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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Google Hangouts App: The Death of SMS?

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I’m so excited about the functionality of the new Google Hangouts app. Using a smart phone, PC, iPad, or other tablet, dual platform and video calls work over Verizon 4G LTE, and up to 10 people can videoconference at one time. Finally an opportunity to cut the lines of the overpriced text-messaging service forever. Everyone must embrace this breakthrough so it will be certain death to SMS forever!

I can be at my computer and message my family directly to their phones or iPads. This is revolutionary, in my humble opinion. So where’s the buzz? I wonder when the phone carriers are going to notice a hit on the SMS. I only wish I held onto my unlimited data plan a while back.

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Facebook Home? Hey, we need to talk.

 This morning I woke to a facebook sponsored post for Facebook Home.

 

It is a video announcement for their new launch today. The video was very interesting. Mark Zuckerberg announces to his staff about the launch of the amazing new look for the mobile device (Android only).

What stuck me by the advertisement was that while Zuck was talking to his staff, one of his employees was surfing is Facebook posts on his phone. The employee was ignoring Zuck or partially listening. It is unclear.

UPDATE: On April 14th this was released


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=voWvqBsyYbE&feature=youtube_gdata_player 

This closely resembles how I feel society has changed in recent times. Moreover, in the debate about allowing mobile technologies in schools, It raises concerns for educators. For families, it raises concerns for relationships. We think texting and driving is bad. Are we out of touch?

 

This picture circled the internet this week

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Facebooks new announcement commercial highlights what seems to me like a sickness in our society. Here is another look at social media in our lives. This is their “positive” advertisemt. Our mobile devices “put us in touch with the perople we care about. “

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lep_DSmSRwE

 So the next time someone is ignoring you and sliding their finger across the screen, know they are in touch with the people they care about.

Gone are the days where we interact face to face. Gone are the days when we connect as humans. I am by far a negative nelly when it comes to technology if you know me. But this is not a question of what cool gadgets are and are not. Its about people. Facebook is not Home. The next time you are standing in line at the donut shop see how may people are looking down. Then share this blog reflection with someone. Perhaps we can talk.

The Blended Digital Project-Based Learning Model: Playing the Game

20060623-3_p062306pm-0169-515hIn an  keynote speech at TIE 2013, Sylvia Martinez illustrated project-based learning by comparing how sports are learned. From early days of t-ball and little league, the game is still played with the same root structure as the grown-up game of baseball. Parents have come together to develop an experience that is similar in structure as the major league game is played today. This modified experience is indeed a project-based example of how we could structure our lessons. Students need to feel the big picture in order to deepen their understanding of concepts we teach them and help them to understand. Through project-based learning, students learn from investigative experiences in the class or lesson and apply them to the world outside of their classroom. Many creative thinking skills are used by allowing students to find ways to solve a problem

Traditionally math, science, english and social studies are taught in isolation. With project-based learning, the hope is to engage students with real life scenarios where all subjects are taught in a seamless concert of diverse learning. Combining these skills while maintaining a vision, goal, product will enhance and deepen understanding.

Now blend it up in a digital world and what do you have? The blended model allows students to tinker with concepts online through creative tools. They develop a larger picture and find purpose in their learning. They can make mistakes and “undo” them. It is an intuitive approach that enables learning to be fluid in a larger class size.

While teaching the project-based model with the blended model, applications and web tools, personal learning and content creation all need to flow together.  I’m looking for that perfect blended model which will help my students explore at their various levels of learning. For years I have looked to aggregate content for my students in my computer lab. My content involves teaching of computer applications and online applications. I’ve been using this blended learning approach for many years. I’ve found that my curation of content has become dated. For example, as MS Office changed versions, my video tutorials began to show their ages. I found myself trying to recreate videos every year. I need a platform which contains video tutorials which modify with the changing technology. I look to universities, Youtube and more, but rarely anything that is uniformly presented.

I’ve sampled many pay-wall online sites including AtomicLearning and Lynda.com.  I may consider these, however they are costly and I would like to find low cost/free alternatives. Today I visited two more vendors which are blended learning content providers. They are all offering curriculum and content for online/blended learning. A lot of product design has gone into these. Fresh content is updated each year. It is a text book in a digital from. I’m interested in a platform that comes with curriculum. It has to guide the learning in how to do various steps in an application but be project-based as well. Currently I built my units around a business simulation. While the project is engaging and promotes problem solving, the tutorials continuously need updating and replacement in my digital online learning management system (LMS). I’d like to find something that includes project-based instruction.

It will be interesting to see how these content companies compare as I research them further. I’m looking for ideas and suggestions from other educators who teach applications. Please comment with ideas.

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What, No Google Maps?: A “My Tracks” Android Review

In the news iOS is getting a bad rap for its drop of Google maps. They have their reasons for it I’m sure. I’m still enjoying my accurate turn-by-turn navigation with my Android device. It never ceases to amaze me the progress of Google maps with its integration into Google earth. My favorite and most useful app today, My Tracks, has been a companion of mine for years and has recently had an upgrade which merges its content onto Google earth. Just the other day I was tracking one of my mountain bike rides, and at the end I saw there was a play button. It switched to the Google Earth app and played the track I just did. That was a very exciting discovery.

I enjoy mapping trails that I ride to help me find the best loops. More often than not, I struggle to find maps online that include the carefully crafted biking trails of the local biking groups and bike shops. If I do find them, they do not include information about which loops are ideal and in which direction. So personalizing my maps as I discover them is most adventurous.  I still benefit from exploring new trails and marking up my own set of maps at the same time.

My Tracks can be shared in an instant on Google Maps right after hammering through the trails. Waypoints can be added with ease and the data, which includes speed, distance, max speed, time, average speed  (overall and moving), elevation and grade, are all easily exported to Google Docs and Google Fusion Tables, too. Those maps are then shared with a simple link that any platform can handle. Well, almost any.

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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Summer Reading: eBooks, Audio Books, etc…

Aah, summertime! Looking for some digital information to consume this summer while on vacation. I have used podcasts and audio books previous summers on my Droid 1. This  is the first summer with an iPad and a Motorola Xoom tablet and I am looking to maybe transition into the iTunes world, perhaps a real “iPod” some day, as well.  Digital reading in the sun may be hard. So this year it might have to be a nice blend of paper, digital books, and audio books. But really I’d like to find out where I can get all of my content in one organized manner including the audio content.

I’m not going to review the different eBook reader devices. There are plenty of review sites for that.  And it all comes down to the almighty dollar.  I’m simply going to reflect on what choices I have at present and where I might get my content.  I have an iPad2 and the Motorola Xoom (Android). I’m largely invested in Google right now. I love the Google apps environment, email, calendar and now app store world that just seem to jive nicely. The high school that I teach at is going to roll out Google Apps for Education accounts for everyone next fall.

What to consider 

I’m going to research over the next few weeks to determine what is right for me. Sure I could go out and buy ONE device that someone will tell me is the best for digital reading. I’m not in the position to do that. I know the iPad, for example, receives bad reviews for visibility while in the sun. This might be a deal-breaker for me. Again I need to find out where to invest my purchasing from content sources so that they might be transferred to other devices in the future.

I’m looking into simplification of my general media management and consumption. With countless apps, Google products, and content stores online, I would like to close out some accounts, delete some apps, and focus on a key set of tools and/or places to get my content. This post is written in hopes to gather responses filled with good suggestions for the best way I can read my stuff.

What I’m comfortable with

C/W Marshttp://www.cwmars.org/ Our Western Massachusetts Library system. They have made it easy to get a paper version of any book, CD, or DVD and have it delivered to our local library. They have a digital library, sometimes limited, in which you can download a client on your computer or an app for your device for reading or to listen to audio books. I have not yet tried to read a book using this method. Until now, I’ve waited the few days for delivery of the paper version.

Boston Public Libraryhttp://www.bpl.org/ Our state capital has given us all access to the Boston Public Library’s digital content. I have used this source a few times when I couldn’t find something in C/W Mars. At one point I ran into trouble with the accounts within my Android app.

Audible.com (Amazon) http://www.audible.com/. Great stuff. They have some  of the best readers in the industry. I have used the free download copy but have yet to purchase from there.

Web content – Twitter, blogs, social networks and news. I have a few aggregators such as Google reader. But I really need to do some summer cleaning and clear out some unwanted blogs, and narrow down my scope. I’m trying some apps, Pulse and Flipboard. These have been good to me.

What I hope to explore

Barnes and Noblehttp://www.barnesandnoble.com/ Does the Nook content work on Android or iOS? Is there an app for that? Yes there is. But is the format universal enough that if Barnes & Noble goes broke, will my book be available for future consumption? Is there a resale market? Like with a paper book, can I resell it when I’m done?

Amazon (Kindle app)http://www.amazon.com/ Perhaps the most attractive option for me. I read that the app looks pretty good on the iPad, I can choose between any of my devices and I’m not locked into Apple with my new library. Further it is the same login for Audible and almost every other purchase I’ve made. I’ve been using their cloud drive music and like it very much. They’ve got Android apps, movie purchases and movie rentals, too. Looks like with this choice, I can choose the platform I want to use for reading. If maybe my iPad is being used by another family member, I could get on the Xoom and pick up where I left off.

KISS – (Keep It Simple Silly)

I’m tired of having so many accounts in so many places; I have too many irons in the fire with accounts all over the place. I’m having trouble keeping up with my credit card info, shipping addresses, passwords, and login names that I just want to wake up, turn on and read. I really want to know how to best choose the content that can be ported from platform to platform. In 5 years, I hope to be able to store my books on a new device with ease.

The decision to write this article and make my process public was inspired by an article I read on elearn mag.

http://elearnmag.acm.org/featured.cfm?aid=2159560

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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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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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