Using Book Creator To Create Augmented Textbooks

Since starting my new role as Director of IT Systems and Computer Science in August I’ve been planning how to enhance the resources students have access to in the classroom. I use a blended learning model which mixes “traditional” lessons with pre-reading/watching/listening tasks for homework followed by practical application of the concepts covered when the students return to class.

 

Why the textbook was required

Put simply, there were no suitable resources for teaching the AS students the basics of computer programming. It is important that students make the link between pseudocode (not exactly program code, but close enough to see the logic of a solution) and the Python 3.x language the students use in class. So I decided to have screenshots of the Python code (I use Pythonista 3, which is still the best programming app out there for iPad) on each page next to a video where I write out the related pseudocode. The students responding positively to this method so I kept the style and layout of each page consistent.

Why I decided to use Book Creator

I decided to use Book Creator as a means of creating my AS Computer Science programming textbook because

  1. I was lucky enough to have access to an iPad (although there is a web version available)
  2. I wanted to embed videos but didn’t want to explore the myriad possibilities of iBooks Author
  3. I wanted to output an ePub version as well as a PDF for students.

Issues encountered

As my classroom is essentially BYOD I published the first few version of the book to our shared Google Drive as ePub and PDF versions. This was when a student kindly pointed out the videos didn’t work in PDF, so I added a link to a YouTube playlist of videos to each page.

The ePub was also difficult for students to access unless they had an iPad or device with a good ePub reader installed. I then remembered about Book Creator’s Teacher account which allows you to publish up to 10 books on their site. This allowed me to share a link to the online book and ensure that the students get the intended experience.

What next?

The students are moving onto more complex programming concepts this term so I’ve already begun creating a second textbook. I would also like to inspire my students to create their own Book Creator programming portfolios which contain images, text, audio and video to help them revise for the AS and A2 exams in the future. I was really impressed with the ease of use of Book Creator and once I had come up with a simple consistent layout and worked out what was possible with the app it was very straightforward to create the book over a number of weeks. I think I prefer the iPad app to the website at the moment because I got more done on trains and planes (without access to WiFi) than when I was in the classroom.

 

The textbook is embedded below. Any comments on any aspect of the book would be gratefully appreciated.

You can also find out more about Book Creator’s resources for teachers here.

Diagnostic Questions for Computer Science #DQ #CompSci

With my classes on exam leave or preparing for their end of year assessments I have been teaching a variety of revision sessions and lessons recently. While I feel it is valuable to prepare students with exam style or past paper questions, time management strategies, peer review of answers I realised we hadn’t reexamined student thought processes with particular focus on programming and problem solving questions.

The weekly #CASchat on Twitter reminded me of www.diagnosticquestions.com. I had investigated it before prior to mock exams  in January but hadn’t used it with my classes. The reminder was perfectly timed as I had just interviewed students about the areas of the course covered so far that they felt less confident about. I had my focus areas and a purpose for use of diagnostic questioning.


I curated a mixture of pre-created questions from the Computing topic into quizzes and allocated them to classes. It was very easy to build the quizzes and set up the classes. Students joined the class using a code which I shared via email.

DQ shows the selected questions and accepts a single multiple choice answer from each student, however it then asks the students to explain the reasoning behind their chosen answer. This can allow the teacher to uncover and address misconceptions or gaps in learning. I wasn’t sure what the students would make of this but, after a few sample questions to get used to the system and my expectations they, in the main, worked their socks off to explain to me why they chose one answer over another. The results sorted the questions into order of most commonly answered incorrectly so I could highlight the correct answer with a small group or as a whole class discussion.


At the end of each class today I asked the students how the site compared to for example Kahoot!, and I fully expected to be told that the other multiple choice revision tools were more exciting or interesting. However almost every student loved DQ and requested more sets of questions do they could continue to review and improve their own learning! The fact that you could see peer explanations (even from other students around the world) gave my classes another viewpoint with which to deepen their understanding of a topic.


The site has its glitches of course: the convoluted way to de-select quiz questions is a particular highlight. As is the lack of ability to create your own scheme of work for your subject area.


However it is so easy for teachers to create their own content (I made two PowerPoint templates for my IGCSE and IB question sets in around 10 mins and import the individual slides as images into DQ) I now fully intend to use it regularly throughout the year and track student understanding not only across topics but also across year groups and courses. It has definitely become another useful tool in my Flipped Classroom box.

Flipped / Blended Classroom with NEO LMS

NEOLMS

As the new school year started last week I wanted to push further with my Flipped Classroom approach. My hacked-together system of EdPuzzle videos, Google Form WSQs and Google Classroom feedback to the students worked but was very time-consuming for the teacher. There was also a drawback to the students as it was difficult for them to quickly return to a topic at a later date for review.

I am currently half-way through completion of a University of Georgia Coursera entitled “K12 Blended and Online Learning”. I wanted to complete this to further my own knowledge and experience in this field and hoped that it would open my eyes to some pedagogical or behavioural methods for use in this type of learning environment.

I am enjoying using the Coursera system but it doesn’t let individual teachers create their own courses. When I worked at Robert Gordon’s College I successfully developed a number of iTunesU courses for iPad but unfortunately couldn’t leverage the same system for Macbook. I did a little research and found NEO LMS. It’s early days but I wanted to give my initial impressions of the service.

Courses were easy to create and customise and students register for these with an access code. When I introduced it in class last week there were NO issues with sign up – that rarely happens with new services. Students were impressed by the interface and found it easy to navigate.

I spent some more time exploring the multitude of options this afternoon while setting up two new courses. NEO LMS has made it so easy that I’m going to attempt to Flip my entire curriculum, not just a course or two throughout the year. I’ve already worked out how to get my students into separate Groups which then makes it easy to register them for future courses without the need for an access code. In fact, if you have the Enterprise edition, you can leverage the Rules engine to automatically enroll students in the next course when they finish the current one!

If you are looking into building your own Flipped / Blended courses then I highly recommend you check out NEO LMS. The individual teacher account is free and supports up to 200 students. You also get a 14-day trial of the Enterprise edition when you sign up.

This was originally posted on LinkedIn, 11th September 2016

Evaluating Coursera for Blended and Online Learning (Part 1)

Evaluating Coursera for Blended and Online Learning (Part 1)

Adjusting back to the heat of Milan in August is taking a little time for the family and this means broken sleep all round. Add a fantastic thundstorm right overhead at 3am and you have the perfect recipe for an early start to your day!

Inspired by some of my notes from reading Jay Ashcroft’s The Tablet Revolution (see review) I decided to investigate alternative MOOC platforms to iTunesU. I love iTunesU but the iOS app is a far superior experience than a student gets using iTunes on a MacBook. I flitted between Coursera and Udemy for a while not really finding a suitable course for comparison before stumbling upon an old article related to e-Learning: Most Popular Online Courses for eLearning Professionals. It seemed familiar and my Evernote concurred that I’d been here before.

While many of the courses listed are now long gone I found that Georgia Tech had just begun running a course titled K12 Blended and Online Learning. I decided enrolling would be useful on two fronts:

  1. Allow me to evaluate the Coursera platform
  2. Further my own professional development in the area of blended learning

Week one concentrates on the standards and documents from iNACOL. For anyone interested in deepening their understanding  of blended learning I highly recommend visiting their site. Of course Georgia Tech have linked all the required reading into their MOOC for you.


The instructional videos were clear, less than 8mins each in length and punctuated with short multiple choice quizzes. I do however wonder if Coursera allows different types of questioning similar to EdPuzzle (which I love). The iOS app reminded me of iTunesU a little, especially the ability to download videos for offline viewing.


I do wonder what the extra space is for in the video player… Might have been nice to have a transcript here.


I realise that students might be accessing Coursera on their MacBook so their experience will probably be different.

I completed the pre-assessment you can see linked in the screenshot earlier and found it very useful in helping to focus my targets. I’m comfortable with policy, online tools and classroom teaching, but want to delve deeper into intervention strategies that will enhance the learning of my online students. As the pre-assessment was a spreadsheet (also a PDF option) I would have liked the ability to upload an image or type some notes to myself and link it to my current stage in the course. I couldn’t find a way of doing this outside of the discussion forums so will have to rely on Evernote instead. On reflection it is probably good to have my notes outside of my MOOC, just in case.

Supplemental information appears to be text-only with hyperlinks and this is fine. One of the pages had embedded PDF and XLSX files that opened in Coursera’s own browser. Clicking on a world icon then opened it in Safari so documents could then be opened in other applications or saved. It would have been nice to select between Safari and Chrome as the default.

The discussion forums were basic but easy to navigate. Nothing I’d want to add there, there’s a reply and an upvote button for each post. Not sure how you are notified of new posts but will find out soon I hope!

In summary this is a good start. I’ve not tried creating a unit in Coursera yet but as a user I’m finding it easy to learn and navigate. I’m also enjoying the course and picking up new tips along the way which I intend to share with you, dear reader, in another instalment.

Adding some WSQ to my #flipclass

I’m nearly a month into my flipped classroom approach and I’m already seeing the benefits (some of which I’m sharing as part of a whole-school INSET on Wednesday):

  1. Students are – in the main – responding well to the video introductions or lessons
  2. My tasks are becoming more diverse to cater for students who need additional challenges in the extended time we have in class
  3. My department website is the central focus of most of my lessons, where students can find or create sections on concepts
  4. EdPuzzle has been great at tracking video views and the embedded questions have helped me group students together where possible for remediation or further challenges
  5. Students are learning to make best use of the time in my class to move forward at a pace that suits them and to engage in deeper learning tasks

I’ve included a little screenshot of one of the pages of my department website to show you how I am beginning to embed deeper learning tasks into each concept.

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 23.37.00

While the layout isn’t pretty it is consistent and students are becoming used to completing the Task link (usually a Google Doc with some questions or challenges) before moving on to the Deeper Learning Tasks link.

I used an idea I picked up on whilst completing my Google Certifed Educator exams late last year: the Multi Media Text Set. This is where the student is given a number of different options: links to webpages, articles, videos, etc. so that they have an element of choice in each lesson. Here’s a screengrab of some of the deeper learning tasks for the Machine Instruction Cycle topic:

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 23.42.44

I have to thank the great Voxer group I’m part of for keeping me motivated, focussed and for sharing their own practices and challenges. One teacher (Shai McGowan) told the group about WSQ (pronounced whisk) as a way of collating feedback from students on the flipped approach. I’m currently using a mixture of EdPuzzle, Kahoot quizzes and 1:1 conversation with students (now I have the time!!) to gauge their progress but am interested in reading further. I did a little searching and found the following comprehensive guide to WSQing your flipped lessons:

http://flippingwithkirch.blogspot.co.uk/p/wsqing.html

The next step is to try the approach with a few classes. While my target class for the flipped approach has been my year 10s I have been teaching younger students the art of note taking (Cornell style) so they should be by now more than capable of completing the Summary part of a WSQ. Come to think of it, I’d be very interested to see who are better – those who have been explicitly taught to take notes in a certain way or those who haven’t.

Using @EdPuzzle for the first time #flipclass #flipchat

EdPuzzle is not a new site to me, however I’ve never had the time to sit down and investigate it properly. I got the opportunity today as the rain made an overdue visit to Milan.

My Year 10 Computer Science students are revisiting the Python language and I gauged their knowledge during class last week. As they all selected similar problems to solve I decided to share my solutions via video and take advantage of the embedded questioning offered by EdPuzzle.

I had intended to link to the finished EdPuzzle from a Google Form and then mark student submissions using Flubaroo however I was happy to see that EdPuzzle linked to Google Classroom and recorded student results and progress for me.

I’ve attached a quick video walkthrough of one of the tasks below, in case you want to see how it works. I think that next time I’ll make one video so that students do not have two tasks to complete but would appreciate any other feedback or suggestions!

iTunesU Course Creator #RGCdevicetrial

The end of term approaches and this means that the coursework and project submissions are pouring in and the focus of learning and teaching turns to final exam preparation. The iPad has been passed on to a colleague (hope you are enjoying it Wendy!) and I now have a brief opportunity to try out the Macbook Air.

I have been so impressed by the iPad in recent weeks that I want to try and replicate the functionality on a laptop to see if I have just been dazzled by technology. It wasn’t just functionality I was impressed with, but I feel that if I can augment my learning and teaching to the same degree as easily on another device it will make the final discussion on device choice much more balanced.

One of the things I found out about at a Apple Store event in Aberdeen during February was iTunesU. To be honest I’ve not found iTunesU that easy to navigate and usually find a keyword search turns up a lot of university level courses and nothing suitable for secondary students. When I heard that you can create your own course I ¬†assumed that it was possible with the iPad. Unfortunately not as it only appears to work with Safari browser for Windows or Mac at present.

After reading this blog post from TNW I recorded a quick screencast using Quicktime Player on the Macbook and edited it slightly using iMovie before uploading to YouTube. There were a few issues with getting the movie from Quicktime Player into iMovie which I’ll put down to user inexperience for the moment (update, it was!)

There are a few things I’d like to see in future (or discover if they already exist!):

1. Importing of multiple web links embedded in a YouTube playlist

2. Importing of a document that contains the outline of a course e.g. page structure and content and turns weblinks in the document into resources in the Materials section.

3. A preview course feature within the browser!

Using an iPad and Pages app to improve student attainment #RGCdevicetrial

Recently my Higher pupils sat their Computing prelim. In previous years I have gone through the marking scheme question by question, describing the ‘best answer’ where possible and highlighting which my students answered a particular question well. Unfortunately their peers rarely see these answers, so have to rely on what I say or put on the board.

This year as I marked the prelim I created a spreadsheet showing how many marks each candidate gained for each question (using the CloudOn service for iPad). I do this to help me highlight areas of development when discussing prelim performance with individual students, but this year used it to help create a document the whole class could use:

20130317-095714.jpg

Part of the document, shared with students via our Edmodo group

The document replaced the marking scheme and allowed them to see the ‘best answer’ as written by their peers. There was one occasion where no student managed to achieve full marks for a particular question so I selected the best answer from the class and added some suggestions for improvement.

It was very easy to create using the Pages app for iPad and, although a little time-consuming on my part, took as long as going through that section of the prelim with the class. The advantage here is that I know all pupils have a permanent and consistent revision aid and I can use it when working with individual pupils on their areas of development. I also hope to use it next year to prepare students for their prelims by getting them to assess other student answers.

I entered the questions into the Pages app first, then used my spreadsheet to identify which student answer to add into the document. Taking photographs of their written answer using the iPad rear camera was so simple thanks to the ‘tap to focus’ feature and I was then able to crop the image quickly in Pages. The document auto-saves, which was very useful later in the process as the iPad ran out of memory a few times and crashed the Pages app. It caused a nervous moment the first time it happened but, once I was confident no information had been lost from my document, I put up with the inconvenience until all questions were associated with an image of a pupil answer.

20130317-102708.jpg

Exporting the document from Pages as a PDF file was a straight-forward process, however the file size was a whopping 40MB! The file can be sent to a variety of apps as a Pages file, PDF or Word document. Uploading that size of document from a home Internet connection takes a long time, especially galling when I compressed the file on a desktop PC to 1.4MB using Adobe Acrobat. If anyone has worked out how to compress PDF files on the iPad I’d love to hear from you.

Once complete I shared the document with the class via Edmodo. I immediately made use of it by setting homework with similar questions. The average score in that homework was over 30% higher than their prelim score. In a few cases it was over 50% up! Obviously you have to take into account the fact they had access to their textbooks and the Internet while completing the homework task, but I feel that this type of document has definite value in improving student attainment.

Opportunities for ICT for learning, video tutorials and RSS feeds in Edmodo

It’s been a busy month. The new role is bringing great opportunities for collaboration, communication and consumption of caffeine! However I’ve been neglecting my blog a bit – ok a lot – and felt that tonight was as good a night as any to post an update!

 

Today was a successful day for sharing the opportunities Edmodo offers both individual teachers and departments. I was lucky enough to be invited to spend time with colleagues from the drama department and offer input on how they could make more effective use of ICT in their learning and teaching. It was an interesting scenario: 1 teacher PC and a course that could make great use of multimedia to enhance an individual’s learning experience. A network folder for pupils seemed a daft idea as students could not access it at the point of learning and would have to find a computer during break or lunch to copy files to a USB drive if they wanted to revise lessons at home. Edmodo offered access to pupils via their smartphone, unlimited storage space for files, anywhere access and a means of communication with their subject teacher and classmates. Flipped classroom possibilities were also discussed and I’m really excited to see what the drama department can do with its features.

 

At the end of the day I also ran a short 1:1 training session in setting up and using Edmodo and discussions during the training spurred me on to create a series of short videos. I use AVS4U to record and edit these videos and, so far, have found this package £43 extremely well spent! There are a great number of tutorial videos available on YouTube if you want to see what you can do before splashing the cash.

 

The video below quickly shows how to set up an RSS feed in an Edmodo group. Hopefully it is clear enough to understand although I think on reflection that I’ll up the screen capture quality to allow me to use the Ken Burns effect to pick out detailed parts of the user interface. Comments are welcome, by the way!

 

The weekend is going to be busy. I want to make a weekly video for my Higher Computing class to experiment flipping their classroom and focussing on improving their application of knowledge rather than the lecture-style delivery.

Are we insulating our 21C learners from critical thinking?

Today is the 30th anniversary of the ZX Spectrum. This little box of wires, alongside some forward-thinking parents who patiently saved up to buy one for the family, crafted my career plans and interests from a very early age. Five to be precise. I know I am not alone in being introduced to computers at this early an age, especially in the 1980s, but to me there is a clear difference between the children using iPads and those who used ZX Spectrums (or their contemporaries): real critical thinking.

Today’s computers provide so much functionality and are so integral to the day-to-day life of the family there is much less time dedicated to tinkering. Even when your child gets a chance to experiment they are insulated from the core functions of the computer by helpful graphical user interfaces, voice recognition, touch screens and thousands of pre-written apps. So your toddler can swipe and pinch an iPad screen? Fantastic, but in ten years time how much further will they have progressed? Computer experience akin to bubble wrapping the user is rarely going to inspire, but what about if they could move on to change the way the iPad functioned without the need for expensive developer licences or extra hardware? What if they could tinker, knowing that if the worst happened they could reboot to a stable state and start again?

You thought this was another plug for the Raspberry Pi didn’t you? Not this time. To my dismay, the same insulation is happening in the classroom. As teachers we strive to make learning accessible to all, so we create many ways to access the same information: text, presentations, podcasts, video lessons, wikis, blogs. And we keep doing it, adding an extra layer to the fact bubble surrounding our learners. We explain, they absorb and we watch for signs that they aren’t understanding it before adding another layer and starting again. I’ve experienced this more and more in the last seven years of teaching and think the solution is as simple as the ZX Spectrum itself. Users who tinkered with the computer engaged more deeply than those who simply tried to load a tape: learners who tinker with the resources should more fully grasp the concepts contained within them. As teachers we should stop removing the possibility for divergent thinking from our learners by overloading them with all the solutions in all 52 flavours.

Today, in not so many words, I was asked to provide transcripts for videos which I had selected and included in a set of theory notes. Admittedly this was the first time I had heard this kind of request but then again two years ago I wasn’t recording video summaries. Or dividing up my non-contact time into podcast friendly chunks. It made me stop and think – is this approach actually helping or hindering my pupils? Is our eagerness to engage removing the challenge and spark or interpreting knowledge in a unique way?