The New No.1 App in Education? With Video and User Guide

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I have made no secret of my fondness for generic apps that enhance learning. Explain Everything, Google Drive and Evernote can aid the educator and student alike. However, there is a new contender on the block for the No.1 app in education. Socrative 1.0 was very good – Socrative 2.0 looks excellent.

This brief introduction to Socrative 2.0 highlights its potential and possible use in the classroom. I look forward to hearing about the effect it has in schools.

For the user guide go HERE

iPad in the Classroom – Can we make it simpler?

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With many educational institutions choosing to use tablets for learning, it can be quite intimidating for teachers when faced with so many applications. The diagram below serves to illustrate that less than 20 core apps can play a significant part in the learning process and hopefully temper any trepidation.

iPad Key Tools

(with thanks to Greg Hughes @deepexperience1 for his ideas and input)

The apps indicated serve to enhance or modify existing practice with scope to be transformational. The extent to which the learning environment can be changed is up to the educator and students.

COLLABORATION

Twitter and Skype are part of many students’ lives, with immediate contact and communication a must. There is no reason they can’t be utilised in the classroom and to support learning at home. A class twitter account provides an easy way to convey links/information and is simple to set up and make private. Skype provides a free way to collaborate with peers and indeed experts in a subject area with little technical know-how.

A PDF annotator and Skitch (with the ability to annotate images) might take a little more getting used to, but are invaluable to the educator with tablets in the classroom. Existing resources are easily modified and the ability to redo and share can’t be underestimated. Students quickly learn shortcuts and the learning process can be enhanced with minimal attention paid to the technology.

Perhaps the most important collaborative tool however is GoogleDrive. Leaving GoogleApps aside, the sharing options and collaborative documents make GoogleDrive a really powerful app and one worth spending some time learning all about.

(with thanks to dc12norfolk)

As the video illustrates, GoogleDrive is a very powerful learning tool with transformational possibilities for students and educators alike.

RESOURCES

I firmly believe that the reason why the iPad is the right choice for schools lies with two unique applications – iBooks Author and iTunesU. The ability to collate all existing and new resources into an iBook with iBooks Author and set out a course and its administration for a period of time in iTunesU will change the way some schools work. If you add to this the simplicity with which educators can create screencasts for their students using Explain Everything, then you have resource applications that are far beyond current methods.

Once an iTunesU course or iBook has been created, students just require a link to be able to download it to their iPad. A real plus is that any changes made by the author are automatically synced to any subscriber’s iPad. No more queuing for the photocopier!

AFL/WORKFLOW

Plenty has been written about Edmodo and Socrative as tools for learning and I concur, they are superb. Socrative will provide plenty of information for the educator with exit ticket reports (a real winner when planning for the next lesson). Edmodo also provides the ability to receive/annotate and grade assignments without any need for paper and students receiving their feedback as soon as it is completed by the educator.

(with thanks to Ron Bosch)

If educators only get to grips with these two applications they can have a real impact on the learning process and also the day to day management of workload.

MODELLING

Attention to detail is always enhanced when a student believes their work might be displayed to their peers. AppleTV allows any iPad on the same wireless network to be mirrored to a projector. This means that apps such as iMovie, iThoughtsHD and Notability allow students to create and share their work at the behest of the educator. It’s amazing how, after a couple of attempts, students’ work ethic improves when they have the opportunity to receive immediate feedback on their creations.

(with thanks to XMA4education)

I’m not suggesting there aren’t other generic apps that are very suitable for the classroom and I could have included many more. There are also countless subject specific apps that can really help educators and students alike to convey and discover information. The point of this post is, hopefully, to illustrate how a few apps and a 1:1 iPad environment needn’t be a daunting prospect.

All thoughts very welcome.

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.

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.