The No.1 App for Every Teacher….

Not all apps are created equal.

The first version of Explain Everything was good. The second version is outstanding.

As an educator my life revolves around learning, organisation, workflow and school requirements. Lessons are delivered, work is assessed and data is recorded. Thankfully new technologies are providing ways of coping with the increasing demands. Explain Everything is central to my current workflow.

At its base level Explain Everything is an interactive whiteboard into which you can insert text, pictures and videos. This can be shared with a class through the projector or sent to individuals as required via a number of export options. However, this is not where the power of Explain Everything lies. The power is in the application and its suitability inside and outside the classroom.

An existing presentation can be imported into the app from a Dropbox or GoogleDrive account. This can be displayed at the front of the class whilst the teacher or students annotate the slides. An explanation can be recorded at the same time and this can be exported as a movie file to be watched by the students. In short you can keep a record of every lesson/plenary you do in class for the students to watch at a later date.

Similarly a teacher can record anything that happens in class, via the camera, and then annotate/comment on the work. Again, this project can then be shared with individuals or the whole class.

(courtesy of Digital First Ohio State)

As you can see from the ‘how to’ video there are a number of different functions in the new version of Explain Everything that lend themselves to the classroom. However, I firmly believe the real benefit can be seen outside the classroom walls. As you sit collating resources for a lesson, they can all be brought into the app to share with students. A simple commentary on the resources can become a starter presentation, a resource to look at before the lesson, or a stimulus for a student who needs further guidance. These short ‘videos’ can then become the basis for a ‘flipped classroom‘ approach.

Explain Everything can also have an impact on assessment. With a student’s piece of work inserted into the app an educator has the opportunity to annotate and comment at the same time. As you highlight key areas the commentary allows for explanation and the posing of further questions. Again, this can be exported to the student as a movie file. (I can strongly recommend setting up an unlisted YouTube account for this purpose. That way you only need to share the link with the student and it isn’t available to the wider public.)

This process is complemented by the recording of video to illustrate a point and the use of that video, annotation and commentary to highlight key areas to enhance learning. One example could be taken from a model answer script. A 5 minute explanation with annotation, that can be paused and reflected upon by the student, is a key weapon in a teachers arsenal. There’s no reason the students can’t do the same and create a bank of resources for each other and future revision. The video can also act as a further visual stimulus to support the learning of an individual.

Explain Everything is a ‘must-have’ application for teachers who have access to an iPad. It really does support the learning process inside and outside the classroom and is a key part of my own working practice. I can recommend spending a little time importing a few resources and sharing your efforts with students. Their feedback is always telling.

Teachers – If we don’t adapt, will we fail our students?

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Talk to any educator and it seems they identify the same problems in schools today.

  • Not enough time.
  • Too much red tape.
  • Data overload.
  • Micro management.
  • Exam pressure.

In my time as a teacher there have been numerous battles fought at a national, county and school level with few outcomes in the favour of learners. We have all sorts of measurements and comparisons and checks. We have the students’ best interests at heart and we definitely want them to do well and be prepared for life. Yet schools, and the conversations surrounding them, feel weighed down by too many factors that inhibit learning.

If I’m honest I don’t think this is going to change anytime soon, particularly with the impending exam reforms. Consequently, as a teacher, I cannot control the time I have physically with the students, only the learning experience I expect.

Enter flexible learning.

Now, I am not trying to state that this is a new concept and I am certainly not about to state anything revolutionary. The point is, there are barriers to the choices I can make as a teacher, but I can now access tools to overcome those barriers.

I want students to have access to content delivery from me to ensure they feel they are being guided in the right way. Whether the ‘flipped’ classroom concept is something you subscribe to, the screencasts that are created for it serve many purposes. If you have a bank of ‘direct instruction’ videos that are made of keynote presentations, videos and your explanation, you have the basis of a flexible learning environment – and here’s why…

The videos can:

  • Prepare students for the next lesson
  • Serve as the stimulus for a cover lesson and activity in your absence
  • Act as a point of reference for a student who needs help in a lesson
  • Underpin a revision programme for an individual or group of students
  • Allow you a ‘safety net’ to cope with the demands of a 21st century school

This last point is an important one. Modular exams, illness, field trips and sports fixtures have left my A level classes decimated by absence. This is a fact in our schools today. It has happened every year for as far back as I can remember and it seems little can be done about it.

With this approach, I don’t have to see the students face to face in order to educate them. Of course, it isn’t the ideal scenario but I no longer feel like I am letting them down. An actual lesson is just one opportunity to educate the students, not the only opportunity.

There are a number of tools that facilitate this environment and this has certainly been made easier in recent years:

  • Edmodo – acts as a VLE without the need to login through the school server. A central store of resources as well as assignment collection and student interaction.
  • Twitter – the perfect platform for resource sharing, student chat and discovery
  • iPad – the instant-on device that enables the students to access the resources. Essential for the way my teaching has developed, together with screencast production.

It might not be right for everyone, but if a student needs help in the classroom, appropriate time is now available. The ability to have individual contact with every student in every lesson can’t be underestimated. Similarly, if a student requires help at home, they have a secure means of communication. This isn’t practical all the time but setting up timeslots for students to ask questions in the evening can have a real benefit. As long as the students know they night not receive immediate feedback outside of these slots, it works very well.

Flexible learning or ‘24/7‘ learning has been discussed for many years. I don’t think modern schools can afford to ignore the concept as time in the classroom is so precious and often disrupted. Developing an environment, where classroom time is just one point of contact, frees the students and educators to enjoy a breadth of learning. It also reduces the pressure on time when so many lessons are affected by absence.

I am sure the ability to adapt the learning environment has been made possible by new technologies as the time taken to produce the resources is reduced. I for one am glad I decided to move away from the way I was taught to educate and look forward to flexibility underpinning my teaching in the future.

I welcome any thoughts on flexible learning and the impact it can have.

Top 5 Apps You Want On Your iPad (including ‘how to’ video links)

Following a request for my favourite iPad apps, I have included those central to my workflow as an educator. I offer my top 5, with a few suggestions for application of each in the classroom. (Please click on each title for link to video)

DROPBOX

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A cloud based memory store that is available on every internet device. The ability to access information anytime, anywhere is truly powerful in the learning environment. Dropbox can also act as a workflow solution with shared folders between educator and students. A must have app for anyone with an iPad and the first 2GB is free.

EXPLAIN EVERYTHING

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This interactive whiteboard app is a must for learning with an iPad. At its basic level it allows students to record their voice over annotated slides or insert images to collaborate or demonstrate learning. However, Explain Everything can offer many more options for the educator.

Screencasts can be created that are exported to YouTube and shared with students. These can be used to support learning outside the classroom or personalise it for those moving at a different pace. A presentation can be created by a student/group of students to act as a plenary. This can then be shared with the class via email or a shared Dropbox folder.

The latest version of Explain Everything (due at the end of January) includes the ability to import new or existing video. The ability to commentate on video and annotate slides will have implications for many subject areas.

EDMODO

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Edmodo is superb as a tool for peers to interact in a safe secure manner. The ability to question staff and students, when faced with an academic problem, has proved supportive to learning particularly during homework time. This feature is enhanced by the storage of resources in the Edmodo library and interaction with assignments set by the educator.

Then Edmodo added the ability to upload from iPad using the iOS6 function ‘open in app’. This allows you to upload a document to your Edmodo library on an iPad. You can then link the document to a direct post, note or assignment within the Edmodo app. Suddenly Edmodo has become a simple solution to iPad workflow from student to educator. If you add the annotation tool and immediate feedback then Edmodo is a must have app for iPad.

FLIPBOARD

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‘Flipboard turns your Facebook and Twitter account into something that looks like a magazine. It also lets you build a custom magazine, either by choosing from Flipboard’s pre-built curated “boards” or by importing Twitter lists.’

For the educator, Flipboard is a way of keeping abreast of current topics and up-to-date with social media contacts. The ability to export from Flipboard to a Dropbox acoount or email means it can serve as a suitable filter for information. I have begun to use Flipboard more and more as the stream of information increases from many sources.

As a way of collating information, Flipboard has become particularly useful for students. The ease with which they can browse articles and look for balance of opinion on a subject, makes it a useful tool. It can also act as a useful starter and/or plenary for a lesson with the most up-to-date information being displayed. If you have a class twitter account you can also use it to display information from the group and act as a prompt for collaboration.

SOCRATIVE

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‘Socrative is a smart student response system that empowers teachers to engage their classrooms through a series of educational exercises and games via smartphones, laptops, and tablets.’

Socrative is an excellent ‘assessment for learning’ tool. An educator set a quiz and have the answers from students graphically represented for feedback and to display if required. This can be done on the spot or educators can pre-load a quiz that can be assessed straight-away. The real power of this app is that it is cross platform which means that students can be on existing desktops or laptops whilst the educator has the iPad at the front of the class displaying results.

This app has become so easy to use that most of my students expect a Socrative quiz at some point in a module. The exit ticket has proved particularly important as the data is immediately available to download and can inform future lesson planning.

I appreciate there are many apps that could be on this list. Please add any app suggestions in the comment section below. Always happy to give them a try 🙂

Why Restrict Who You Follow? The iPad and Twitter Revisited

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It’s a question that I have pondered over recent weeks. There is a growing trend for people to ‘cull’ the amount of people they follow on twitter. Why do they do it?

Context is required here. During my early twitter use, I was the first person to become frustrated by a timeline filled too quickly. The need to see every tweet, in case it was the most important thing in the world, led to me unfollowing anyone who tweeted more than once every couple of hours! Admittedly, I didn’t really understand the social media at the time, but I didn’t want to see so many offerings from one person. How wrong was I?

After realising I didn’t need to see every tweet, I wrote a piece about how a learning network could be developed with the use of an iPad and twitter:

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‘We are all learning together. If you have a problem, your PLN (Personal Learning Network) may be able to solve it. If you are struggling for ideas, there are people to ask. The iPad and twitter make the process easier.

Learning has always been based on exposure to new stimuli, research and communication. Ideas are formulated through external opinion, reflection and conclusion. The availability of these components lead to increased productivity and informed decisions. The iPad and twitter make the process easier.

I, like many others, signed up to twitter as it seemed the pertinent thing to do. I followed a few people, read some tweets and decided it didn’t hold much for me.
Problem number one, I was following the wrong people.
I posted a couple of tweets and had no response.
Problem number two, I had no followers. So I left it.

If I’m honest, I didn’t understand and didn’t make the effort to try. Twitter was for celebrity and of no use. Then, last Christmas with iPad in hand, I decided to tweet to a fellow PE teacher (@MrWickensPE) to ask if there was something I was missing. He suggested I followed the hashtag #ukedchat and see what people were tweeting about. Epiphany time!

For twitter to work you need to follow the right people. As an educator I needed to follow those who contributed to #ukedchat and there I found items of interest (@ICTEvangelist). Not only was it interesting to read the 140 character snippets but also the links that were posted. I was introduced to a range of teaching discussion that stimulated thought. There were blogposts that led to conversations in the staff room and links that could be passed on to colleagues.

As I became more comfortable with the etiquette of twitter I became more involved. Replying to the occasional tweet and posting a link prompted communication and the decision to blog. This is where the iPad came into its own. A mobile interface that allowed access to my resources, with an excellent view of posted links and interactions, meant twitter became part of the daily routine. It happened to coincide with the start of an iPad trial in school and increased confidence that the device should be introduced into the classroom. Sure the research could have been conducted on my desktop, the iPad and twitter simply made it easier and more productive.

Only yesterday a twitter conversation between myself and David Didau, about his superb blog, led to Andy Knill suggesting some tips to help me coupled with a link to his blog. This led to a conversation this morning with a colleague that led to us both feeling much more comfortable with an iPad idea we have been mulling over.

There is no doubt that twitter has changed my approach to learning and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for new ideas and conversation. The iPad has simply made the use of twitter and subsequent workflow manageable.’

On reflection I was just beginning to understand how twitter could help my professional development and that access to educators tweets and links could really help decision making. What I didn’t realise was just how powerful it could become over such a short space of time. Interactions can occur as often as desired on twitter and the ability to ask a question of followers shouldn’t be underestimated. Similarly, following many people allows you to interact with many more individuals who might tweet something you didn’t even know you needed to know!

The success of apps like Stumbleupon, Showyou and indeed YouTube, is predicated on the user finding items of interest they didn’t necessarily know about. Our inquisitive nature leads us to discover new things so why restrict twitter by limiting the amount of people to follow?

I know twitter limits the amount of people an individual can follow, dependent on the followers they have, and there are ratio limitations to consider (thanks to @mikemcsharry for help here). However, these limitations don’t  occur until 2000 ‘follows’. If you aren’t making use of those ‘follows’ surely you are restricting the information you could see? Much like twitter has expanded my professional development, beyond the staffroom and external courses, surely I have learnt more by following larger numbers of tweeters?

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Of course I don’t read my timeline in it’s entirety so I do follow a few rules to help manage the people I follow:

  • I follow educators and other individuals who have a biography of interest.
  • Twitter lists are a must. They group people into areas of interest and allow me to selectively view their tweets. I refresh these lists to stay up to date with regular interactions. (You can link twitter lists with Flipboard to manage your interactions further)
  • I don’t follow too many companies/businesses unless I use their product. This helps reduce the spamming element of a timeline.
  • I don’t tend to follow people with an egg for an avatar or no biography in case they are spam.
  • I unfollow anyone who hasn’t tweeted in over a month to make sure I stay within the ratio limit.

As I see it, these simple steps offer me the best of two worlds. Twitter lists filter the people I interact with on a regular basis so I can see anything they have tweeted at my leisure. My timeline can then be perused at any time as a wealth of information and interactions I might want to look into. If I only followed a hundred or so tweeters then I believe I would restrict a learning network for no real reason.

I realise that this post is more relevant for those people who have used twitter for a period of time and are comfortable with the etiquette and ‘unwritten rules’. In fact, I advocate starting small when anyone asks about twitter use, as it can be overwhelming. The use of twitter clients, such as Tweetbot, has made the twitter experience more manageable and I can recommend finding a client that suits your use.

I would be very interested to read any views on ‘twitter culling’ and if restricting ‘follows’ has helped your social media experience.

Edmodo is THE iPad Workflow Solution

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The world of iPad workflow just got a whole lot easier. After months of ‘work arounds’ involving screenshots, Dropbox and pre-tablet technology, the latest Edmodo update has changed the game.

Put simply, you can now use the iOS6 function ‘open in app’, to open a document in Edmodo. This allows you to upload a document to your Edmodo library on an iPad. You can then link the document to a direct post, note or assignment within the Edmodo app.

Lets look at an example to illustrate how easy this has made the sharing of assignments for a student and an educator. I’ll use Pages as an illustration as that is the most common word processing package on the iPad.

Once the student has completed their document they should tap on the share and print option in Pages and then tap on ‘open in app’.

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They should then select open in Edmodo and choose a file type to share – I can recommend the ‘Word’ option as this works well with the Edmodo annotation tool.

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This will upload the document to the student’s library (Backpack). They then have the option to attach it to the appropriate assignment or post as directed by the educator.

The rest of the process is then the same as the educator can annotate and grade the assignment on any web based device including the iPad. As soon as the document is closed, all annotations are available to view by the student.

This process really is a game changer for any institution using iPads as an educational tool. The 1:1 environment is now supported by a simple workflow solution and the class set of iPads has an easy means of sharing competed classwork. Having spent many hours with fellow educators trying to decide on the most effective workflow solution I am very glad this update is available. The added bonus lies in the Edmodo interface and the ease with which students and educators alike can interact in a social learning environment.

The beauty of Edmodo is that it is a free platform and it now stands as the class leader ahead of some paid options that had the potential to fulfill the workflow solution (plus this is a free workflow VLE).

These apps are currently supported by the ‘Open in Edmodo’ option and are in common use in iPad environments. Please let me know if you discover any more useful examples and I will add them to the list.

Dropbox, Pages, Notability, Keynote, Numbers, Comic Life, Writing Kit, CoachesEye, Ubersense, Book Creator, iFiles

iPad Mini – A Teacher’s Perspective

The iPad Mini is very light. It has the same operating system as the iPad and is compatible with all the apps. The screen has a 4:3 aspect ratio, but it isn’t retina, and it will set you back around £300 depending on your chosen model.

Right that’s the techy part out of the way – what about learning?

Firstly, if I wanted a device to ‘present’ with at the front of the class, then the iPad mini would be my number one choice. It is so light and effortless to use that swiping form resource to resource or annotating whilst speaking is incredibly easy. Coupled with AppleTV it is very powerful for those educators who ‘deliver’ lessons to their students. It is so fit for purpose that I can see the majority of presentations facilitated by the iPad Mini in coming months. However, I don’t believe tablet use in the classroom should be driven by the ability to deliver content.

The didatic environment is not where the tablet thrives. The most desirable model is 1:1 where every student has access to a device for creation and discovery. Allowing the device to enhance learning by supporting an atmosphere of collaboration and challenge is where educators feel most comfortable with the new technology. So does the iPad Mini fit into this model?

If I’m honest I would say no!!!

This doesn’t mean that the iPad Mini isn’t suitable for the classroom. Indeed I can see many schools opting for this cheaper alternative to the iPad for 1:1 schemes. It will still allow the students to ‘consume’ information and carry out every task they would on an iPad. But it it isn’t the best tool for the job.

The screen is too small for the type of activities that are now common in iPad classrooms. Annotating on an interactive whiteboard and adding text to pictures leads to ‘pinch zoom’ becoming common place. I have often found myself zooming in to check detail on the iPad Mini and the thought of doing this in lessons day after day would not fill me with joy. Editing movies and documents is also a little more difficult and yet viewing the final product is excellent due to the 4:3 aspect ratio.

The iPad Mini might be better suited to a shared device environment, where the tablet is used to collaborate and inform, before being stored back in the cart. The lightweight portability and excellent functionality would make it the choice of many schools looking to provide access to an iPad. Here the reduced cost is also a factor as the shared device is so much less personal that sometimes they are not treated with as much care.

As an aside it is interesting to note that the iOS operating system is playing a huge part in the success of the iPad. The fact you can do everything with iOS and the iPad Mini should not be ignored. If I was in a more mobile profession with plenty of commuter miles to endure then I could see the iPad Mini being my tool of choice. Indeed if money was no object I would like the iPad for the creation of resources and the iPad Mini for lesson time – I’m not sure my Head-teacher reads this? I can but hope . . . .

In terms of learning I would still recommend the iPad for the simple reason I wouldn’t want the hardware to present any barriers. My students are always creating on an iPad and I was interested how they found the iPad Mini compared to their experience with the larger device. When asked about the iPad Mini, students suggested they liked how ‘cool’ it looked and that movies would be good to watch on it. However, they didn’t seem so enamoured with the one finger typing and the reduced screen size when editing their work.

The difference in cost between the iPad Mini and an iPad2 is approximately £50 and as such I would suggest plumping for the larger device. An iPad Mini with a retina display may make the screen size less of an issue but I still doubt it would be the best tool for the job. Inevitably we will see the iPad Mini appear in school as our students have the option to bring their own device. It will be interesting to see if long term use changes opinion.

If you are using an iPad/iPad Mini or any other tablet I would be very interested to hear your opinion.

Integrate THAT Technology into YOUR Classroom

The five ideas below are a suggested starting point if you are integrating new technology into your classroom. From a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) programme, to a class set of hardware, an internet enabled classroom has the potential to enhance learning alongside existing practice.

CREATIVITY

Apps are being developed for education at a rate that is very difficult to keep pace with. This means that competition is fierce and this can only be a good thing for learners. The most successful apps are cross platform so lend themselves to multiple device conditions. As creativity is essential to any learning environment, the ability to access numerous apps to foster interest and intrigue is very attractive.

Examples to try:

Skitch – Allows a student to annotate any image or diagram to meet the demands of the task. This can easily be shared with others to inform group discussion.

Animoto – Brings images, music and text together to produce a movie. Excellent as a tool to present findings.

Paper 53 – A very simple app that offers the ability to create from scratch using a number or artistic tools. Very popular with students regardless of experience.

SOCIAL LEARNING 

Communication outside the classroom has become much simpler with email, Twitter and the development of social media. However, the impact it can have inside the classroom is marked, if managed appropriately. Students have the opportunity to pose questions or suggest ideas without fear of being judged. This encourages less confident students to use their  ‘voice’ when otherwise they might shy away from interacting with others. 

Examples to try:

Today’s Meet – Can act as a backchannel for learning with a very simple interface. Cross platform use so suitable for any internet enabled classroom.

Secure Twitter Group – All students follow each other and the class twitter account. Protect all tweets and the group becomes a very secure communication forum. Works particularly well when asking groups to collaborate and feedback to the class.

Edmodo – The secure social networking site is setup to facilitate class discussion. Has the added advantage of allowing resources to be shared between the educator and students. Again the application is cross platform and serves an internet enabled environment.

ASSESSMENT FOR LEARNING

Expensive e-clicker environments are a thing of the past with new technology. In a BYOD programme there are a host of ways for educators to assess student progress in real time. Learning can be enhanced for all if the educator can interact with every student in the room, beyond hands up, with written evidence immediately submitted.

Examples to try:

Socrative – A free, cross platform, application that allows the educator to set multiple-choice or short answer questions at any point during a lesson. The answers can be displayed or hidden and this in turn informs progress. Exit ticket reports can be immediately emailed to the educator which can then be used for planning the following lesson.

Nearpod – Works alongside your classroom resources to question students and inform progress. Excellent if you want to share information and you are in a 1:1 environment.

WORKFLOW

If you are in a multi-platform environment and want to assess and feedback to students there are a number of applications that can help the educator. Workflow with a device facilitates a quick turn around for feedback. The ability to receive student work, annotate and send back between lessons has significantly improved the process for student and educator alike. It then informs planning for learning on a more realistic timeline rather than having to wait for face to face contact for any feedback.The importance of handwriting can also be supported by any device with a camera function. The suggested applications will allow for annotation across an image so extended writing tasks can still be shared digitally.

Examples to try:

Edmodo – Ten million users support the platform, highlighting it as a ‘must try’ when searching for workflow solutions. When you add in the ability to interact with students in a secure environment, Edmodo can be a very powerful tool.

Dropbox – A shared Dropbox folder allows students to submit work to the educator and then receive annotated feedback. This is particularly useful when coupled with iOS 6’s ability to ‘Open in App’. Essentially this means you can give verbal feedback as well to a student that they can hear and repeat when required.

INTERACTIVE COLLABORATION

Collaborative tasks have always been high on the agenda when seeking to stimulate young minds. The A3 sheet of paper and mini-whiteboards are very useful tools to focus a group on the task at hand. However, tablet based collaboration can take the process a stage further. The sharing options available to students, exporting via email, dropbox or a note-taking application. This allows the students to take a group’s findings and use them to inform their follow up work.

Examples to try:

iThoughts HD – an excellent mind mapping tool with superb ‘in-app’ functionality.

Explain Everything – simply the best interactive whiteboard application

These ideas can all be enhanced by recent developments in the sharing of student work in the classroom. AppleTV allows an iPad to mirror its screen to a suitable projector or there are a number of web based applications that mirror across a wireless network using existing PC hardware. This sharing of material, at any time during a lesson, appears to have a dramatic impact on the pride students take in their work. It also allows the educator to overcome the concern that a device is just a distraction in the classroom.

I welcome any suggestions of how to integrate new technology into the classroom, particularly those that can serve a multi-platform environment.