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.

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.

Twitter and the Job Interview

Professional development is cited as one of the main reasons to use Twitter. From questions asked to blog links shared, Twitter provides a ‘real time’ platform for anyone to discover information. Of course there is the social aspect that dominates the platform, but a Twitter profile, with like minded followers, allows for reasoned debate and conclusion in your chosen field.

Take the teaching profession. There are numerous educators on Twitter prepared to share experiences and resources. Once a Personal Learning Network has been built up, a teacher can usually find help/answers from one of their ‘colleagues’. Add to this the power of the hashtag and it is easy to see why the Twitter community is growing. Participation in an #edchat discussion with @tomwhitby,or a more specific debate, can lead to reams of information and links coming the way of the willing chat member. This helps to inform a decision or spark interest in a new activity.

So what does this have to do with a job interview?

Recently I have been fortunate enough to be asked to interview for opportunities in the education sector with an emphasis on Digital Learning. Prep work for the application process and interviews followed the usual route. The application letter was linked to the job description and research focused on the institutions and their ethos. I asked my PLN for help and was fortunate to have a number of people offer to read my application letter. The extent of the help was very humbling as a number of people redrafted the letter and had plenty of suggestions to help my application. However, this isn’t the reason for this post.

Twitter prepared me for interview, without being asked.

Every conversation about the iPad project. Every discussion about a developing pedagogy with new technology. Every ‘lurking’ session as others discussed education announcements. They all contributed to feeling at ease with interview questions about an area of education that polarises opinion. I didn’t know it, but even lunchtime discussion on interview days mirrored previous debate on the timeline of the great and good of Twitter.

Educators such as @ICTEvangelist @riley_ed and @kevbartle, who regularly contribute opinion, had unknowingly prepared me for an interview day. No amount of reading and searching could have offered a balanced view on the trials and tribulations of Digital Learning in such a short space of time. Not only did I feel I had reasoned answers but also I understood the different opinions offered by staff – A question on workflow – there are advantages and disadvantages. How do we solve the access problem? Difficult but there is an app that will do . . .

In previous years I have had mock interviews with senior members of staff and asked peers how they would approach certain situations. In my 12 months on Twitter I haven’t even asked for it, yet ‘colleagues’ have collaborated to question and inform on a scale that cannot be matched within the confines of a school.

I am not suggesting that Twitter is the only source of information for anyone wishing to prepare for interview. Rather the social interaction and lengths to which people will go to help emphasise its benefit to the individual. Collaboration on a global scale allows you to gather information and the filtering process helps to embed the knowledge. Come to think of it that is what we want for our students, but that is a subject for a different post!

I often question the amount of time that is spent on Twitter and I understand how easily it distracts attention. However, this pales into insignificance when you compare its worth to a professional. I am very grateful to my PLN for their continued questioning and discussion, long may it continue.

P.S. I was offered a job 🙂

The Pace of Educational Technology!

I’m sold on new technology in the classroom.

If a ‘traditional’ style with rows of students and weighty textbooks works then I understand why there is no motivation to change. It just didn’t work for me. I always felt I was preparing a student for a test and not their future. The classroom was ordered but not supportive of the type of learning environment the students and I craved.

So we turned to ‘Edtech‘. YouTube videos and presentations filtered into content delivery and collaborative work supported discovery. A number of devices invaded the classroom and were used to inform the process and result when appropriate tasks were set. If I’m honest the ‘new’ feel to the classroom worked when I got the tasks right and let us down when I hadn’t thought everything through.

The trial with a number of devices ended up with a decision to roll out iPads, on a 1:1 level, this academic year. It is a personal device and in our opinion won’t work as well in the ‘class set’ model. Consequently, we are training up staff and students to make the most of the device and enhance the learning process. So what’s the problem?

It used to be that hardware was a real factor in what you could do with technology in the classroom. A visualiser or interactive whiteboard does ‘exactly what it says on the tin’. You can understand its limitations and work to its potential. However software, in the form of apps, is changing so quickly that there is always another development to take into account. Don’t get me wrong, this in itself is not a bad thing. The problem lies in keeping up with developments and allowing staff to feel comfortable with the whole process. It has been difficult enough to get educators to persevere when learning about the potential of an iPad in the classroom. Now we are faced with changes every time a developer releases an update.

Take iOS 6 for example. The ability to ‘open in app’ allows the user to open a document/picture etc in any app that is compatible. This has huge ramifications for student workflow and the ability to annotate or add a sound clip to an assignment. In a single stroke the new operating system rendered a workflow training programme unfit for purpose. Again I am grateful for the update as it has made life a lot simpler. I just wish there was a way of keeping abreast of all the modifications in the secretive world of ‘Edtech’ development.

On an individual app level, this week I stumbled upon a twitter conversation that inferred that the superb Explain Everything app was going to receive an update. The ‘new’ ability to add video from the camera roll to the whiteboard interface has great potential in the classroom. Last week I presented two separate apps to solve this problem and this is now out of date! Sure, there are always going to be developments but the need to embed working, reliable ‘Edtech’ and allow educators to be comfortable with it means developments almost outstrip demand. Even the recent Skitch update required a further training session to get up to speed with one of our favourite apps.

The competition between app developers is definitely a good thing for any educator with tablets in the classroom. The need to be at the forefront of our requirements means that they listen to educators and seek guidance to help develop their software. I’m glad it ‘makes my brain hurt’ because the slicker and more appropriate the applications the greater the potential to enhance learning.

I just wish I could keep up with it all!

Please feel free to let me know if there is any way to stay ahead of the game?