and document apps ( annoyingly Apple’s iWork apps don’t – wish Apple would make their apps more open to sharing options; clearly the system allows it when all other apps do   UPDATE – As of iOS 6, Apple’s iWork Apps ( Pages, Keynote and Numbers now work with FileBrowser as well as DropBox and Google Drive). This enables you to transfer a Word-compatible document or PDF file to your computer or workplace network. Any app that can save its content to the iPad’s photo library as a movie or image is accessible to Filebrowser network transferring as well. This is what I want to share with you today.

Working in a school with iPads shared with all the grades, it is important that students and teachers can easily transfer their work from the iPad to the school network. It doesn’t take long for an iPad to fill up if photos, comic strips, movies, slideshows and the like from 28 different grades at left languishing on it. While you can connect the iPad to a computer via USB connector, it can be inconvenient and timeconsuming, particularly with iTunes file sharing as an option for documents. Sure, Dropbox can be used in many cases but not every grade or teacher is using Dropbox at school at present. So a good option for transfer is FileBrowser.

While not as easy as drag and drop or using Save as…’ , the Filebrowser system is a simple matter of selecting, copying and pasting. I have had the opportunity to show some of my staff through morning training sessions but to assist in school wide adoption, I have made this video tutorial using the Explain Everything App and posted it on YouTube.

While it is aimed at my staff, the steps outlined are relevant to any setup you may have. It is predominantly about transferring photos but the same steps are required for saving any document. I hope you find it useful if you are considering this as an option. If you have found other options for network connectivity with the iPad, I would love to find out about alternatives. Filebrowser is not free ($5.49AU at present, but has been as low as $2.99) so will set back a school a bit of money when deployed to a lot of iPads. For me, though, it is worth the money, certainly for individual iPad users who want access to their computers.

Alternative iPad Browsers with tricks Safari can’t do

Educational Flash web sites aside, the iPad is a great device for browsing the internet. At the heart of this is Apple’s flagship browser, Safari. Overall, Safari is a capable browser on the iPad but there is some functionality missing from the app when compared to its big brother on Macs. Fortunately, iOS has enough tricks available for third party apps to fill in the gaps that Safari for iPad doesn’t address.

Here are three alternative browsers that I use regularly to perform tasks I think are necessary for educational use and general use that I can’t do using Apple’s default browser.

iCab

This fabulous app has become my default browser on my iPad. It’s as quick as Safari, as consistent in rendering and loading websites as Safari and has all the functions of Safari. But it adds so much more.

The big winner for me with iCab is its ability to download videos, including from Youtube. It means you can download videos to watch offline, add to iMovie for editing and reuse in presentations. This is particularly useful in a school setting. It is as simple as touching the video and a popup command appears as shown here.

Once the video is downloaded, it can be added to the Photo Library on the iPad by going to the Downloads icon and saving to Library. From here is becomes accessible to any app that uses videos. UPDATE: Unfortunately, this feature has been removed on request from Apple. Apparently, it infringed on App guidelines. 

Another great feature of iCab is its multiple search engine access. It comes installed with the major search engines plus Wikipedia and IMDb. You can add your own search engines simply by going to your chosen site ( e.g. Creative Commons search) and adding it to the list in the Settings. When you go to the Search field, all of the available search engines are available for the user to choose, depending on the type of search needed.

A third feature that is useful in iCab is its sharing and downloading options. By default, all you can do in Safari is Tweet on Twitter, email and print.iCab spoils you with choices.

You can share to your linked Diigo, Delicious, Pinterest, Facebook or Stumbleupon accounts, add files and web pages to Evernote or save sites to your Google Reader, Instapaper or Readability accounts. You can also save PDFs straight to the Goodreader iPad app, convert simple text based webpages to epub or PDF ( not always reliable) and open up locations quickly in Googlemaps. You can also add Web Archives directly to Dropbox as well as take Screenshots and save to Photo album, the built in Downloads folder ( and then open in other apps), save to clipboard and then paste in apps or save to Dropbox. This makes iCab a very useful research tool on the iPad, far exceeding the capabilities of Safari. The only draw back is its $1.99AU price tag ( hardly a bank breaker!)

Diigo Browser

This is a great browser for annotating web sites during research. Through an unobtrusive floating toolbar on the side, you can access annotation tools that overlay the website currently open. Annotation tools include square, circle, arrows, straight and freehand lines, smudging and text tools. You can change the colours of each option.

When you have finished, you can crop the page and take a screenshot of the page, saving it to the photo album, email or Twitter.

Similar to iCab, Diigo browser also has a lot of sharing options not found in Safari, including Diigo ( strangely not as effective as the iCab Diigo tool ), Evernote, Tumbler, GoogleReader, Instapaper and ReaditLater as well as Twitter and Facebook. Combined with its annotation tools, this makes Diigo Browser an excellent research tool for students and teachers using an iPad ( there is also an iPhone/iPod Touch version.) Its free too.

Photon

The Photon Browser, is the best of a range of iPad browsers for accessing Flash Websites. While it is well publicised that iOS devices don’t support Flash websites, Photon does a fairly good job by accessing servers that stream Flash functionality back to your iPad. Because of this streaming method, the whole experience is a little delayed and at times choppy. Nevertheless, it does work in may cases. Videos work well, Flash games are reasonable and even some Web 2.0 tools used in schools are useable. I have tested Prezi, Voki and Glogster with Photon. Voki works quite well ( albeit a little slowly as I mentioned).Glogs can be viewed with full functionality and editing Glogs is possible but not easily. Prezis can also be edited but with some difficulty. Viewing is more enjoyable using the dedicated free iPad Prezi Viewer app, which also allows for some basic editing ( but not creating). I’ve also been able to view Flash based Wix websites created by teachers who use Wix for gamification in education.

To access Flash websites, click on the Lightning Bolt icon in the top right hand corner.
This begins the streaming session using the flash compatible servers the app connects to. When in “Flash” mode, the app provides a keyboard that works with Flash functionality ( you can switch to an alternative game keyboard for Flash games ) as well as different mouse like functions via dedicated buttons.

Beyond its Flash capabilities, Photon doesn’t provide anything to rival Safari as a general purpose browser. There are separate iPhone and iPad apps, meaning you have to purchase separately. The price itself is also an issue. (AU$5.49 iPad, $AU4.49 iPhone. Using AppShopper, I was able to take advantage of a drop in price to $0.99 in 2011). So you have to consider whether the cost is worth the good but not great Flash capabilities. Rover is a free browser that successfully accesses Flash educational sites ( many are natively linked to the app ) but doesn’t work very well with Web 2.0 tools and complex Flash websites in my experiences ( I have heard others have more success.)

For just a small investment you can turn your iPad into a more effective browser with some alternatives to Safari. You would like to think with its apparent dedication to education, apple would add some of these features to future Safari versions. In the meantime, try these three browsers out. There are a lot of other Browsers on the App Store. You might have tried others that have unique features useful for school. Feel free to leave a comment to let us know about more alternatives.

UPDATE: 26/7/2012 A couple of comments about how go get video from iCab to photo library. Hope this screenshot helps.

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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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Writing Ballad Poems through ICT tools

After a lot of administrative work last term, I’m finally back regularly doing what I like best – teaching. In my role ( one of many ) as a Lead Teacher supporting the 5/6 Team, I get to teach small groups of students in workshop environments in areas of need and/or choice. This term, the Grade 6 students are beginning their writing workshops by focusing on different narrative forms. As a songwriter, I’ve written many songs in the Ballad style, telling stories through song. This was a natural fit for me to take on a Narrative Workshop based around Ballad Poetry. Combining my talents in writing and ICT, I have decided to heavily incorporate Web tools to teach this unit. Here’s a rundown of how I plan to do it.

My main tool for delivering this unit of work will be Edmodo. I’ve created a subgroup within the main Grade 6 Edmodo group specifically for Ballad
Poetry. Before the lessons even begin next week, I have posted links to Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, a YouTube video of the Ballad of Paul Bunyan for an American ballad example, a site showcasing all the ballads of Robin Hood as an introduction to how traditional ballads as story telling originated and a link to a website that has a published version of ‘Banjo’ Paterson’s “Mulga Bill’s Bicycle”, ensuring the students are also exposed to our native Australian ballads. During the next 3 weeks of the unit, I will be encouraging the students to post their own search results of ballads so that they can be exposed to a wide range of the ballad poem form. I think exposure to examples are important in any writing unit, especially in a form they are not accustomed to.

A final link I have provided on the Edmodo page is a excerpt from the Simpsons’ episode, “Bart the Daredevil”, in which Homer goes hurtling down a slope on a skateboard and over Springfield Gorge, with disastrous results as always. When I read and chose Mulga Bill’s Bicycle as an example ballad, my mind immediately flashed to this episode as it related beautifully to the experience of Mulga Bill crashing his bicycle in similar circumstances. I felt that the students would need a contemporary link to this century old poem, and despite the objections of some in educational circles to the Simpsons, I get great engagement from my students whenever I use the cartoon as a crossover into other literature and thematic discussions.

My plan is to begin the unit reading Mulga Bill’s Bicycle and break the poem down into a sequential series of events. I’ll then present the clip of Homer’s disastrous skateboarding experience and do the same breakdown of events. Using the stanzas in the Paterson poem as a guide, we will co-write a ballad of Homer Simpson’s Skateboard. Here I will introduce the students to another Web Tool I like using for quick and easy collaboration – WallWisher. I’ve embedded the shared Wallwisher Pinboard into a post on Edmodo already. The students will review the Simpsons clip while working collaboratively on building the ballad in WallWisher through post-it notes of individual stanzas of rhyming verse. As they experiment, we’ll be able to see everyone’s attempts on our interactive whiteboard. As each stanza appears, we’ll be able to arrange them into a sequential order to tell the story.

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This way, I’ll be able to emphasise the idea of freely writing parts of poems that flow easily from your imagination instead of being stuck on a particular part and not progressing. By using the post-it notes on WallWisher, we will be able to manipulate individual verses and insert new ideas that fit when they arise. By having the board embedded in Edmodo, we will be able to continue this collaboration beyond the classroom lesson time for homework during the week or during independent writing time.

Once the students start drafting their own poems, we will use Edmodo as a collaborative platform for supporting each others’ writing. Children will be encouraged to post their drafts for others to comment on, allowing them to get assistance from myself or classmates if they get stuck for ideas, rhyming words, rhythm and structure. Once their drafts are ready, I will ask them to submit the writing through the Assignment feature of Edmodo. This will allow me to annotate their work with my suggestions and note, but not correct, grammatical/spelling issues ( correcting doesn’t teach them to edit independently).

We’ve identified that this cohort of students is reluctant or lack skills in editing their writing. I want to address this by allowing them to draft, edit and get teacher feedback through ICT. It means they don’t have to rewrite texts completely, instead just making changes where necessary. I’m hoping this will encourage them to make several revisions to their text, rather than the draft/correct/publish cycle we have perpetuated too much as teachers. Edmodo’s Assignments allows for several revisions to be submitted with the ability for teachers to feedback on each new attempt.

20120422-071440.jpg

Early on in the unit, we will be co-creating a rubric that will guide the students in composing their ballads. This will be posted to Edmodo so they can constantly refer to it as they are drafting and be aware of expectations as well as the structures and features to include in their ballads.

Finally, I’m going to spend a short time near the end of each lesson ( one hour duration ) presenting publishing options. I’ll be encouraging but not requiring the students to consider multimedia tools to present their ballads. By the time the unit is over, I would have already seen and assessed their ballads through the Assignments submissions process and as a result they will already have a written option available. I want to encourage the idea that publishing is not just for the purpose of handing up work for the teacher to assess. We should celebrate the creation of the ballad through a movie version, a multimedia slideshow, a comic strip, a blog post for others to see and comment on, or maybe turn it into a song Mr G style!

I’m looking forward to how this process will pan out. If it goes to plan, I hope that other teachers will try out the lesson structure and the use of Edmodo to encourage better editing of written work by students. I’ll return to this post at unit’s end to reflect on how it went. In the meantime, I would love to hear from other teachers about how you have used Edmodo or similar Web Tools to track writing progress.

Future proof your Education

The concept of 21st Learning has been around since the 1990s. There was a recognition that with the pace of technological change, the jobs of the 20th Century would be unrecognisable to those living in the 21st Century. We had to prepare our students for a future of great difference and uncertainty. As a result, we needed to move towards a more independent, skills based education system rather than the model we had that was based on content knowledge and specific skills for specific jobs. Well, we are into the second decade of the 21st Century and the question has to be asked – how well have we advanced in developing 21st Century Learners?

This concept came back to the forefront of my thinking when I discovered this wonderful Prezi above by Maria H Andersen (@busynessgirl) from Muskegon Community College. If you have a spare couple of hours, I recommend you delve into the full breadth of information she presents about ‘Future-Proofing Education” or take it in small chunks, which through the power of Prezi you can do comfortably. Or you can read my summative commentary on what Andersen presents.

INTRODUCTION

The presentation begins with an often viewed “did You Know” video that challenges us to consider the future direction of education. As mentioned earlier, preparing for the future means developing the skills involved in the multiple career paths the current and future generations will be taking. In a global community, international competition from the massive populations of developing powerhouses India and China means developing a workforce ready for any challenge. The confronting statistic that India has more “honours kids” than America has kids makes you realise education has to develop lifelong learning skills rather than a narrow curriculum based on key content. With information exponentially increasing via technology, we can’t keep up with pure knowledge retention. Skill based education has to be the focus.

The Prezi presentation then outlines the skills required to “future-proof our education” and develop a generation of creative, collaborative learners and workers,heavily linking this to the role of technology.

The skills are:

Focus, Explain, Interact, Analyze, Flex and Learn.

What follows here are my  reflections on Andersen’s compelling message.

Focus

  • A humorous video clip stresses the challenge of managing the information stream: Students are in real danger of information overload if we don’t develop in our schools curricula on how to work with the massive amounts of information we are exposed to in today’s media rich world. The focus needs to be on dissemination of this information, not the information itself, which can be out of date by the end of the year.
  • Pay attention to details-like Copyright: Kids will post anything on the internet and have grown up in an environment of anything I can download can be mine. In a closed classroom filled with printed posters of information. It is important at an early age we develop the understanding that the opposite is actually true. Responsible Digital Citizenship is a more important skill to develop than downloading. Awareness of Creative Commons is a must for a generation of Internet content creators. (the embedded video outlines CC effectively)
  • Remember when you need to: We need to develop strategies for sorting information into manageable chunks that we can remember. Skills in separating the “wheat from the chaff” ( necessary information from the superfluous) need to mastered so that students can find the required knowledge effectively and quickly. Organising,categorising, streamlining, accessing data replaces endless and often futile memorisation.
  • Observe critically: With the focus on critical thinking rather than fact collection, students will be more prepared for unknown challenges that don’t rely on regurgitation of facts. With more information presented visually, observation is also important.
  • Read with understanding: This follows on from critical thinking. Experiences in the classroom have to focus on understanding the message, not recalling the event or fact.
  • Set and meet goals: This is a massive challenge for students now and the teachers who aren’t used to this type of goal setting themselves. However, if we are going to be prepared for an uncertain future, we need the skills to plan for it in an methodical, analytical way.

Explain

  • Media literacy: Past generations were exposed to text based information at school with an occasional special film viewing to introduce a topic. This literacy model based on text is outdated today. Expecting our students to learn via a multimedia, internet experience is a massive challenge if we only teach literacy skills through static,text based materials. If we are wondering why they are plagiarising information from Wikipedia, maybe its because we haven’t taught them how to actually access information from the Internet effectively. News is no longer just text in a newspaper. Encyclopedias have been replaced by interactive graphics and hyperlinked sources. Many adults today are overwhelmed by the Internet because they weren’t prepared to use it. Future generations have to be prepared for it. We’re not going back to text only.

  • Present ideas digitally/Design for the audience: If all our information is being presented to us digitally, we have to learn to present our own ideas digitally. The audience of today expects it. The audience of tomorrow won’t know any other way. I’m not saying goodbye to handwriting but we have to focus on the digital text.
  • Depict data visually. Infographics have become the way of presenting data. Manageable chunks of information visually presented for the visual learners of today. ” A picture paints a thousands words” is even more relevant today. Students need to learn how to do this effectively. They’ll understand the data better by creating it visually and they will get the point across better too.
  • Convey ideas in text/Speak so that others understand: Data is visual but ideas still needs to be written to develop their complexity. The role of blogging becomes important here. Having an audience through a blog forces you to explain your ideas with greater clarity because you want the readers to understand. A text between you and a teacher doesn’t seem so important so less thought is put into it. Getting a job in the future is going to require communication skills. We need to develop these skills as early as possible.

Interact

As far as we can predict, working collaboratively with others is going to be a major focus in the future, both face to face and particularly via telecommunications. It’s already here in a big way, but will be the mode of working and communicating in the future. Having skills in interacting in a variety of ways then is paramount.

  • Advocate and influence: Developing skills of persuasion, fighting for worthy causes and issues, representing others in a global community of the future will be a necessity. Communicating with others over the internet ( or whatever it is 20 years from now)  will be needed to have an influence on decision making. Therefore, we need to start this kind of action in schools today. In this presentation, it is put in the context of influencing through game dynamics. How can we use game play to influence a generation of video game players in a meaningful way to bring about social change?
  • Resolve conflict and negotiate: In a collaborative work environment, whether in an physical office or part of an online community is a challenging but inevitable part of life. Difference of opinions have to be resolved and negotiating solutions will be necessary skills. Having student led ( but teacher guided) environments for learning lead to the need for the children being responsible for decisions and their own learning.
  • Collaborate Face to face or virtually: Technology today has made collaboration so pervasive in our lives. We have to make this part of the curriculum nowt prepare students for what is inevitable in their future careers. Expose them to online forums, discussion boards and videoconferencing.
  • Guide others: Student driven learning gives them the experience of teaching others rather than being passive learners.
  • Lead (and the first follower): Having children involved in authentic decision making is necessary to develop leadership skills. Not everyone can be the leader and teaching them how to influence as part of a team is also important. I love the message of the video used here that a leader working alone is useless without the support of the first person to stand up and follow the leader. This is sometimes the hardest thing for a child to do: decide to make their own call to follow someone. Only then does a team begin to form.

Analyze

It is expected that the jobs of the future will involve much analysis of information. The ability to:

  • Interpret data
  • Make decisions
  • Think critically
  • Solve problems
  • Forecast
  • Filter information
needs to become a greater focus in today’s education. Software that converts data into easy to understanded organised forms needs to become commonplace. Out of date maths text books with out of context maths word problems  need to be replaced by the use of software that takes real data and presents,sort, organises and analyses it in useful ways. So much more of the information we present to our students should be done in this way rather than long sequences of text.

Flex

In an ever changing global workplace with employment opportunities forever changing as the world changes , students need to become flexible, adaptable team members.

  • Think across disciplines: We need to stop teaching separate subjects and content and integrate tasks so that multiple skill usage becomes the norm.
  • Think across cultures/See others perspectives: As work shifts to overseas environments or migrant workers become more commonplace in our own countries, we have to become better at understanding other cultures and adapt to working with people of different backgrounds. This is possibly one of the few content areas to override skills based curriculum – the knowledge of different cultures and how they operate differently to the culture we belong to.
  • Be creative and innovate/Adapt to new situations: We need to leverage the use of creative Web 2.0 tools and current/emerging tech tools to develop  skills in our students to create new ideas that can have an influence on their future world. Start small by providing opportunities for inventing products, innovating on existing products, looking for ways to improve current practice. When we don’t know what we will be doing in 20 years, we need skills in creating, not just following predetermined norms of behaviour that are now redundant. We have to adapt to new living conditions and use our creativity to solve problems. Past education systems based on the industrial models to create workers for a single industry won’t work in a future where human based industries can be replaced by technology.

Learn
All of this change in the way the world operates means we have to change the way we learn and the purpose of learning at schools. The world we live in today is so different even to 5 years ago. The pace of change post-mart phone/tablet/web 2.0 is unrecognisable. We have to change education to prepare for this new world that will be unrecognisable in another 5 years from now.

The Prezi covers the following areas under the umbrella of Learn:

  • Formulate a learning plan
  • Synthesize the details
  • Information literacy
  • Formulate good questions
  • Reflect and evaluate
  • Meta cognition (know what you know)

I’m going to go into more detail in this area in my next post as there are certain aspects of technology use and shifting Literacy foci  here that deserve more attention than a dot point.
The depth of my thinking about Education has profoundly changed as a result of writing this blog this year. Through my exploration of other education blogs, I have been inspired to dig deeper into what my beliefs about education really are. This Prezi presentation has had a big impact on that thinking. It’s not a major research project. It’s not created by a world famous education expert. But the ideas behind these images and the videos ( several are from TEDTalks) Andersen has selected should be what teaching and learning is all about in the future. I implore you to spend some time watching them. I hope they inspire you to change education for the better as well. Would love to hear what you think.

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.

 

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.