#RGCdevicetrial staff drop-in sessions

We are just shy of 3 weeks from the end of the #RGCdevicetrial and I realised I haven’t yet blogged about the weekly staff drop-in sessions. Every week since early March most staff involved in trialing the devices have given up roughly 45 minutes of their afternoon to talk about their experiences, try out other devices and get troubleshooting help for theirs. Every week @stefanhorsman sends the invite to all staff and every week the attendees and questions have been different. In short, it has been a really great thing to do.

This afternoon we met in the Junior School. I love this venue as it already has the WiFi network coveted by the rest of the campus and, as the drop-in session is hosted in one of the device trialist’s classrooms, we have an Apple TV permanently connected so those experimenting with Macbooks, iPads or Windows 8 tabtops (and Air Parrot) can try wireless projection as well as the devices themselves. In addition the room layout lends itself well to both round-table discussion and informal groupings.

The sessions themselves are organic – there is no agenda apart from to experience the devices and take the opportunity to ask questions. People are welcome to arrive late and leave whenever they like. Today we even welcomed our first pupil who was very quick to explain to her (teacher) mother why they really needed an Apple TV at home!

I’ve blogged already about my experiences with the iPad and Kindle Fire (which I’ve been allowed to keep for a week in return for the Dell XPS tablet – I think I got the better deal there!) but has been really interesting to talk to staff and address misconceptions on cost of devices. Most of the time it is assumed that the Apple products are the most expensive (true for the Macbook Air, but not the iPads), the Kindle is the cheapest (ok, by FAR the cheapest) and the Windows products are somewhere close to £300 as “that’s what normal laptops cost”. When I explain that, bar the Macbook each of the Windows 8 / RT devices in our trial are at the top end of the price list, jaws drop.

Today I explained this as I attempted to reinstate the touchscreen on one of the Samsung ATIV Smart PCs: a touchscreen device that allows you to turn off the touchscreen! Not only does it make very little sense, the process is hugely convoluted and therefore difficult for users to remember – meaning troubleshooting at best takes time and at worst requires a visit to IT support and then a longer wait without the device. The Windows devices also need two batch files I created to set up the IPv4 Internet settings correctly for home (or any DHCP network) and school (static IP and DNS servers) use [if these would be useful to you, connect with me on Twitter and ask].

The more I experience the Windows 8 / RT machines the stronger my belief that we should move away from devices where users cannot customise without navigating screens of administrative features that are not linked, grouped or even described particularly well. I don’t think a tenfold increase in the apps available for these devices would matter either: for learning and teaching we have 40 or 80 minutes where our lessons need to be pacey, varied, stimulating and above all educational. It’s hard to do that when the teacher has their head in a user guide because an incorrect keyboard combination or tap shuts down the core functionality of the device.

 

Kindle Fire #Rgcdevicetrial

Tonight I borrowed the Kindle Fire HD from a colleague involved the RGC device trial. I’m actually more impressed with it than the Windows RT devices and Google Chromebook, yet at just over £120 it is by far the cheapest device.

As a teaching device it lacks a camera, but can connect to a projector via its mini HDMI cable. The books can be read out loud using the built in text to speech converter (sadly missing from the Kindle app for other devices). The  7″ screen is sharp and the selection of apps good. I was pleased to find the WordPress app for example!

The variety of office apps available make document creation on the go a breeze and I really like the Skydrive app for synchronising files with other devices. I’m about to see how many podcasts are available through Amazon’s version of android. This could be a great device for pupils to take typed notes on but without microphone or camera it isn’t going to be sufficient for staff use to augment learning and teaching.

A really nice surprise though after the frustration of Windows RT.

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!

17 iPad apps for teachers #RGCdevicetrial

Tomorrow I hand over the iPad to a colleague, so I’m signing out of all linked accounts and removing whatever personal data I can.

I’ve also purged the apps installed and categorised them so the next person using the iPad isn’t overwhelmed with pages upon pages of apps to investigate. Here are the apps that survived the three weeks:

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When designing the timescale for each part of the device trial I thought three weeks would be enough. Judging by the feedback received from my colleagues it can either be too long (for example if they don’t like the device) or not long enough!

Some highlights:

  • Being able to create documents with the Pages (£6.99, link) app has been great although I do agree with reviews about its value for money. See my previous blog post about how I used it with my Higher Computing class.
  • I had really hoped to make better use of Explain Everything (£1.99, link) but, most annoyingly, I found it wasn’t able to record browser screens that contain HTML5. My planned walkthrough of Snap! on the iPad for the blog is still on the to-do list…
  • …Synchronised to-do list app Remember the Milk (free, link) to be exact. I use it as I’m still not 100% happy with my Evernote workflow (especially using the web version we access at work) as the searches suggested by The Secret Weapon do not always work. Remember the Milk is on my Android phone, in the Chrome browser on my laptop and I’ve made good use of it on the iPad too.
  • That said, Evernote (free, link) has been fantastic for helping me carry less paper around. Using the iPad to quickly scan documents (from my notebook) into an Evernote note has been a real eye-opener. At the moment I don’t have a notebook at all, but I feel I still need a small amount of paper to jot ideas down quickly.
  • Being able to create Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents is still necessary and given that it’s a three week trial I’m not going to throw away years of knowledge in an attempt to break away from Microsoft Office. I’ve used CloudOn (free, link) quite a bit although you have to be online to use it so I’ve made best use from home. It is fairly fast, allows quick sharing of files (great for discussing prelim marks over the weekend with your boss! Sorry…) and keeps documents compatible with the desktop at work.
  • Marking music has been essential and I’ve enjoyed the Podcasts (free, link) app. However apart from that I didn’t use it nearly as much as I had envisaged. I realised that I listen to most of my podcasts on the train or walk home and the form factor of the iPad doesn’t suit. Time to transfer what I’ve downloaded onto the Samsung Galaxy Y…
  • I never thought I would type this but my other half has made good use of the Kindle (free, link) app. Strongly against eReaders in the past, she was convinced to try reading on the iPad as her book group choice was 20p on Amazon and out of stock in the local libraries. Her feedback was that the iPad felt cold and it was a bit tricky to hold while in bed, so she would choose to have a suitable case to protect it if dropped and to make it more enjoyable for the reader to hold.
  • For image editing, Aviary (free, link), Luminance (free at the moment, link) and Snapseed (free, link) have been great. I hated the Photoshop app – everything seemed to require an in-app purchase – and it was quickly deleted.
  • iDownloads+ (free, link) allows iPad users to manage downloads and extract compressed files. I found this especially useful when looking at the Computing At School site, with email and also to access my zip files on Dropbox (free, link) which has always been a favourite app of mine since the days of the iPod Touch 2G!
  • Programming on the iPad was covered in an earlier blog post, but I still want to recommend Pythonista (£2.99, link), A.L.E.X (first 25 levels free, link), TouchDevelop (web link) and Snap! (web link). Textastic (£5.99, link) looks great for creating code but I haven’t yet had time to use it fully. Something else for the to-do list!
  • GoSkyWatch Planetarium for iPad (free, link) is such an amazing app to use. I downloaded this for my three year old son and he found it really easy to use. I don’t think I could use it to enhance my teaching, but it definitely enhanced our learning!
  • Flipboard (free, link) is such a beautiful app, full of interesting stories to inspire and inform your lessons, that I’ve just spent ten minutes reading it instead of finishing this blog post! Oops…

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:

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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.

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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.

Programming on an iPad #compSci #RGCdevicetrial

At the start of the #RGCdevicetrial I was very cynical about the effectiveness of iPads in education. I did not think they were suitable for use in secondary school classrooms. I saw them as content consumption devices, tailored for personal use only, and an expensive gimmick destined to gather dust in a department store cupboard (much like the iPod touch devices bought en-masse a few years ago).

I’m happy to state that I was wrong. For me, the iPad is a very strong contender for not only becoming the device of choice at our school but for eventually replacing desktop PCs in the Computing classroom too.

Like many others I thought it wasn’t possible to program on the iPad. I’d heard about Scratch being removed from the App Store and, whilst working on a successful Internet Safety project at Inverurie Academy in 2011, had fought a battle of wits with XCode to create and install a series of simple apps on the aforementioned iPod touch devices. I didn’t want to rely on having a spare Macbook sitting around for pupils to code on, in a language that was fairly impenetrable, just to be able to use the iPad in a Computing Science classroom.

However, after speaking to Fraser Speirs at a SCIS event in Edinburgh a few weeks ago, I realised that it was possible. He told me about Pythonista, which allows you to create command-line or graphical programs straight on the iPad. Fraser also told me that he pays for processing time on Amazon servers and gets students to upload code from their iPads and execute it remotely. The extra benefit of this, he says, is that his pupils have access to the same programming environment regardless of their location. It allows them to continue coding at home on a task they may have started in school.

For early stage programmers one app that helps build coding foundations through sequential instructions is A.L.E.X. I downloaded it whilst setting up the iPad for the #RGCdevicetrial and accidentally syncronised it with the iPad Mini which was being used by the ICT specialist in our primary school. She loved the app so I gave it a go last week while learning more about how an iPad mirrors to a data projector using Apple TV. There were young pupils in the playground outside with their noses against the window as they watched the robot move through the levels.

This morning I spotted a retweet by Dawn Halybone and had to investigate further:

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Snap! is a web-based drag and drop programming language developed at Berkeley. Very similar to Scratch, you create programs by associating scripts with sprites on a stage. It runs through a browser so you have to be online to use it however it looks very stable on the iPad. Even though the most recent Scratch beta is also web-based, it does not work with the iPad due to the fact it needs Adobe Flash to play content. I wasn’t even able to access the code screen on the site so, for the moment anyway, Snap seems to be the only option.

Do you know of any other apps or websites that allow programming on the iPad? Please share!

A return to blogging – iPad & WordPress app #RGCdevicetrial

The blog has been a bit sparse this year, something I desperately want to rectify.

Time has been an issue due to work and personal commitments but, really, what’s new with that? I have a lot (an awful lot!) that has gone un-blogged in the past two months.

Two weeks ago Robert Gordon’s College began a fairly comprehensive mobile device trial, something I was (and remain) heavily involved in setting up. More on that in future posts but an outcome was that, for a few weeks, I have an iPad and a clear focus – to see if it improves my learning and teaching methods and productivity.

I aim to post four blog entries this week, inspired not only by Dr Doug Belshaw’s frenetic activity, but also his brevity. Less is indeed more.