Category Archives: Educational Technology Tools

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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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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Authentic Digital Assessments: Web2.0 Tools to Prepare Students for the Real World

As a technology teacher, I often focus on tool instruction. As an integration specialist there is less emphasis on tool instruction but more emphasis on choosing tools to accomplish a task. As an adult looking at the whole picture, my primary goal is to prepare students for life during and after high school. More and more I feel like a life skills teacher or a home economics teacher. Like learning to be healthy through PE, boil pasta, or learn to balance their checkbooks, it is imperative that I prepare them for what is beyond the walls of K-12 education.

prismChanging technologies are exciting for everyone. So many of us latch onto new technologies in our free time. Today’s kids are no strangers to the latest technologies, limited only by their allowance. From Facebook to iTunes, GarageBand to YouTube. Oh yes, iMovie is fun. These technologies will be there and grow with them for years to come. Knowing something about them is useful. As citizens of this digital age, it is vital to know effective uses of advanced techniques in order to be efficient content creators and digital-literate consumers of information.

The right tool for the job

What tools should we be using in education? Let’s consider a broad brush and look at the big picture. What is the value of some of the Web2.0 tools or tablet apps that are emphasized now in education? Sure bells and whistles are attractive and motivating, the glow of a new app on an iPad is very exciting.

I explore tools in my technology classroom and have tried some of the latest-crazed tools such as NING, Edmodo, Wallwisher, SlideShare, Animoto, PBwiki,  Prezi, WizIQ,, Quia and VoiceThread. Remember those?  And OMG, there are so many more. I have distributed many logins to my students  and had my own content die a slow death in many online environments. At one point I had so many pots in the fire that I found myself confused, and my students, too, were increasingly annoyed.

Simulated tools that mimic “real” ones  

108db_ning_logoVideo/slide tools like Animoto or SlideShare create an easy cookie cutter approach to video- or photo-sharing creations.  Sites like NING and Edmodo provide a simulation of a social network that have been used in an educational setting. Personally I latched on to NING as a teaching tool and my PLN. I’ve enjoyed manipulating the tool to do many things for my classes, but with many tools I’ve always found limitations. Nonetheless, NING was once free and help promise for educational use that I revered as the tool that was going to float to the top, become mainstream, and I wasn’t going to have to learn another tool ever again. It was viewed as a “safe” protected environment. For me, course management with NING became too cumbersome and soon lost its appeal. It wasn’t designed for what I needed, and students had to log in to yet another “thing” and NING as a platform never took off with the general public and my PLN anyway.

edmodoEdmodo is another social network, which includes grading, group creation and has some appeal. Students can post content and carry out discussions. It is a decent PLN too. As educators we gleam when we can share our month-long student projects which demonstrate six minutes of understanding. Kids think it’s fun the first few weeks. It looks like Facebook.

Online apps and iPad apps are the hottest things to talk about in education. Emphasis on technology tools show up more in educational literature and make for filled conference rooms and large-budget purchases — higher than assessment and pedagogy. Tom Daccord of EdTechTeacher said in a speech, “Future Learning Spaces”, we have adapted iPad app and iPad devices on an unprecedented scale. There is an overemphasis on content apps.

While the popularity of these tools have been gaining in education, it begins to become apparent to me that using social networks like Edmodo in schools provides a false sense of the real world. Continuity between what tools are mastered in school and what tools are needed in the real world is overlooked. Far too much focus and attention is placed on asking educators to use these tools in their classes as a way to improve their technology use in education. Especially when common, free everyday tools are available and present already.

Let’s be real.

Efficiency is important in time on learning.  Teaching with multiple tools at once can be time consuming. From creating and managing accounts to students having to use trial-and-error techniques to learn a tool, the heart of the lesson can be compromised.

As a tool teacher, it is important that I provide students with experiences that will have lasting effects. Time dedicated to tools like Edmodo for me might be wasted time. Will kids leave it behind as they go on to college? What tools will they be using after high school?  How many tools come and go, close up shop and disappear?

Clearly we should look at learning management tools that are used in colleges. Tools such as Blackboard, Moodle and Desire2Learn are ones that come to mind. Maybe that is not a financial option or maybe a bit too “serious” for a middle school student. Regardless, if sharing content is my goal, there are more mainstream tools I’d prefer to use.

Facebook may be a stretch. It provides too many opportunities to cross over into personal life with professional/educational life.  Not a good place for file delivery. It has potential, but I’m not ready to use it as a “learning tool”.

How about Google?

Google-Apps-for-EducationA group on Google+, “Using Google as a Free LMS” explores the idea K-12 and higher education using Google as a free learning management tool. The concept of using a tool that may be already in the hands of students and sure likely to be around in 10 to 20 years makes sense for exploring this concept.

What do we know so far? We know that Google is a long-standing company. We know that their tools in the simplest form can be used in education. The tools are great for collaboration and sharing. Digital portfolios can be created with sites and blogs. Conversation can happen in discussion groups, Google+ circles, and comments on documents, presentations, and drawings. It is no secret that Google is a leader in providing learning tools for students. These tools can be carried with them into the real world as well as the products they have created. A digital portfolio that can be recycled into adult use.

How does it fare with time efficiency? Google has presented itself as the easiest most diverse online environment to date.  All you need is a free Gmail account. The library of tools Google provides integrates nicely with each other. File management and online sharing are a cinch. Google apps for education/business allow for administrative control. It can be deployed throughout the entire school community with little professional development. Moreover it is cross-platform.. And it syncs with a phone or tablet.

Daccord, Tom. Future Learning Spaces, edtechteacher/MassCUE Leading Learning the Future 2013, Worcester MA. https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=v60B0v48O0o

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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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OMG — it’s like Instagram!

The rage these days are photo apps for mobile devices. The socialmatic phenomenon has overcome Facebook. Everyone these days seems to be posting photos like the ones that are still in my attic of when I was 5. For some, it is a tool they only know how to press buttons. For others it is an artistic expression. Photography has changed so much for so many. Communication using this medium is booming with the ease of a mobile device that sits in your pocket.

These apps are becoming verbs in my household. I could produce a good size list of worthy apps but the go-to ones are the ones worth posting. Those are Color Splash and Camera Plus.

OMG Color Splash!!

Mobile Tech Dictionary: colorsplash v. applying an effect to a photograph which removes all color except for the selected subject. ex..”colorsplashing it”

Color Splash, available on iTunes, lets you quickly and easily give photos a dramatic look by converting them to black and white, while keeping your chosen details in color. This effect draws the viewers’ attention to the colored areas, creating striking images. You can zoom in very deeply into the photo for detail and my favorite is that it has an undo button.

I’ve spent hours using Photoshop and GIMP trying to do this trick. Perhaps there is an easier way in those tools (anyone?) This app is a great cheat. What’s more, with the photo quality of the iPhone, photos are DSLR awesome!

Here are some examples my friend Jenny and I took and “colorsplashed” recently. Mine were taken with the original Droid. Not too shabby.

Some other examples online http://photobucket.com/images/color%20splash/ .

OMG Camera Plus

Mobile Tech Dictionary: Camera Plus: v. The act of applying a digital filter after effect. ex.. “did you camera plus it?”

Camera Plus is a great tool for providing not only the “Instagram” basics but it offers a heck of a lot more. Taking a photo includes focus and lighting with a gentle slide of the finger. Point the two targets at the place you wish to focus and the place you wish to anchor the light settings. Once you take the shot you bring into its powerful arsenal of digital filters for an experience better than “Instagraming”, if I may.

Check out this really cool iPhonography blog by a very close friend of mine. Jenny’s iPhoneography Jenny’s blog features photos using the Camera Plus app on the iPhone 4s. I suggest you subscribe to it using the email subscription option on the right. It is a brand new blog that is about to take off.

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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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