Category Archives: Educational Technology Research

EdTech Veteran: An Early Adopter Reluctant to Commit to Google Classroom

Classroom LogoProgramming the VCR

It’s tough to say, but I’m middle-aged now. When we are young, we are always the ones to master technology in the family. Take the VCR for example. Back in the day it was always easy for me because while my parents were busy being parents, keeping the house in order, working to pay the bills, spending free time relaxing, maybe reading, I was tinkering with my surroundings. If something wasn’t working out, I tried other ways and overcame each challenge. As I grew older, I always tinkered with the next new thing I was faced with. I grew into each version of personal computer, palm pilot, cell technology, etc. My parents? Not so much. This trend is important in what I’m about to say next.

 

The rug pulled out from under

I just discovered that the learning management system (LMS) that my school has been using since I arrived eight years ago is about to go away. I built up my technology class curriculum on countless proprietary web pages hosted on a third-party educational platform.  I did it because it was new. It was new to the district, and I was also new to the school. I had nothing to lose, and I went all in. The entire staff was asked to upload their content to the platform for students and parents. Since I ran a computer lab, I put all of the lessons online so students could access immediately the tasks conveniently in a calendar, much like an online class. Soon I was asked to give workshops on how to use the platform.

 

Before my arrival at my school eight years ago, I spent 11 years creating web content delivered using Frontpage, Publisher, PowerPoint (as a website), shared network folders and so on. Each of my lessons had to be changed with each update and revision of the software. MS Office, for example changed so much that literally every two years I would have to update my tutorials.

 

In the past 18 years, I’ve explored each new buzz in technology. From Edmodo, to iPads to Google, I’ve invested time and energy into each new thing. It’s no wonder my job seems the most stressful of any educator I know. I’ve been shell shocked by many rugs being pulled out from under me. For example, a few years after NING came out in 2005, I saw classroom potential for social networks. I created one for each class and engaged with students online, each student creating a digital portfolio. I found it useful as an educational platform for engaging students. I gave workshops and even presented at my local state conference. I had decided to let it go once it moved to a paid model. Besides, other platforms were coming online. Edmodo — remember Diigo and Delicious? I was accepted into the beta of Google Wave which was quickly dropped by Google. From the onset of Google, I was all in. I still have the same email since Gmail was introduced. I’ve been a faithful Android user with the very first Motorola Droid, currently loving my GalaxyS5. Making the most of everything Google — from personal calendars, Drive, Maps, Keep — I consider myself, well, skilled in the Google arts.

 

Frustration with school-based services

When a few of us recommended Google Apps for Ed, we set it up for the high dchool embracing the platform and all its greatness. My students build digital portfolios using Blogger. After about five years, the district took on a second district-wide account. A year later, the district administrators announced that we would suspend the high school accounts and migrate to the district model. After deep research, via trial and error, it was clear that this would greatly impact my already invested curriculum. Google states on its help pages that while you can transfer Blogger blogs and Google sites, the “images will only exist IF the account that made them is NOT deleted!” This is a huge issue for me! With graduated seniors for example, they will not be able to take their digital portfolios with them if the school deletes their Google accounts. Google goes on to say “there is no provision for this at this time.”

 

Eggs in one basket

Along with Google Forms and YouTube videos (hours upon hours of tutorials) not transferring well, I’m reluctant to invest my energy into the school Google Apps for Education platform. What does it mean if I were to transfer to a new teaching job? Would the school want my curriculum? Sure some things transfer well, but the links do not. So all of the linked documents, YouTube videos and forms? There is a convenience with the Apps for Ed platform, especially with the Google Classroom, but growing into such an environment has me feeling a bit uneasy.

 

So I’m at a crossroads. My LMS is going away and while I am already settling into our district Apps account, I’m trying out Classroom full throttle. It’s no LMS. In the meantime, I’m also exploring Google Course Builder, but it seems too new and unstable. But I have faith, even knowing it could go either way. Google has been a long-time friend of mine.

 

So when we look at the big picture and we see veteran teachers reluctant to latch onto new technology, we need to consider their journey before we pass judgement. We’ve seen too many trends to allow ourselves to spend too much time on the newest ones. Like my parents when I was a kid, I now need to choose carefully how I spend my time. Lately I am more reluctant to tinker as I have all these years. Call it shell-shock. Call it wisdom. In any case, I’m sure in time, I will find my new LMS home.

 

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Gamified: a Personalized Learning Path in Technology-enhanced Learning

Gamified3The buzz about gamification in education has been in my Twittersphere for some time. I’m only recently beginning to examine the importance as it relates to differentiated instruction. How can I provide learning opportunities at different levels and reward students for achievement?

When we ask kids what work is, they would respond “school” and if asked what is play, they would respond “games”. Everyone loves a game. Why not? A game gives challenges with a lighthearted dance of successes and failures. Games consist of positive reinforcements and negative ones too.  Kids truly need to get points for showing up. Don’t you think? Kids may not see the long-range goal, but can find motivation is shorter ones.

My computer technology courses have developed into a blended model of instruction whereby the content is presented online with tutorials and clear steps for completing tasks. These “webquests” as they were once called, allow the student to work steadily at his/her own pace. Over the years I’ve created more and more activities and sorted them into modules. Students are given start and end dates for completing the module assignments. The difficulty level of the activities are sorted from easy to hard. I’ve created so many activities that I’ve come to a point where we do not have time to complete them all. I also find some students take longer to complete the tasks than others.

A research project aimed at individualization in Technology Enhanced Learning analyzes personalized learning describing the way that learners work and solve the problems they are given while learning.  It is noted that the use of the word personalization is often confused with individualization and differentiation. Personalization is learner-centered where the learner is driving their learning and actively participates in the design of their learning, while differentiation and individualization are teacher-centered where the teacher customizes instruction based on the needs of the individual learner.

Gamification is personalized because it gives students an opportunity to choose their learning experiences. Students are empowered to seek engaging activities which will help them find success. The learner has a voice and choice which means that the learner can decide which activities are more engaging for them and shape the course in collaboration with the teacher (Zajac, 2014).

Differentiation of instruction should coexist with the personalized experience. Along with multiple projects and activities, there should be a number of instructional modalities. For example, the instruction can be in the form of text on the screen and video tutorial. The personalized product can be generated on paper, in a slideshow or made into a real-time video. With the aid of technology, the four learning styles (visual, aural, verbal and logical) are addressed by different forms of learning content while kinesthetic, social and solitary are reflected in adequate activities  (Zajac, 2014).

Gamification implications include individualization with project-based learning as well as collaboration. Group work in the gamified environment may include roles of leader, researcher, co-worker and player. The breakdown can allow for opportunity for the teacher to assign individual tasks to students based on strengths.

To make things confusing for myself, I kicked off an experimental unit of gamification last year with my unit on making games here called The Scratching Post — programming games in Scratch. (It is the first time I’ve attempted to build a quest using a Google document published as a webpage. Google needs to work on the formatting – I’m not fond of sharing documents “can view” as that looks horrible too). Enough of the visual critique. The most challenging component is the scoring. It is difficult to determine what success is. While students could elect their path for the final product, points are given based on the percent of elements used in their product. It is hard to determine what was acceptable for kids to skip and what is an essential skill I want them to gain. I attempted to implement levels. I didn’t think I made the most of those. Overall I think it was fun. The students enjoyed it, but I don’t think they paid any attention to the gamified elements. This may be because the content was making games, which is confusing. If it were built around learning about internet safety, there might have been more awareness of the gamification.

Gamification Vision

Platform –  I am happy with my current delivery method. I create content in modules and time release them using the Edline website.  I may explore third-party software as described above. Leaderboard may be displayed on the website or in the classroom using digital signage software. There is web-based software available for assisting with the creation of a gamified experience. These include Classcraft, 3DGameLab, Gradecraft, and TheVirtualLocker.

Goal – The unit of study is considered one module – Rules are outlined clearly with a tutorial on how to play the game.

Personalized–  Modules contain multiple small quests with product options that practice a skill. It can be as simple as providing tool choices to produce the same outcome (example: video, paper, slideshow). These detailed quests are delivered at once, however, suggested due dates assist with time management.

Individualized – Each project option comes with multiple modes of learning. The goal is to provide at least text and videos/video tutorials for each learning objective. The instruction is delivered in the multiple modes as well.

Playful – the content needs to be playful. Rather than stamp “game” on a packet of worksheets, the content needs to be challenging and engaging in a playful manner. A story line can be added.

Collaboration – Students are encouraged to collaborate and team up to complete tasks or modules. Team play is equally engaging in games. This can motivate non-engaged students.

Modding – Students may choose to modify their experiences as needed to reach their goals.

Scoring – Point values are experience points and they vary based on level of difficulty in each module. If a particular skill is challenging for a student, he/she can elect two easier tasks with lower point values versus one more difficult task valued at higher point value. Each project option contains a point value as well as the components within each project. Badges may be awarded for completion of key tasks. For example, students may earn a collaboration badge for choosing to work with others.

Final/Unit Grade: The goal is to complete each module attempting to accumulate points. Within each module, there is a threshold expectation of points which translate to the “A” – students can reach above that point value in search of the “High Score” for each module or each unit.

High Score (to be debated) is posted and rewarded with an achievement award at year end. Semester or trimester format classes each have High Score, but there exists a Grand High Score.

There are several teachers already running with the movement. There are plenty of examples to learn from. My journey begins now.

 

INDIVIDUAL LEARNING PATH IN GAMIFIED ENVIRONMENT
Challenges for Research into Open & Distance Learning: Doing Things Better – Doing Better Things Proceedings of the European Distance and E-Learning Network 2014 Research Workshop Oxford, 27-28 October, 2014
http://www.researchgate.net/profile/Blazenka_Divjak2/publication/269992399_Decision_Making_on_e-Assessment_Criteria/links/549d22dc0cf2b8037138e681.pdf#page=31
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A Computer/Foreign Language Teacher’s Quest for a Mobile Language Lab Solution

As a former Spanish language teacher, my experience of integrating technology into my Spanish teaching has not yet included mobile technologies. Six years ago, I left a computer language lab with rows of computers in cubicles. While I enjoyed having computers to open the world of cultures and digital discourse to my students, I had not looked back until now. The past few years I’ve been teaching students how to use computers for learning. I thought it was about time that I see how new technologies were now being used in foreign language classrooms.

I had the privilege of attending a workshop put on by the Massachusetts Foreign Language Association (MaFLA) where Renée Dacey and Daniela De Sousa of Burlington High School put together a fabulous presentation called iPads in the Foreign Language Classroom. Many already know that Burlington is a pioneer in the one-to-one initiative providing their students with iPads to use everyday. Over the past two years they have grappled with many of the benefits and pitfalls of mobile learning.

As I recollect the language lab of my past, and dream of what could be, this experience has prompted me to make comparisons to what a non-language lab could be. I aim to find out how much savings can come from not having to purchase a full-blown language lab, maintaining a goal that these mobile solutions compared to the old wooden cubicles would have to demonstrate that they can enhance students’ reading, writing, speaking and listening skills in the foreign language classroom.

My following analysis is based on common essentials of a foreign language lab.

Question and Answer, Multiple Choice, Fill-in-the-blanks and so on

Renée and Daniela highlighted one of my clear favorites, Google Apps. Creating forms is a great way to gather student work. In teaching a foreign language there is always a place for the “fill-in-the-blank” websheets. It is a staple in language learning, and a must for mastery of grammar and syntax. Google forms is quick and easy. Over the past few years, I’ve discovered several grading scripts to make the experience even better, such as Flubaroo which automates the websheet/quiz experience complete with grading.

There are numerous web-based quiz sites available, too. I’ve used Quia and Quizstar. Your online textbook may have plenty to choose from. Polling sites, like Poll Everywhere, are great tools for formative assessment.

Hands on Practice

7691519996_162e98b0ecTeachers across disciplines have heard of Showme and Educreations, but the Burlington duo introduced me to one I was not yet familiar with. Notability, it uses a very user-friendly interface to interact with PDF documents, images and more. Students can open a PDF document and begin annotation. They highlight key parts of speech, draw on images of works of art to illustrate significant aspects of history and culture. Renée and Daniela demonstrated writing in words and highlighting vocabulary to song lyrics while listening to the music play. Students play with realia using sphere or Arounder  or Sphere 360 to view museum tours. Students in their classes read and watch news in the target language on the BBC World app. There is no better way to learn than to have the information at your fingertips to interact with in a holistic way.

Photo by mikecogh

Interactive, multimedia exercises

Mobile devices, tablets, laptops, Chromebooks or even iPods and cell phones have interactive creative potential in a foreign language classroom. As the standalone computer has done in my language classroom, these mobile devices come with a plethora of tools for interaction and creativity. These tools can also be used for teacher-created interactive exercises.

My favorite multimedia project for years was having my students create animations using PowerPoint. Students created very unorthodox slides with animated characters, callout bubbles and voice-over recordings. Finally with the 2010 version, those projects can now be converted into video ready for YouTube.

Needs to be intuitive and easy to use

mzm.fmhxwkdi.175x175-75The iPad has many neat tools similar for creating with multimedia. Some include Puppet Pals, Story Kit, Movenote, Video Editor Free, and many other comic-strip creators perfect for illustrating language usage. Students can listen and record their own voices using many already familiar apps. There are hundreds on any tablet platform and many more on the web that can do whatever creative project a student drives him/herself to do. Plus, many students come already having used said devices.

Recording exercises

One of the main purposes for purchasing a language lab is having the ability to do open recording, simultaneous recording, active-comparative recording, live speaking and listening exercises. Apps like Garageband, SoundCloud, Evernote, Google Hangouts, YouTube has a record feature now. Audio recordings are better with video as the instructor can see how comfortable the student is with the language. This helps the teacher know if he/she is reading from a script or if any editing had been one.

screen568x568Apps like Showme make recorded speaking and illustration more powerful . Imagine walking through a family photo album introducing and describing each person. Draw over a photo of a bedroom describing contents in the room. Soundboards can be created a number of ways to deliver soundbytes instantly to student for aural exercise.

Movenote allows the student or teacher to show video of him/herself while illustrating a concept, place, or story.

Motivation

There is no question that a shiny new device raises motivation, however, as Renée and Daniela cited, at their one-to-one environment, kids can be overwhelmed by excitement one day, and then over-apped another. They quoted students as saying “death by ShowMe” (or any app inserted). Too much of one thing can be just as bad. The important takeaway is that even a cubicle language lab will likely also be highly motivational at first.

Relia is important in language learning. Using online radio, Skype calling or a number of messaging or chat tools, will engage the student to become a global citizen.

Portable, Internet-based

My years of having my classes scheduled in the language lab by default has actually had a negative effect on my teaching. When other teachers turned down their days of using the lab so I could in turn use a standard classroom has led to claustrophobic experiences. Many times I longed for the open classroom floor where students sit in a circle and we just talk, drill and practice while throwing a ball around the room. Face-to-face interaction was indeed compromised. A portable solution enables the teacher to “turn it off” and it doesn’t seal up an entire classroom.

Oh, and cost-effective, too (cheap)

Researching for a potential language lab in my new role at my new school, I am discovering pitfalls I had experienced with my old lab. Many teachers of other disciplines managed to use the lab. Many classes, foreign language and non foreign language, pulled and tugged on the headsets, toyed with the hardware and eventually rendered much of it nonfunctional over time. The need for training, pricey repairs, software upgrades, incompatibilities with networks and other software made the overall lab experience unfavorable.

3017586278_2d3562dbf6The costs involved with a full-fledged language lab are enormous, not to mention the maintanance fees. The proprietary systems make it impossible for standard IT to handle the repairs. You need to purchase computers as part of the process. There is some value in isolating sound with cubicles.

Photo by E. Castro

Mobile devices are cheaper by the day. In fact, the iPad2 is currently a fantastic buy for anything mobile. Look out for the less expensiveandroid or Microsoft devices. There are many web creations and interactions, why not Chromebooks? Starting a BYOD? There, you have little or no costs. Sure you may want to purchase some apps, but most are free.

The difference for me is that a real-world tool can be learned through the experience of using a mobile device. As a computer teacher, I find value in real world tools and find little patience for proprietary educational tools.

Renée Dacey & Daniela De Sousa are language teachers at Burlington High School in Massachusetts. Burlington has been awarded an Apple Distinguished School award for their one-to-one initiative.

I have taught 11 years a s a Spanish teacher — 10 of those while using a computer- and hardware-based language lab. I am currently teaching my 6th year at Frontier Regional School as a technology teacher and integration specialist.

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Smart Board with Smart Savings: iPads and Tablets in Education (Part 2)

This article is part of a series of articles about my exploration of the tablet/iPad in education.  This article includes the ingredients, trials and tribulations of the Smart Board alternative.  Find out how I ran into problems with my projector and AirPlay connections so you don’t have to. Links to each of the articles will be posted here or elsewhere inside the blog. It combines a “Leap of Faith” series with reflections on dual-platform knowledge; it will encompass a grant initiative to study a Smart Board alternative, include applications of use for both the Android and iOS, and explore creative ways to use the tablets in schools, including but not limited to, app creation. The series highlights the benefits and limitations of either platform, tips, tricks and workarounds or the technical compatibilities with everyday world uses. I intend to reflect on the social implications, as well. You will find the links to each article at the bottom of this one. Return here for updated link additions. The essential question is: How do we prepare our students for a mobile world and create an inexpensive projection for presentation of material to a broad audience?

Android

I first want to address how I made connection to my existing projector using the Motorola Xoom tablet. My existing Dell projector only has DVI ports closest to the HDMI outputs of the Xoom. The trick was that I needed to put together the necessary adapters. Simple.  The ideal connection was HDMI mini to HDMI to DVI. Great! Well, frustratingly, when the HDMI port is plugged in, immediately the sound is diverted to that port and not played on the device. Because DVI is not a sound-carrying connection (at least not in the use of the projector) sound had been muted. Solution: get a projector with HDMI ports.

iPad

Described in my early related posts, I needed to crossover into iOS; and in doing so, it was time to make the necessary investment in a projector with an HDMI port. Thankfully I found that a professional association I belonged to offered the MassCue initiative grant to educators seeking to enhance technology uses in their schools. I was seeking not only a platform-diverse environment but a Smart Board alternative. At MassCue’s 2011 Conference presented by Burlington public schools, I discovered AirPlay.

It was described at this conference workshop that it was possible to connect an iPad wirelessly to a projector. At that point in the workshop I began to block out the rest of the presentation and began to Google. Yes! I thought, it is what I’ve been eager to find. I envisioned walking around my classroom while projecting the content of my iPad to the screen whenever necessary. With a classroom set, I would ask students to show their work, or illustrate their discoveries on the fly with the help of AirPlay.

Initial Supplies (note errors corrected in this post)

Item

Price

32 G iPad 2 with WiFi

$600

iPad 2 Polyurethane Smart Cover

$39

Apple TV

$95

6’ HDMI to HDMI cable

$10

KanexPro HDMI to composite

Kanex ATV Pro

$95

$60

Projector – Vivitek D538W-3D DLP Projector (seek alternate)

Acer P1303W Professional Projector

$599

$599

Total (with projector)

$1403

Total (without projector)

$804

To make the iPad use AirPlay, the Apple TV is the magic device that makes it worthwhile. For only $100 it is a great deal. Not only do you gain the AirPlay functionality, but you also gain Apply TV experience. The Apple TV contains an HDMI output. Again, it is necessary to have and HDMI output or the necessary adapters. For those with budget restrictions, and who are comfortable with a reduced resolution display, the adaptors with an existing projector will do just fine. I’ve included a HDMI-to-composite adapter in my bundle to maintain the ability to carry out demonstrations in other rooms, and at conferences and workshops. If the projector did not have an HDMI connection, I needed this kind of a flexible solution.

Discoveries

The following describes problems with my initial setup. Please note what to look for in making this kind of connection at your school.

It begins with a projector problem. The projector I listed here contains HDMI in and an on-board speaker. I neglected to note that it did not have any audio outputs. In my years of experience, I have never come across a projector that did not have audio in and audio out. I had purchased the projector months in advance of the proposed setup and by the time I needed to return it, it was past the 30-day return window. The Vivitek D538W– 3D DLP Projector seemed like a great projector and is for any other solution.  But if you are using an HDMI source with audio, it presents a problem. The tiny onboard speaker is insufficient for a classroom and the HDMI voids any other audio output produced by the iPad.  That is, you cannot plug in the mini headphone jack to get audio at the same time.

Furthermore, I had problems with the Kanex Pro HDMI/CompositeVID w/Ster Audio CN.

The product description reads:

“The Kanex Pro HDMI to composite with audio converter is a classic retro-fit device, engineered to transform HDMI signals into analog composite video with R/L audio. Connect your HD sources such as DVD and Blue-ray players … to an analog A/V monitor or a projector. The converter includes front-panel switch that supports PAL/NTSC doormats for different regions and works flawlessly with all HDMI devices that are not HDCP encrypted.”

I was not expecting any HDCP support issues. I didn’t know what that was. Returning online to the place of purchase a month later, the same search provided a new product: the Kanex ATV Pro.

“The ATV Pro allows a VGA projector to use Apple AirPlay mirroring from an iPad to Apple TV. The ATV Pro promises to eliminate the need for expensive HDMI projection equipment upgrades. Join the thousands of classrooms nationwide that can mirror and stream content directly to a VGA projector via an Apple TV – HDCP 1.2 compliant!!”

It is clearly the best product because not only does it have the mini output, but it also does not require a power supply. I only wish I had discovered that a month prior. Geeky-Gadgets.com

I called Apple and they told me to get HOSA 3.5MM-TO-TOSLINK FIBER-OPTIC CABLE, 10 ft. TOSLINK to mini-Toslink ($13). Then I could use speakers. (It is on order. I hope to update this soon.)

So, for anyone who already has a regular VGA projector, all they need is the Kanex ATV Pro Adapter ($60 or less) the AppleTV box ($99), and an iPad ($499+/-) to be effective. For $658 per classroom (plus wireless access), there now is a smart-savings alternative to a Smart Board. If a classroom doesn’t already have a projector, add in about $400 for that for a total of $1100.

Connectivity

There are other things to consider with this or any other tablet setup. The wireless default user setting for the school usually is the same level of permissions as the student user. If these are to use YouTube, for instance, for student projects, there might be a setback. I envision someday this setup in our school auditorium. A presenter might wish to use his/her tablet or phone to present to an audience. If their device does not gain access to an unrestricted/unblocked wireless connectivity, then their presentations may be compromised. One consideration may be to look at how YouTube for schools works within the building.

Alternatives to AirPlay

Although I have not tried this, I believe you can achieve a similar experience using the DoceriRemote app for the iPad. It requires a Mac or PC already hooked up to a projector. While this seems like an inexpensive (free) method, my experience with AirPlay has been very efficient and easy to use and can be used with a classroom set of iPads. I suspect that a third party app and a computer client might slow down the interactiveness. As I stated in my previous post, I believe the more “real-world” you can get, the better. AirPlay works with the iPhone, a more common student-held device.  I’m not certain how the user community will adapt to these technologies in the future. My suspicion is that Apple and AirPlay will continue the momentum for user-friendliness.

There are a number of apps that go well with the projection setup.  Showme, Screenchomp, Replay Note, Timer + are a few.

The Experience        

In the end, using the Android with a 10-foot cord, or the iPad with AirPlay, you are going to enjoy the experience of having the content at your fingertips. Keynote or Google Apps and even Prezi are great presentation tools for this sort of thing. Actually, there are dozens of ideas I could share with you about presenting on a tablet. Perhaps I’ll save that for another post. For the moment, you will have a device that you can bring home with you to prepare and perfect. No longer will you need to configure and prepare for the Smart Board, if you already have one. In my case, I feel good about saving my school $8000 and a service contract that may extend over years. I am happy to know that my students who use the tablets to present or illustrate what they may know or need to know using technology that is well in their reach. Someday they may need to present in college or in their new job. From what I can tell, mobile phones and tablets will be the tool they will use in these future presentations.

Previous posts:

 The Leap of Faith – Android to iOS

 Smart Board with Smart Savings: iPads and Tablets in Education (Part 1) –  The rational behind avoiding Smart Boards as a teaching tool.

Next: (coming soon)

The Leap of Faith – Android to iOS; Early reflections of the iOS transition experience

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Smart Board with Smart Savings: iPads and Tablets in Education (Part 1)

This article is part of a series of articles I have written about my exploration of the tablet/iPad in education. Links to each of the articles will be posted here or elsewhere inside the blog. It combines a “Leap of Faith” series with reflections on dual-platform knowledge; it will encompass a grant initiative to study a Smart Board alternative, include applications of use for both the Android and iOS, and explore creative ways to use the tablets in schools, including but not limited to, app creation. The series will highlight the benefits and limitations of either platform, tips, tricks and workarounds or the technical compatibilities with everyday world uses. I intend to reflect on the social implications, as well. You will find the links to each article at the bottom of this one. Return here for updated link additions. The essential question is: How do we prepare our students for a mobile world and create an inexpensive projection for presentation of material to a broad audience?

Tablet Project Background

I entered the mobile market in the latter part of 2009 with my Droid phone, reluctant to enter the Apple market (as described in my February 2012 blog post TheLeapofFaithAndroidtoiOS. I enjoyed the slide-out keyboard and apps the Google world so nicely integrated into my Google-sphere. The idea of a tablet seemed far out of reach for the next few years that followed. The quest began in the spring and summer of 2011 when I noticed several schools beginning to adopt one-to-one iPad initiatives. As the integration specialist, I began to think that it was time to sort out how tablets might be beneficial to my program or any program. My classes, after all, have been designed to prepare students for technology uses in their high school career and beyond. Tablets were hitting the ed-tech world with a vengeance and I needed to get on board. The problem was, how?

I purchased a Motorola Xoom tablet in the spring of 2011 and explored applications for use in school. Creating apps for the Android with students was easy, thanks to Google’s App Inventor (now acquired by MIT). Having only one available for all of my classes, allowing students time to explore and create using the device seemed cumbersome. Moreover, the initial setup I had on the machine was personalized. App purchases and social network logins were all under my personal accounts. I needed to break away from that. Later in this study I will explain a method I feel best suits this kind of device.

Unfortunately, I may have decided on the platform that everyone else was ignoring. I had resisted Apple for so long. Yet iMacs and MacBooks soon began to enter my life. The ed-tech world seemed to be in love with their i-products, and by that trend so many studies were initiated. I began to feel like the educational community was missing the power of the Android world and weas being beckoned by the shiny glow of the Apple logo on their devices. I thought since the educational trends were headed in that direction I should research these trends for myself. Our school is interested in this trend and my role at our school obliges me to try. When Apple revealed its educational initiatives, textbooks, the iBooks Author tool, and iTunes U, perhaps this was about time to move in that direction.

MassCue Initiative Grant

Thankfully I found that a professional association I belonged to offered an initiative grant to educators seeking to enhance technology uses in their schools. Massachusetts Computer Using Educators Association (MassCue) provided me the edge I needed. Since I passed up opportunities to have a Smart Board in my room. I needed to seek a mobile solution. Something like how I did with a wireless mouse, keyboard and Smart Board tablet/slate in 2008. I was seeking not only a platform-diverse environment but a Smart Board alternative. At MassCue’s 2011 Conference presented by Burlington public schools, I discovered AirPlay.

Project Description

Title: Smart Board with Smart Savings

With this project students will use and create apps and use tablets to present content to their classmates. This grant will fuse with an Android tablet purchased by the school, and recent iMac donations from a local college to create a multiple platform experience for technology classes. Students will have the opportunity to review apps and create an app for Android, or iPad. The project will culminate with students presenting a slideshow using Keynote and Google Docs presentation tools.

The complete proposal can be found at Mass Cue Grant Proposal 2011.

Rationale

The rationale behind the grant was largely a feasibility study to be able to research a Smart Board solution using real world technology. The grant title, “The Tablet: Smart Board with Smart Savings”, grew out of my quest to find an inexpensive solution to the Smart Board giants. I’ve borrowed classrooms where I’ve used Smart Boards and over the years I’ve seen schools adopt Smart Boards with hopes that putting the technology at the front of the room, students would suddenly become technology literate. I found this to be flawed for a few reasons. First, it didn’t seem to make my teaching to be any more effective. For me, turning my back to students to write on the board felt very teacher-centered. Using the board for any other presentational mode made the Smart Board cost-ineffective. Standing 6’ 5”, the light caused me temporary blindness in the older arm-extended models; and more often than not, the projection needed to be recalibrated. Touching the screen didn’t reliably advance a slide, and the reaching four feet in both directions to click links seemed to be inefficient — more of a calisthenics exercise which put me physically in front of the information.

It’s how we read

Reading is an active process. Reading on the web/computers is a personalized experience. The reading we do online is rapid, there is an abundance of eye scanning and “click-decisions” that are naturally instant. We appear to do well with explanations and video tutorials more than teacher demonstrations. Sure occasional demonstrations are needed but children seem to get disconnected with the content when time extends, and if one student is using it, others are just watching and being distracted elsewhere. If there is a flaw in the program that is being used, a lot of time is wasted troubleshooting. When all is said and done, the student’s only technological gain is to now advance a slide in their PowerPoint by touching the screen. More progress has been made in education with the rise of blended learning and flipped classrooms than ever before. Student-centered learning activities continue to provide more engagement and increased motivation since its popularity decades ago. The teacher-at-the-front-of-the-room model is clearly phasing out.

Keeping it REAL

The hands-on world of technology has put mobile technology on the forefront of the mind’s of every individual. Students are facing a future where they will someday need to present to an audience using the most efficient use of technology possible. By the time 10 years passes, they will have forgotten what Smart Board app they have used; they will be far more comfortable using the iPad, iPod Touch or smart phone they may possess at home. More and more business proposals are being prepared on personal devices and brought on location and delivered without preparing Smart Board space. Much of content can now be prepared online for independent review. Often that independent review requires common interactive applications such as a PowerPoint viewer, PDF viewer, YouTube, etc.  A Smart Board software is proprietary to the handful of companies that make them and can only survive as well as their business model. The use of a Smart Board by a teacher or student does not strengthen 21st century skills.

Costs

Fifteen years ago I worked through a school building renovation. The process included a transformation from a two-computer building to a 300+ computer building, all networked with labs and classroom computers. The initial costs were absorbed by building funds and state-awarded capital grants. This conversion to a technologically prepared school was intense. No one really knew where it would go. A total cost-of-ownership had to be created (TCO) and quickly decisions needed to be made on how to maintain it. A full-time IT professional, integration specialist, and hours of professional development soon followed. Energy costs, replacement concerns, and software needs made budgets tighter than ever. Money was thrown at technology very quickly with hopes to improve learning and paint an image that we were, in fact, using the equipment the taxpayers supported.

Smart Boards were introduced and quickly gave the appearance that schools were technologically advanced. Open house presentations glimmered of shock and awe. Unfortunately I’ve seen many Smart Boards not being used effectively, even after extensive professional development has been implemented. These were often glorified PowerPoint clickers. Often the devices would go out of calibration or fail to function altogether.  Because of its proprietary nature, this expensive piece of hardware needs servicing by the installing agent. There are not common repair tasks which can be done in-house, thus creating a larger hole in the technology budget.

Direction

With technology advancement being lightning speed as it has been, it is no longer a question of improved learning but more of a race to provide access to tools. Schools have changed drastically. Knowledge comes from a vast web of resources and teachers now merely guide student learning. Some now play with information every day at home.  Focus now needs to be moving into a direction where we provide opportunities for students to use the tools they will need to know in the creative job market today. Without the support of the school system, and due to economic disadvantages, many students will not have acquired creative 21st century skills as some of their peers have. Schools, community media (television) centers and libraries are becoming more and more united as collaborative media centers providing direction for students’ acquisition of knowledge.

I grapple with specifications and connections using tablets as Smart Board alternatives in my next post. Look for that post and other upcoming future posts in this iPad/tablets in education series.

Previous: The Leap of FaithAndroid to iOS

Next: Smart Board with Smart Savings: iPads and Tablets in Education (Part 2) –  the ingredients, trials and tribulations. Find out how I ran into problems with my AirPlay connections so you don’t have to.

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Teaching Intro to Programming/Game Making

The U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration put out a document, STEM: good Jobs Now and for the Future. According to ESA, science, technology, engineering and mathematics workers drive our innovation, competitiveness, and new industries.  There is a projected rise in STEM jobs over the next 6 years, and these positions are desirable. However, our nation struggles to compete with others in the areas of science and technology.

In the primary and secondary schools, focus has primarily been having students learn how to use computers by adapting to the creativity of others in use of their software. We may be missing a point.  Silicon Valley and Hollywood create dreams that everyone else pays for. When you take a computer out of a box, you benefit from the fruits and labors of software engineers from far reaches of the earth.  The user is limited to the creator’s vision. Perhaps instead of preparing them for the future, we encourage them to create their own future.

Many countries have progressed economically due to advances in the area of computer technology. According to author Thomas Freedman (2005), the painstaking task of designing hardware and software has been outsourced for the most part.

 Scratch is a game or animation maker created at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology using a series of blocks to build programming language into interactive stories, animations, games, music and art. This tactile GUI allows students to drag and drop blocks of conditions onto sprites into correct order to produce an interactive product for others to enjoy. Students are driven to think critically and creatively considering user-end experience. Before the syntax of programming is learned, students are able to create, mix and remix programming structures through a trial-and-error experience. The program is ideal for children or early elementary school age and up to middle and high school aged children.

Alice is a similar idea to Scratch wich teaches students computer programming in a 3D environment. It makes it easy to create an animation for storytelling, playing interactive games or animating movies. Alice uses drag-and-drop tiles to create a program and immediately see how their animations run. The trial-and-error approach allows for manipulation of programming constructs and direct result viewing of results.

Google initially put out a similar program for creating apps on the Android platform. App Inventor initially hosted by Google in Beta, was adapted by MIT once Google announced it needed to end the program. The MIT Center for Mobile Learning took it a step further and provided a database of  lesson plans for teachers. The design is so closely related to MIT’s Scratch where blocks are used to assemble a programming sequence to create an individualized experience for its users.

The 2D platforms are closely related, the programs created by the students can be played on a computer using Scratch running JAVA, and App Inventor running an Android emulator. It is unclear if projects from Scratch can also be used on a mobile device. The stage in Scratch is square, not rectangular like mobile devices are.

Gamestar Mechanic and GameMaker 8 are games other communities designed to teach the principles of game design and systems thinking.  Here, elementary, middle, and high school students are motivated to create using game design tools. This game-like environment provides challenges to create, and  allows students to develop computer games without computer programming experience. Like Scratch and the others listed here, the drag-and-drop system allows students to intuitively create games by visually organizing icons on the screen.

A colleague of mine, Sterling Worrell, shared with me yet another platform for game programming/game creation. Construct 2 is a HTML5 Game maker. With Flash being a phased-out technology, and the rise of HTML5, this makes building games for multiple platforms much easier.

Over the summer I hope to put together a plan for teaching programming using some of these tools.  I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts on this later.

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Web 2.0 Communications

Online communications have come a long way. There are tools that have existed for a very short time while others are useful to education and proven to last. So many educators wonder if it is worth diving into another tool only to find out a better one has rounded the corner. Too many login locations may also make the experience overwhelming. I’d like to examine how we are progressing with teaching Web 2.0 communications skills in schools. Look at the question: are we teaching them necessary skills? If so, which tools should we focus on? I’ve narrowed the field down to an essential selection of Web 2.0 tools after exploring how savvy students may already be.

Today’s students appear savvy with online communication. Those who are using YouTube and Facebook are prepared to continue to utilize those skills in the job market along side the 800 million users that are using these tools today. I fear for the kids whose families may have sheltered them from these tools their whole lives bound by conspiracy theories and over sensitive safety concerns.

Educators often wonder about kids who are constantly texting. Texting is at their fingertips 24/7. We can fight it, but here is an example where we need to choose our battles. Sometimes it is easiest to send out a quick message rather than engage in the laborious phone call sequence, especially if you get the voicemail (which, I must say takes minutes because of the lengthy automated messages these days.)

I’m not really worried about kids being effective communicators. There are always better and better tools to accomplish the tasks that meet the needs of the mainstream. We tend to worry that kids might not be prepared for the digital workplace. This is because our perceptions are based on a foundation that involves a very different media. Their foundation is very much rooted in this read-write multimedia exposure. The quick read-write web is theirs.

Web 2.0 tools are abundant. Many have value, but I take a conservative stance with using many of them in the classroom.  Many tools that are up-and-coming in education involve proprietary logins and the user interfaces all so different. The social network spin-offs Edmodo or Ning, for example, try to simulate the social network experience. These are good for role playing but they are not ideal for their stand-alone purpose of social networking. Facebook is ideal for that. Often we look to these social-edu tools for an inexpensive learning management system (LMS) solution. Moodle has been around for a while. If that isn’t easy enough, Edu20.com has made a simple tool that, for now, is free. “ClipShare” is a server product our school currently uses for hosting and sharing of video. But YouTube is where they are at. Reaching the audience using our server solution has been a bit difficult. Why do we try so hard to make things difficult? We need focus on more realia in technology tools. Simplification is necessary in this arena.

Writing tools typically have been centered on Microsoft’s Word program. So often I have students struggle with flash drives, or trying to open a Mac version on a PC. Google Docs has proven a very reliable tool, not only to create, store and share, but a convertion tool for whenever a Word doc gives us trouble. E-book publication is a new but now popular arena for most. I’ve looked at Mixbook and other online tools. Seeing that these are often Flash based, these are something that is no longer useful in the iPad world. In addition, when a book is created using tools that the “real world” uses, the student has then gained a skill which applies to the real world. In the “real world” epub formatting tools such iBooks author are important focus for students.

I’m not fond of tools that try hard at making publication easy but the programming is too heavy. Glogster, for example, is a slow load and a very heavy online program. The proprietary nature is not of interest to me. Voicethread is neat but not mainstream enough. There are a number of good podcasting tools but the audience just isn’t there. iTunes has blown away the market and podcasting for blogs is easy. WordPress has plugins has been my best choice so far. Wallwisher is too splashed and presents itself as a challenge to students who have difficulty with focus. Wikis can be good, but similar can be accomplished in a Google site, which reinforces my argument for one login.

Using Min42.com I’ve mapped out a core set of Web 2.0 tools which support communication skills. It focuses on essential tools that are mainstream which mean if they are reinforced in school during content delivery, they will also gain the necessary skills for digital communication in the real world. The fewer “logins” students need to remember the better. Web 2.0 tools come and go. Many fade off after tons of excitement around them. Delicious, for example, took me so long enough to get my mind around and then Diigo took the lead in popularity.

Digital Games in the Classroom


Life is a game. 

I gamed when I was a kid. I enjoyed the Atari and Commodore 64 early on. I bowed out of the console-device games around the end of the Saga era playing an occasional PC game. I skipped out of the Xbox culture completely. Instead my challenges grew into exploring and learning productivity software applications instead. First I reached to do everything possible in the Microsoft Office suite; then I slowly migrated into the Adobe collection —  first with photo manipulation, then video editing (which is my newest and current passion). I was geeky toying with spreadsheets, and making websites with Publisher. I enjoyed creating paper worksheets and manipulatives for teaching Spanish classes. In every lesson, I challenged myself to create even greater products then the ones that were available to me in textbooks or workbooks. I never took the easy route. More and more I expanded into the web and mobile technology of today. It began to feel like life was a game. 

Family Together Again w/ Digital Games

It was 7:30am on a typical school day. Three students sprang into my room to greet me and play Minecraft on one of the school computers. I watched as they crafted cool objects and used deep cognitive strategies to build profound contraptions with combinations of wood, stone and ore. There was something peculiar about this:  for once I wasn’t looking over the shoulder of a teen who was shooting guns at monsters — well, with the exception of creepers. Once my 16-year-old nephew came to me raving about it, I knew I had to try. Why not? Gaming online with family? How cool is that? After building side by side with my niece and nephews, I knew there was something special about this program. Now my 8- and 10-year-old daughters are in, and there is all-out creativity and collaboration.

Inspired by Joel Levin, The Minecraft Teacher, I am thinking about expanding what I bring to education with creative augmented realities. I’ve tried Secondlife, but the graphics always lagged with even the fastest internet connection. Minecraft first turned me off because the graphics seemed block-like. But as I grew into the perspective of the game, the lack of graphical detail is purposeful. A group of teachers at MinecraftEdu have put together an educational version of the game which makes greater sense. Not only do the students have a chance to learn from the nature of the game, collaboration, physics, and problem solving, but the teacher can create challenges, download curriculum-related landscapes or places of historical significance and challenge the students to explore their learning in a 3-D world.

I stumbled on a survey of 500 teachers who use digital games in their classrooms at Joanganzcooney.org. Seventy percent of teachers agree that using digital games increases motivation and engagement with content and/or curriculum. Joel Levin There is also evidence of sustained focus and collaboration. Teaching with games in the classroom is a natural way to teach. Riding on the challenges I experienced with digital games, this should be more of a focus in schools.

 How, then, do we transfer games to real life? (which I think happened naturally for me.) I look at games as a waste of time now in my adult life. I’d rather be exploring Adobe products or finding ways to creatively tell stories with nifty multimedia techniques through the power of video. Perhaps making games, students will be creating their own realities to share with others.  This may be where they share feeling through creative expressions — through creating digital games. Today’s gamers will be tomorrow’s game creators. What do we wish for tomorrow? Perhaps guiding them in schools is necessary for a brighter digital gaming future.

Another noteworthy read: Nomadic Education

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Teaching Information Literacy: A Reflection

In 2008, upon taking a new position at a new school, I began my new teaching experience having to teach a course given to me with the title “Information Literacy”, or “Info Lit” for short. As an 11-year teacher of Spanish integrating technology and obtaining a certification in instructional technology, I felt prepared for a lot of things, but this seemed a lot like library science.

Even though I had plenty of technical training, this course was a challenge because it presented a look at the Web 2.0 world in a congnitive approach. This concept has been written in the state and national standards as being skills learned by integrating into core classes and day-to-day activities. At first, teaching this in isolation seemed out of place. As I progressed, I learned that this, indeed, became a necessary course of study, and therefore I rose to the challenge.

Research led me to designing a professionally rewarding course which included a blend of Web 2.0 tool teaching and best practice information seeking. The course empowers students with presentation strategies by using a variety of low-cost, user-friendly tools.  The course didn’t come with a curriculum or textbook. I needed to develop on the fly. Talking about information literacy with high school students is like talking about family values. Sometimes kids feel uneasy when there is an awkward family meeting about ab0ut sibling rivalry and puberty. It appears to go over much more smoothly by mixing a little guidance and trial and error.

I needed to teach technology skills. Knowing the importance of computer skills in a changing environment, I saw the even greater need to teach critical thinking skills while using technology. It had to include a focus of how students would discover, assimilate and refine information now and in the future. What civic expectations did they need to know? How were they going to share their knowledge?

I began at the core concept where I felt would make the most sense for the students. What information flow has been most familiar to them?  That would be with traditional print and video like with magazines and TV.  Teaching kids about information literacy had to start with media literacy. Using photos and videos from places like Adbusters and communicating in places like the NING social network, students quickly engaged in an online experience using Web 2.0 tools to read, analyze, synthesize then apply what they have learned in an online forum. A cocktail of tools were then used to illustrate an understanding of the concepts. Toondoo.com, Xtranormal.com, Animoto, to name a few. In addition, the popular photo editing tool GIMP was used. Understanding the working of photo editing helped kids understand images in media through analysis of advertisements, how they influence, persuade or educate.  Students created their own parody advertisements as a way to lighten the mood. Open source software provides easy-to-reach tools to maximize accessibility. To me, information literacy meant having the wits to do with what you have and make the most of it.

As my PLNs grew and I paid closer attention to what core educators wanted. I knew it wasn’t about online tools as much as it was about a skill-set of understanding how to manage information in the digital age. By exposing them to creative options while guiding them through the tangled web, a harmonious behavior is acquired and hopefully carried over into their core classes.

I included a video created by students in my Information Literacy class in 2010 which somewhat summarizes the makeup of their experience.

 

Four years later, I’m pursuing an online teaching certification.  In a Virtual Highschool Professional development class titled Best Practices – Web 2.0

Collaborative Online Instruction (April 2012). Steve Isaacs of William Annin Middle School in New Jersey, encouraged me to visualize Information Literacy using

a cool collaborative online tool: Mind42.com. The following link is to my mind map: Information Literacy Mind Map42

I’ve explored Bubl.us before, but I did enjoy the ease of use with this tool. It was nice to actually try and visualize what my head has been tossing around so much. Often I’ve been feeling scattered in teaching the course. Further readings provided leads to this man, Jason Ohler. His vision nicely illustrates Bloom’s Cognitive Taxonomy as it applies to information literacy in the digital age.

  Bloom’s taxonomy was developed during a time when the expectation for students were to be handed in and graded. Beyond the teacher grading the works may have been making the corrections and handing it back in. Thus the highest rung in the Bloom ladder was evaluation. In the digital age, when publication tools are abundant, and the new ISTE standards promote innovation and creativity. The result is that the ability to create becomes an important high-end cognitive function.

He states literacy is  consuming and producing the media forms of the day, whatever they may be and that new media goes from powerful to empowering when we can write it, as well as read it. (http://www.jasonohler.com/storytelling/beyondwords.cfm#partI)

This, along with a number of articles in my online certification route, confim the necessity for kids to learn information literacy skills. The important discovery for me is that tools come and go, obtaining a deep understanding of how to adapt in the information age is critical for today’s youth. What started out an ominous perspective of having to teach the course has turned into an exciting experience. It is not my favorite course to teach.

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The Leap of Faith – Android to iOS

I’ve always been a Windows fan. I built my own Workhorse computer with Windows 7 and have had no problems. I edit HD video for my personal enjoyment and tons of SD video for my community television job. I’ve been holding out on the Apple products because of the high pricing, and the obvious popularity contest associated with it. Slowly, my second job in community television has gone to a completely Mac system — not solely out of choice, but because of the donations given to us by a local college.

Who knew that Adobe Premiere, my video editor of choice, did not require as much rendering as did the Final Cut versions I remember on the G4 Macs of yesterday. Using Mac Minis and a slightly older MacBook Pro, I’m not completely sold on Macs yet. Some iMacs made their way into my classroom, too, this past month. Hmm…we’ll see. More on that later

Android and iOS.

I have an outdated Droid 1. While it was a powerhouse in its day, I have nothing but lag problems with it now. Of course any NEW device will trump an old one. The device is running apps designed for dual- and quad-core systems now. So I’m looking to upgrade that soon. Will I choose the Nexus Razor Max, Droid 4 or the iPhone 5?  More on THAT later…

I picked up a Motorola Xoom tablet for my classroom in the fall. I like the tablet experience somewhat, but learning it has been somewhat of a chore. Sure, it’s nice to read some news, watch a few videos and read my Facebook, but I couldn’t run Words With Friends — a real drag. Our school LMS doesn’t fit the screen very well. VHS — an online LMS I use for my professional development — has been difficult, too. It does much of what I want with student research and writing in GoogleDocs. Pairing it with my video projector was a bit difficult. I was able to convert the HDMI video to DVI using a few adapters.  It stripped the audio because the HDMI is an audio line as well, and a DVI connector does not support audio. Hmm. So I thought maybe the device would still play audio. No it does not. Immediately I knew a projector with HDMI inputs is what I needed.

I enjoyed Google’s short run at the developer program, App Inventor. Those simple building blocks made creating apps child’s play. The good news is that they turned it over to real educators at MIT. They know how to teach kids how to make applications with their Scratch program. App Inventor should mesh well with their Scratch program nicely. I can’t wait till the re-release of the App Inventor this spring.

I’ve also been doing more and more research on the options of cheaper and smaller units with 7-inch screens. There is something about 10 inches that is too much for a portable device that is not a laptop. The bottom line: what is practical, affordable and can adapt to the situations you are in?

A vision for fair review

I knew my narrow focus of Android would soon have to be challenged by my own curiosity. I always believed that truth comes from knowing very well what is not true. So I knew that I needed to explore the iOS as well. While the developer program is costly, I do believe I need to get over it. With help from a grant I won through the Massachusetts Computer Using Educators group, or MASSCUE, I’ve been able to get an iPad, an Apple TV, and the developer package. I want to do an in-depth comparison of both platforms from the standpoint of an educator and developer.

Very nicely, the iPad will stream all of its content to the Apple TV and allow the teacher or student to walk around the room. This is a cost savings for schools that have not yet filled all of their classrooms with Smart Boards. Not only would this serve as a Smart Board alternative for one user, but many students would be able to tap the AirPlay button, and demonstrate what is on their screens at any time. Whereas Smart Boards are not real-world tools (students are getting a proprietary simulation that they may never see in real world) the iPad, combined with Apple TV, is a cost-effective, SMART approach to education.

I intend on updating this blog more as this exploration unfolds. My research is to be shared. My experiences with the iPad and Android in education can help schools make choices that are going to provide not only cost savings, but a choice that has few restrictions with platform loyalty.


 
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