Tag Archives: apps

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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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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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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