Mar 272013
 

earth_stopWell I called it. My powers of EdTech prognostication have once again hit the mark. Way back in December 23, 2011, I did a post called Digital Learning in 2012 – My Predictions. In this post, I predicted a push back from parents and other concerned individuals and groups about WiFi in schools.

Although I was a tad off the mark in my prediction, In 2013 the anti WiFi movement began to get some legs in British Columbia when the representatives at the 2013 British Columbia Teachers Federation (BCTF) AGM tabled a four resolutions which addressed the membership’s concerns over WiFi in schools.

In the middle of the four resolution Anti WiFi package is Resolution 138, which backs up parents in BC and supports the BCCPAC’s May 2012 AGM resolution, calling for WiFi free education choices at both elementary and secondary levels in Province of British Columbia.

Resolution 137: The BCTF recognizes the World Health Organization’s classification of Radio-frequency Electromagnetic fields emitted by wireless devices as a 2B possible cancer risk to humans; that the BCTF ensures all teachers have the right to work in a safe environment, including the right to work in a Wi-Fi/ wireless-free environment.

Resolution 138: The BCTF supports the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Council’s May 2012 resolution, which calls on each Board of Education to allocate one public school at each educational level (elementary, middle, secondary) to be free of wireless technology such as Wi-Fi, cordless phones and cell phones.

Resolution 139: The BCTF supports the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils’ May 2012 resolution calling Boards of Education to cease to install Wi-Fi and other wireless networks in schools where other networking technology is feasible.

Resolution 140: The BCTF supports members who are suffering from Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity by ensuring that their medical needs are accommodated in the workplace.

Further to these resolutions, some School Districts in both Canada and the USA have already moved to ban WiFi outright and some WiFi wary administrators are making executive decisions and pulling the plug here there and everywhere.

The push back is here and it is looking like things are about to get heated but I do have some questions about people’s understanding and motivations behind the WiFi bans. Sure I get it, we want our kids to be safe from what MIGHT be harmful but look around, everything is deemed as “possibly harmful” these days. Whats more, it is hard to take people seriously when they are rallying against WiFi with clenched fists in the air and inside that fist is their beloved cell phone.

I am not sure if people really understand that EMF’s or Electro Magnetic Fields are everywhere and emitted from things as mundane as your clock radio, hairdryer, kitchen appliances and baby monitors. EMF’s are even emitted from every wall socket in your home and yet WiFi is singled out as the lone crocodile in the reeds.

If this is an issue we are going to choose to fight in our schools we need to look beyond just WiFi. We should ban cell phones in schools (Good luck with that), get rid of computer labs, microwaves in cooking classes; welders, band saws, table saws and all other electric-powered tools in our shop programs… While we are at it, I am not sure if I should put my students in work experience placements where EMF’s are abundant or supporting their career choices where they might be at risk of EMF exposure. IF we are going to make this an issue in our schools, we are opening the door to liability issues way beyond the walls of the padded cells we call our classrooms and I am not sure I want to expose myself to that.

Whether you like it or not, Lightning the horse has been let out of the barn long ago and unless we can pinpoint examples of people dropping dead from the EMF’s emitted from WiFi, she ain’t gunna come back in any time soon.

Perhaps our time might be better spent trying to educate kids (and parents) about appropriate use of personal digital devices. Not unlike they way we do with sex and relationships, alcohol and drug abuse, poor diet and fitness and a litany of other 21 Century lifestyle pitfalls. Planting a scarlet letter on WiFi and calling for a good ole fashion public linchin solves nothing and eliminates any positive outcome WiFi might be able to deliver to our children’s learning environment.

JMHO…

Feb 032013
 

Got my hands on a new Surface RT this week. Found it just sitting there on my Principal’s desk doing nothing, so I absconded with it. Actually, being a charitable fellow, Le Grand Fromage let me have it so I could give it a good going over. So I present to you, the Microsoft Surface – Ed Tech Smack down. I will have it for about a week, during which time, me and my cracker jack team of digital device experts will put the device through its paces.

The Testing Team

SONY DSC

Grumpy old dad Seasoned Educational Technology Expert with a keen eye for innovative design and application

Crazy 14-year-old Emerging Ed Tech aficionado who has a knack for finding practical Ed Tech solutions for herself and classmates.

Tenacious 10-year-old Ready willing and able to lay thumpin on the 14-year-old to get equal time on the household digital devices. Budding Blogger and Ed Tech neophyte

The First 24 hours

Grumpy Old Dad

Really like the look and feel of the surface. Doesn’t feel cheap and has some heft to it. The iPad… Well it is the iPad what more is there to say that hasn’t already been said

After trying to set up my user profile on the surface, I thought to myself “Man the iPad is Fisher Price Simple” but here is the thing. The iPad is a one person device. You set it up the way you like it quick and easy and it is a reflection of that one user. The surface on the other hand, might not be Fisher Price Simple BUT you can set up multiple users on one device.

This makes me think the surface would be a better device for a school, which might have dozens of different users, especially districts that are running on a Microsoft Network. With the surface you can set up workgroups and other useful multi user functions, especially if your organization is running a Share Point Network. (SPN) This leads me to the second important distinction between the iPad & Surface.

Historically, Share Point did not to play nice with Apple products. It would drive me nuts when kids using an Apple product couldn’t access my online classroom. With the most recent version of Share Point however, Apple users can navigate through an SP site without too much trouble BUT with that said. The iPad still has some annoying issues with scrolling and rendering a SP site. The Surface on the other hand has full functionality in a SP environment.

Once I set up my profile and visited my Share Point classroom, I figured I would grab Google Chrome and load it onto the Surface. Unfortunately Chrome does not have a Windows Surface RT version… I assume it is coming but for now I am stuck with Windows Exploder.

After I mucked about trying to get Chrome loaded on the surface, I had to get to an Online meeting so I tried to load the Blackboard Collaborate applet and lo and behold… No applet for the Windows Surface RT operating system.

I see a theme building here…

14 Year old

  • “COOL! Is that the new Windows thingy? Can I play on it!?”
  • “Keyboard is cool but it is weird”
  • “Too much moving around to get to stuff”
  • “The corners are too sharp”
  • “WHAT! Angry birds is $4.99?”

10 Year old

  • “What is that?… Oh cool!… Where is the iPad?”

48 Hours

I am a little less pleased with the surface at the moment. It is almost like the Surface tries to be too much, both a tablet and a computer. As such, it is not Fisher Price simple like the iPad. Perhaps it will just take some time to unlearn Apple and get the functions of the Surface burned into my thick skull.

A couple other negatives I discovered in the past 2 days. I haven’t found a decent twitter app and Internet Explorer wants to render everything in compatibility mode. Both are little things but very annoying, sorta like a thorn in your sock that you can’t track down.

What I do like about the Surface is that I can upload documents into Edmodo with it, something that has been a Royal Pain in my backside with the iPad since I started using it in the classroom. As user-friendly as the iPad may be up front, it is far too restrictive when it comes to moving YOUR OWN FLIPPING FILES! around. The old “Apple way or the highway” thing gets a bit wearing when you are trying to get work done. This is something that the Surface does not do to you. Need to put a file someplace, no Problem! Just like a regular computer.

I also found that I liked the sound quality of the Surface when the kids discovered the live streaming radio feature. It is part of the Xbox live integration on the device. I have a deluxe Xbox live membership, so all the cool features available to me on the TV, are now available on the surface. Kinda nifty!

The last thing on today’s list is the keyboard cover combo. I like the ergonomics of it but I don’t really like the feel of the keyboard but with that said, it is better than having to pack around a bluetooth keyboard for the iPad. My dislike of the touch and feel of it is probably more a function of 30 years of using real keys. I don’t even like my Macbook keyboard. I like big, stiff, noisy keys like those on an old Hewlett Packard electric typewriter. The kind that you can actually feel the mechanical parts clicking and clacking under your fingertips. Ahhh Those were the good old days.

14 Year old

  • “I still can’t believe that angry birds is $4.99!”
  • “I like how Google Docs is exactly like it is on the computer, using the surface. I hate trying to work on Google docs with the iPad, it doesn’t work right!”
  • “I don’t like the onscreen keyboard, getting to the numbers is stupid! Why can’ they all be lined up on the top like the iPad keyboard?”

10 Year old

  • “It works good with my classroom blog but I didn’t type anything in so I don’t know if that works or not”
  • “I like the music streaming! I can listen while I play Cut The Rope.”
  • “I don’t like how the on-screen number pad works, it is weird that you have to change keyboards to get to the numbers”
Jan 252013
 

The-Tipping-Point-Malcolm-GladwellWell, as usual… I am light years behind the curve. I always seem to be a little slow to arrive at the party and when i finally do, all the cool people have already left but I never no mind, it’s all good. Better late then never my dear old pappy use to say.

My most recent late arrival, was a book called The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell. I found it sitting on the old and irrelevant table at Indigo while doing some Christmas shopping. Normally, I would have never even noticed the unassuming title but since I spent most of 2012 listening to educators yammer on about the “Ed Tech Tipping Point…” When I saw a book with “Tipping Point” in the title, it caught my eye.

Now that I have finally arrived at the party, long over though it may be, I can finally put my two bits worth into the Ed Tech Tipping Point discussion.

First of all, I have to say, I enjoyed the book. Gladwell brings up some very interesting points about social epidemics and I certainly understand why some educators are looking for just such an epidemic to occur with Education Technology. However, after hours of careful consideration, my conclusion is that there wont be a Gladwellian Tipping Point in Ed Tech. Instead, advances in Educational Technology will to continue to be (as it has always been) more of a slow submersion into the digital domain. A dipping point as it were.

Coincidentally, not a week after having come to this conclusion, I stumbled upon a Blogpost from Mind Share Learning, talking about the Ed Tech Tipping Point in their Top Ten EdTech Predictions for 2013. They seem to think that 2013 WILL be the year the Ed Tech tipping point occurs but I am holding my ground…. There will be no tipping point in 2013 or any other year and here is why.

I will try best I can, to relate Education Technology to Gladwell’s book. If you haven’t read the book, give the original article (on which the book is based) a quick read The Tipping Point – June 3, 1996 (New Yorker Magazine).

Stickiness

From a purely hardware perspective, the tipping point has already happened. If you don’t believe me, just look in your nearest high school classroom. There is a digital device in the hand of 90% of the kids and based on the degree of digital distraction going on at staff meetings, one in the hand of 90% of the staff as well. If I ask kids if they have a digital device to use for any given lesson, the majority of the class reaches in their bag or pocket and pull out more computing power then put a man on the moon. Now I realize that this situation is not the same for every school community but at my school, we long since tipped and are swimming in the digital deep end. The hardware is here and in the hands of many if not most but still we have not seen an Ed Tech tipping point.

Just as Gladwell tells us in his book, in order for an epidemic to occur we need “it” to stick and technology stuck to education long ago. The jump from scroll to bound books is an example of technological change. A little more recently, I remember how people thought VHS was going to revolutionize education; then desktop computers came along and were suppose to change everything; then the internet came along and distributed leaning systems were born, which promised to change the way we learn. Now mobile devices are being held on high and trumpeted by proponents as the most revolutionary thing education has ever seen… Adoption of new technology has always been a part of education but there is still no tipping point as Gladwell describes it.

In my mind this can only mean one thing, although technology itself is sticky, hardware is not. We find ourselves chasing the hardware, not unlike a heroin addict chases the dragon. The last hit is never enough and this is one of the reasons we have not seen an Ed Tech tipping point. When we focus on hardware acquisition, what we end up doing is moving the tipping point further and further away. If this continues, a Gladwellian tipping point will never occur.

Law of the Few

This is the idea that there is a small group of people who start, champion and spread a social epidemic to the masses. Gladwell refers to these people as Mavens, Connectors and Salespeople. Any one of these types of people can act as a tipping point but these types of people frequently act in more than just one of these roles. For example, many well-connected people are also good sales people, like Chris Kennedy (my superintendent). He has taken on the role of consummate Ed Tech ambassador. Myself, I am more of a grunt or as Gladwell calls it, “a Maven”. I don’t do a very good job of connecting with others or selling the idea of Ed Tech but if anyone asks for information or help with Ed Tech, I am your man.

Believe it or not, Gladwell’s law of the few is alive and well in education. These types of people are littered about the education profession and they have done a very good job selling the idea of Education Technology to their colleagues. New converts are joining the Ed Tech epidemic daily but just like the social epidemics Gladwell uses in the Tipping Point, it doesn’t infect everyone. Not everyone in Gladwell’s social epidemics bought Hush Puppies, got syphilis or committed suicide and just like a Gladwellian epidemic, not everyone in the teaching profession has bought into the epidemic of Education Technology.

Championing, Connecting and convincing others to join or become a part of a social epidemic is a difficult task and there is no reason to expect that everyone in the teaching profession will buy into the Ed Tech Revolution. Does this mean these are bad teachers? No… By Gladwell’s measure, it simply means they didn’t need, connect or were sold on the value of Education Technology.

Context

The third element of a Gladwellian epidemic is context, or the place where the would-be epidemic lives. This element can involve social, geographic, economic and other factors both big and small. It is here, I believe, that the most significant Ed Tech’s tipping point is hiding. The two most significant being, access too and pedagogical value of, Educational Technology.

Access to Educational Technology comes in many forms. As I described in the stickiness section, the school I work in is not starved for hardware. It is readily available but we still struggle with access to what we need to run a technology rich classroom environment. We have become victims of our own success and as such, we have significant difficulties assessing resources on the web because we frequently exceed the bandwidth capabilities of our network. (insert eye roll here and say… “Rich people problems!”) As ridiculous as it sounds however, if our digital tools don’t work, there isn’t much point in using them and teachers tend not to use things that don’t work.

If we want teachers to use all the latest gadgets, we need to give them access to not just the gadgets but the information sources they are built to use. I have done workshops where staff want to use iPads in the classroom but they have no wifi. This immediately relegates the iPad to nothing more than a high-tech paper weight. There are other school districts in this world that can’t afford to maintain their existing hardwired networks, never mind creating a learning environment that delivers ubiquitous access to all staff and students.

Without dependable and equitable access to the digital landscape for all stakeholders, we will not be seeing an Ed Tech Tipping point anytime soon, never mind in 2013.

As for the value of Educational Technology, It has to be said… The jury is still out. Proponents see wonderful things just waiting to be unleashed on our children’s learning spaces, yet the stalwart traditionalists have yet to be sold on its value. Kids who function well in the absence digital tools or perhaps I should say are not dependant on digital tools, still seem to out perform those who are immersed in the digital world. My own children are a case in point, they excel because they have strong reading, writing and numeracy skills, learned the old-fashioned way. In my household, digital skills are an adjunct to these old school skills not the means by which these skills are acquired.

The fear amongst many however, is that we are trying to replace the tried and true with the flashy and new. In doing so we are moving in a direction that puts engagement before good old-school foundational skills. A colleague said to me the other day.

“Our push to adopt digital learning environments seems to be an effort to engage the academically weak kids at the expense of the academically strong kids”

It is this kind of thinking on which Educational Technology has become hung up. Does technology really improve learning outcomes and who are we sacrificing in the process? Some feel the solution is to simply “unload the dinosaurs” then you will be rid of this kind of fear mongering but it has been my experience that this question resonates within the teaching profession, from newbie to retiree.

It is here that I believe the most significant Ed Tech tipping point lies. Prove to the world that technology improves learning outcomes for everyone. Make people understand that Ed Tech is not a replacement but an addition to a child’s foundational skills. Show people that old-school and new-school can coexist, that a learner who uses technology to amplify their foundational skills, will out perform those who don’t. If we do this, you might have a Gladwellian epidemic on our hands.

To conclude

As I said early on in this post, in some respects, the Education Technology Tipping point has already happened. Thousands of teachers have bought in and are using technology in their classroom on a daily basis but people like me, seem to look at EdTech integration as an all or nothing proposition. It is almost like we are in a bad episode of Star Trek – The next Generation and the Ed Techies have taken on the roll of the Borg and Old-School Teachers must be assimilated into the continuum but this is not how Gladwell’s epidemics work.

Not everyone is a part of a social epidemic. Technology has its place in education and it is becoming more significant as the years go by but an en masse adoption of technology in the classroom will not happen because epidemics don’t infect everyone, nor should they. As with any population that is exposed to an infectious agent, you don’t want everyone to get the plague. You need a portion of the population to survive and carry on.

I am glad there are people in our education system that stop and say “What the hell are we doing?” “Is this right?” and “Is this what is best for everyone?” Our education system doesn’t need lemmings, it needs thoughtful practitioners who challenge social or technological epidemics.

My final word… There will be no Ed Tech Tipping Point in 2013.

Oct 222012
 

I have been struggling to come up with a topic lately, especially since I no longer have my muse. The collapse of the iPad cohort in exchange for a BYOD (sometimes) classroom has made for interesting times. If the truth be known, I actually have even more to write about then I did last year but none of it is earth shattering or ground breaking enough to spend much time on. I have just been keeping my ear to the rail waiting for the next freight train of a topic to come down the line and so I present to you the BYOD Vs iPad Classroom

Those who know me, know that I am not really married to one platform or the other. Yes I have an iPhone an iPad and a Mac Book but the last two are the property of the school district. My own personal computer is a PC and even though I have an iPhone, I am actually partial to Android devices. My apparent “love” for apple products is actually more a requirement of my job than anything else, so I hope to give equal treatment to both sides.

In two short years, the iPad has undoubtedly changed the landscape of education. The device has proven to be a powerful digital tool in the hands of skilled users but its “must have” status seems to be more about marketing then it is about any proven utility. Sure there are cool things going on in the classrooms of the world using iPads but there are other powerful devices out there doing cool things too. The reality is that the iPad is not the only game in town and BYOD recognizes that.

I for one applaud digital diversity because one device does not fit the needs of all. Yes the iPad is marvellous but so are half-dozen other devices out there made by Samsung, Asus, Motorola, Sony, Acer and this doesn’t even include the recent addition of ultra books to the market place but this discussion isn’t about simple device comparisons. This post is about looking at the realities of digitizing the classroom with school owned devices versus student owned devices.

In this blog post, when I refer to the iPad classroom, I am referring a model where a school owns one or more sets of iPads, to be shared within the school. when i say BYOD, I am referring to a model where kids bring their own technology to class and the device can be any type, make or platform. What we are looking at are the realities of each implementation model and where they are best suited.

Cost of technology has always been an issue with school districts. Hardware costs and tech support are a significant chunk of the budget. Although hardware costs have come down over the years, the rate at which technology becomes obsolete has made it financially impossible to keep up. If School Districts could off load some of that cost by having kids bring their own device, that is a financial burden they do not have to bare. With that said, not all families can afford to buy their child(ren) a digital device to take to school so where does that leave us. You are either leaving some out of the loop or the school is still buying a handful of devices for use by those who cannot afford to buy.

Control seems to be a smouldering issue when it comes to any digital device in the classroom. For any number of reasons teachers want some if not total control of the content dispensed by the device and how it is used in their class. For the most part this desire for control is simply to ensure that a lesson goes as planned but there are other issues around inappropriate use of the device on class time which opens a teacher up to liability. With BYOD, it is FAR more difficult to control the content being dispensed and how the device is used. In the iPad classroom, teachers have far greater control of what is going on, simply by virtue of the way the device is set up as a school device.

Apps are a common thread which runs through many of the pros and cons of these two models. In an iPad classroom, the apps on the device are the ones the teacher needs for the purpose of running their class. Although we can recommend App sets to students, when a kid brings their own device, the applications they have on their device can be quite the potpourri. This means a student may or may not have an app you would like them to have so they may not be able to participate in the class the way you would like them to, or they are constantly distracted by the less than “academic” apps they have loaded on it. The result is…

Planning for a BYOD classroom is far more difficult than a iPad classroom because you have to take into account all the different types of devices kids are carrying and what it is kids are able to do with them. Not all devices can run all apps, some won’t run flash and some devices won’t let you upload files while others can… On any given day, the list of possible compatibility issues between device and lesson is staggering. The iPad classroom is easy, you know what you are working with and what to expect from the device, so planning your lessons and assignments is pretty straight forward.

As a result, the degree of Digital Literacy required in the BYOD classroom is significantly higher than in the iPad classroom. If both teacher and student are not competent in how to make a particular device work for the task at hand, far too much time is spent troubleshooting. If a teacher demonstrates a task using an App on a iPad but a student has a PC Laptop, that student should be able to quickly find a suitable way to do the task. Although I would suggest that a BYOD teacher should have a good idea as to what alternatives are available, their primary role of “teacher”, should not be to figure things out for students.

Where the BYOD plan comes into its own is with student to device RATIOS. With the Class Set model, the iPads have to be shared amongst an entire school and frequently that class set has fewer devices then there are kids in the class. This limits access for students and creates logistical issues around saving and sharing files but perhaps more significant is that hands on time with the device is rarely consistent. The BYOD student on the other hand, is free to access their work anywhere,any time. The device becomes an extension of the their academic life and in a perfect world, the BYOD student becomes far more digitally literate.

The question then becomes, which model is best? and my answer is simply this. There is room for both models in our education system.

The reality is that most students will need to be digitally literate at some point in their lives and they should be well on their way to being so by the time they leave High School. For this to happen, they need regular access to a digital device and the BYOD model provides this. At elementary however, constant access to a device isn’t really necessary or even desirable. As my wife says, “at grade 1 you are just trying keep the kids from putting their fingers up their nose… Smearing those same fingers all over an iPad is more of a health hazard then it is a learning experience” with that pleasant image in mind, the iPad model is perfect for the elementary classroom because you can utilize the device when the learning conditions are right.

When you look at the two models they can be seen as the two ends of a digital literacy continuum. As the child moves through the grades, they move toward digital independence and these two models can be implemented independent of each other or in combination to achieve this end.

Of course I have over simplified things in the diagram above as there are all sorts of details I have left out in my description. Even if I had gone into detail, there are at least as many things that could turn my best laid plans to dust. What you should take from this post is that the implementation of digital devices in a school system is not a one or the other choice. What is required is a program of diverse digital deployment.

FURTHER READING

Why BYOD Is A Disaster Waiting To Happen For Schools

Are Schools Prepared to Let Students BYOD?

BYOD in school not as easy as ABC

 

Aug 262012
 

To start off, I will get straight to the punch and provide many of you with the answer to the single most frequently asked question about Content Management Systems for Education. NO YOU CANNOT UPLOAD FILES FROM YOUR IPAD TO EDMODO!

In the past 3 weeks 80% of all all keyword searches that point to my blog are asking this single question. What this suggests to me is that there are a large number of teachers looking for a Content Management System or CMS for their classroom this coming year. So a new blog post was born.

Over the years I have dabbled in many CMS’s but for any number of reasons, I have always moved on in search of something better. I have even tried to create my own classroom CMS but didn’t have the skills to create a site that could do everything I wanted it to do. To date the single most powerful Education CMS I have ever used, was Moodle and I would still be using it today were it not for the fact I had to host it on my nickle.

Last year I gave Edmodo a whirl and without a doubt it is no Moodle but it is trying and I quite liked it. Its interface is easy to use and there isn’t much of a learning curve in getting up and running. It seems to have been designed with the Luddite in mind or at least with an understanding of where the average Luddite is coming from

The other thing about Edmodo is that they are constantly improving their platform, adding new features and improving functionality but the single biggest problem with Edmodo is… yes you guessed it! YOU CANNOT UPLOAD FILES FROM YOUR IPAD TO EDMODO and I have my doubts that you ever will unless Edmodo sells its soul to the Devil or Apple, whichever comes first.

If you are hell bent on using edmodo and are running an iPad class, the Edmodo App is wonderful and I have no complaints. The way I get around the file upload issue is to have the kids post their work on a blog or in a google doc and have them submit the web link to their work. As long as I have that link, I can evaluate it. It is a wee bit of a pain but it works in a pinch and once you have the kids set up to do that, it is easy. Another option is to have the kids move the file they were working on with their iPad, onto a computer and then they can upload the document to Edmodo.

Some other nifty things you can do with Edmodo include marking and annotating students work online, provide parents with access to their child’s “learning environment”, create work groups, create discussion threads… and there are more features being added on a regular basis. Oh and it is FREE!

In my humble opinion, Moodle is still KING of the education CMS’s but the problem is that it requires some expertise, time, a host and a myriad of other things, which the average teacher off the street does not have at hand or have the time to acquire. If your school district will host a moodle site or already does, giddy up!

What I am not sure about however, is whether Moodle is iPad friendly or not. I have not tired myself but I have gotten a number of mixed reports on its functionality on an iPad. If you are running an iPad classroom next year, you might want to research other possibilities. If your kids have laptops or work in a computer lab, Moodle’s power and functionality is unparalleled.

I was asked to Beta Test Go Class last year but I unfortunately never got around to it. I did play with it a bit and from what I saw, it looks to be a slick little iPad friendly interface. Like Edmodo, Go class is designed with the average non tech geek teacher in mind. Getting things up and running looks to be fairly quick and easy.

What I like about Go Class is that it structures individual lesson planning into three tabs ShowExplain - Ask. On the student end, the final product is clean and straight forward to use. You can even assign time limits on the task, see who has completed their work and provide formative assessment from your instructor dashboard. Just remember that Go Class is still in Beta stage but I think it is worth taking a look at.

UPDATE! Stop the presses! I have just been informed that there is a new Education CMS in town called Schoology. My first look was brief but it looks like it might be a winner in its own right. Right off the bat what I notice with Schoology is their App center and within that App center is Blackboard Collaborate, which is the industry standard for presenting content to people who are not sitting right in front of you. The integration of this App alone is a HUGE Plus, especially for those who are running a 100% online course or even a blended class.

In addition to Blackboard, Schoology has a reminder app to send kids reminders about due dates and tests via text messaging. They have a Turnitin.com app and selection of other interesting apps I have never hear of. Along with all the cool apps, Schoology has all the functionality of Edmodo and Go Class. It may be worth some serious consideration for those who are looking for a Classroom CMS.

These four are the only iPad friendly CMS’s for education that I am aware of but there may be some others which have slipped past my radar so be sure to keep your eyes open for others and share what you find.

The other thing educators have been doing to accommodate iPad use in the classroom is building individual lessons or activities around individual apps such as Evernote or Edublog. To be honest I have not used either in class but there are lots of teachers who do and both have an active community of educators who are more than happy to help you out.

Edublog actually operates on the WordPress CMS. For those of you who are not familiar with WordPress, it is the best blogging platform out there, even my blog runs on it. Edublogs has taken their site one epic step further than mine however and added a plugin called BuddyPress. This allows teachers to manage users within a class or a school.

I have seen this particular platform used very successfully in elementary environments including my own children’s school. Teachers use Edu Blogs to get kids discussing topics online, providing links to resources and information and giving kids a safe and secure place to write online. To get all the features, you would need to run a full-blown Edublog site and would need a subscription. It is not necessarily affordable for an individual teacher but there is a fee schedule for schools. Pricing

To get a better idea of what you can do with an Edublog site check out Ten Ways To Use Edublogs To Teach

Evernote has been the darling of the APP world almost right out of the gate. I have used if for personal note taking but I have not used it for my classes. I have read about others who have done it very successfully and Wandering Academic did a great post on how Evernote can be used in the classroom.

What I like about using notebooks, is that kids have a far greater responsibility for what it is they do or do not do. In many ways it is not that much different then a paper notebook. With an all in one CMS, a teacher can keep constant tabs on what a student has or has not been doing but not so much with an app like Evernote.

Like Edublogs, you will need a subscription if you are going to run your class with it. A premium subscription is only $45 a year but they also do site licences and group pricing to help manage the cost.

So there it is, my two bits worth on Education CMS’s. There is just so many products out there, it is impossible to have tried or even know about them all. If you know of a product that you like or would like me to investigate for you, let me know.

One final and important note. There are some significant concerns in many countries about privacy laws and the protection of student identities and personal information. Before you start using any app where a students personal information is being stored outside of your school network, make sure you have the support of your administration and an appropriate use policy is in place. Make sure parents are aware of this policy and that they are ok with their children online. In some cases, you may simply not want to use an app because you do not have control over the information.

Jun 242012
 

Well the year has come to a close and I guess it is time to start reflecting on how things went with our little iPads in the classroom pilot. If you have been reading my blog, you are well aware that things have not been perfect but I am comfortable in saying that more good came of it then bad. Both teachers and students managed to learn a few things from this experience and we will be able to move forward and improve on how we teach and learn using digital devices.

In addition to what was going on in my iPad classroom, I also was able to experiment at home with my child. Up until this year she hasn’t really had very much access to digital technology for work or play, at least on the home front. This gave me the opportunity to work with a kid who was pretty close to a base line of digital exposure and allowed me to really control how the iPad was used for an educational purpose.

The most important lessons I learned this year however, have nothing to do with the iPad. These lessons were beyond the utilitarian business of learning and teaching with a digital device. Sure I learned what  apps work best or how best to demonstrate learning using the iPad but what this year REALLY solidified for me was that all digital all the time is not necessarily good, appropriate, best practice or even needed.

After this year, there is no longer any doubt in my mind that we need to teach our kids to be competent in the real world before immersing them in a digital one. Again this might seem like common sense BUT if you are a casual onlooker, you could not be blamed for thinking that all digital, all the time, is all good.

So without further adieu, here is a short but long-winded list of things I have come to believe after this years iPads in the Classroom project.

There is no replacement for good old-fashioned reading and writing skills. Although I am sure that I’m stating the obvious here, people seem to always forget or perhaps hope that technology can compensate for weaknesses in basic academic skills. Unfortunately, those who are hoping that the iPad can do that miraculous task, will be sorely disappointed. What digital technology seems to be able to do best, is amplify good academic skills. Kids who have strong foundational skills are able to use technology to leverage their abilities and push themselves even further ahead of their peers who have weak or average academic skills. I saw this both at home and in the classroom and I am certain this will probably continue to be the case for many generations to come.

Pen & Paper are still useful learning tools. I know this is akin to the point above but this is more about the process of creating digital content. During the school year, I quickly discovered that simply turning kids loose to work in a digital environment, is a hit and miss endeavor. This was especially true with my own 13-year-old daughter. It seemed that their ability to organize their thoughts and do a thorough job of the work at hand, suffered in a purely digital environment.  Quality of work was instantly improved when I required my students and my daughter to begin their work with a pencil and paper first. I would seem that, brain storming and outlining on paper first, especially in group situations,  was a far better way of organizing your work.

Now whether working in a purely digital environment is just a “new” skill that needs to be learned or whether pen & paper is simply superior for some tasks, I am not sure but time will certainly tell. For now, I will be requiring both my students and my own children to produce at least some of their work with pen and paper as part of a comprehensive learning process.

Self Regulation is this years pedagogical catch phrase. Everywhere you turn someone is using it. You see it in blog posts, hear it in staff meetings, on news reports… As much as I like the science behind it, the term has already become tiresome. If you run in education circles, it is one of those words you could use for a drinking game at one of those crazy off the hook teacher parties. Every time someone uses “self-regulation” in conversation, you take a shot of Petrone.

Although I jest, when it comes to digital devices, the ability to self regulate is absolutely imperative when it comes to classroom success. Students HAVE to be able too put down their device and direct their attention to something other than what is on their device screen. This could be during a group discussion, direct instruction, a presentation or just for a 10 second question and answer session.

Again it seems like common sense but as we all know, sense in not all that common. Everyone needs to learn to self regulate when it comes to their digital addictions. Of course there are examples of this everywhere. Texting while driving  is a perfect example of a lack of self-regulation . We need to be able to detach from the device to attend to real world situations when the needed. While texting and driving distracts you from doing the important task of driving safely, digital distraction in the classroom causes the learner to miss the opportunity to participate in their learning environment.

This leads to my next point and what people really seem to struggle with.

A new culture of learning needs to evolve in our schools, which accounts for the presence of digital devices in the classroom. One where students, parents and teachers recognize and respect that there is a time and a place for the use of digital tools. As I started formulating this post, I found a great blog post by Lisa Velmer Nielsen who suggests that all schools need to establish a Social media or BYOD policy. Although I agree with what Nielson has to say, I would argue we need to get beyond the notion of “policy”  and toward a universally accepted understanding around appropriate use of digital devices. It is most commonly referred to as being a good digital citizen but the question is how do we accomplish this? Currently the device seems to control the person rather than the person controlling the device and we need to flip this relationship between user and device.

It is easy to simply slide into creating a list of  thou shall not’s but the goal here is not to create a book of punitive measures for those who break the rules. We need to figure out how to create a culture, where everyone knows when to be immersed in the real world and when it is ok to slip into the digital one.

Access to information does not an education make. Again this is not rocket science but a far to common rationalization for not bothering to “learn the material” or “understand a concept” is that the answer is immediately available on your digital device. If you can Search it… why remember or understand it?

This past week, I saw a reprint of a blog post by Larry Cuban in the Washington Post  The technology mistake: Confusing access to information with becoming educatedIt takes my original thoughts far beyond what I intended and is well worth the read.

Regardless of who is saying it… The simple message is that WE MUST NOT equate easy access to information, with learning or becoming educated.

Finally, I realize that this post isn’t what some people were hoping for and I apologize for not writing a Rah-Rah Sis-Boom-Ba feel good post about the iPad but everyone already knows that the iPad is cool and holds incredible potential as a learning tool. I feel what we need more than anything else is to hear the voice of the common old, run of the mill teacher, slogging it out in the trenches trying to make technology work in the classroom.

At some point, I will post something in the next couple of weeks about all the AMAZING and FANTASTIC things I did in the classroom with the iPad but for now, I leave you with these bigger observations, which are perhaps more important than the  nuts and bolts of using iPads in the classroom.

Happy Summer all!

Nov 022011
 

Ok so here it is. Not so long ago, I promised that I would have an affordable screen cast solution for those who are using iPads in the classroom. Today I am conceeding partial defeat. I am close, very close but not close enough and I need to enlist the help of some smart people.

Here is what I have come up with so far. It may look like a convoluted mess but it makes sense to an abstract thinker like me. From top to bottom is the order in which I have connected everything. At the very bottom of the post is an image to illustrate the whole thing.

  1. iPad to..
  2. HDMI Adapter to…
  3. HDMI To 5 RCA Component AV Converter to
  4. Component Cables to…
  5. Roxio Game Capture Unit splits to...
  6. Lap top and Projection unit
Everything works as it should through to the projection unit. The ipad is mirrored and ready to roll but when I fire up the capture software on my laptop the signal is messed.

I am hoping that someone can figure out if the signal can be cleaned up somehow or tell me if what I am trying to do is just not possible. Once again the signal is clean and flawless through all the conversion units and cabling, it is just messed up when it hits my laptop and I try to do a capture using the proprietary Roxio capture software. This suggests to me that it is either one of or all of the following.

  • Settings issue with my laptop
  • Software issue
  • Video card issue

I believe that the concept I am playing with is valid. There is a product out there called the Epiphan VGA2USB LR frame grabber that does exactly what I am trying to do, just a little more streamlined. Unfortunately it comes in at $799 USD’s, great for institutions but not so great for individual teachers. My idea will come in at about $150 USD’s. All we have to do now, is figure out how to get a clean signal to the laptop so we can capture the mirrored iPad.

I am opening the floor to anyone who can figure the rest out and perhaps as a community we can make this work and benefit from it.

See below What I have done.

Sep 172011
 

Well, we are two weeks in and I have already come to an opinion about Edmodo, digital learning’s promising new upstart. I have to say, there is a lot to like about it and as a result teachers are flocking to this content management system to manage their classrooms and their curriculum.

Before I go any further, let me share bit of my background and what I am judging Edmodo to. Although I hesitate to call myself an expert, I have been in the distributed learning game for my whole 15(ish) year career. I cut my teeth on the Pathfinder learning system which morphed in to the failed Nautikos Learning system. I have used Plato, Web CT, dabbled in Share Point for Education and I even built my own online classroom before deciding to run Moodle as my content management system. For the past three school years, I ran a Moodle site for my online classrooms but unfortunately I had to abandon it because it became to costly to self host on a private server. When I stumbled upon Edmodo this summer, I was very hopeful that I had found an affordable solution for my online classroom needs.

Right out of the box there are eight things which Edmodo’s developers have done well.

  • Assignment distribution and submission is quick and easy
  • Similar appearance & function to Facebook allows kids to figure out classroom quickly.
  • It is is completely free so there is no out of pocket expense for teachers.
  • Easy to create classes
  • Simple to use grading system
  • Decent calendar but I wish you could sync it to google calander
  • There is an excellent networking function where teachers network with colleagues.
  • There is a mobile app for those teachers and students on the go.

Edmodo definitely has the basics in place but for a Distributed Learning System to really be useful, you need a few more functions or applications before you can truly create an effective online classroom environment. I find the following items to be crucial in running a digital classroom and they will have to be implemented by Edmodo before they can hope to become the go to online education solution.

Threaded Discussion – This is Old School Social Networking but it still serves an important purpose in an online classroom. Where things like twitter and instant messaging serve to share ideas quickly and in the moment. A threaded forum provides a place where students can share ideas over a day a week or even a semester. It gives students to time to think about what they have read and formulate a calculated response. This is especially important for students who are not quick of the mark with their thoughts, ESL or simply not good writers and need time to read through and edit what they post. This function is imperative in any online classroom environment.

Blog Module – I have been using blogs for years and I have ex students who are still posting in the same blog I had them create ten years ago. It is a great way to get kids to put down thoughts after a class discussion, presentation, video or other. I have used student blogs in parent teacher interviews as evidence of learning and when I need a kid to pull up their socks. A blog function is invaluable to any classroom virtual or bums in seats.

Instant Messaging – Now this is not a MUST HAVE but it is useful in a number of situations. Kids can discuss assignments, ideas they have, or simply socialize. They also find it handy at 11pm when they are doing their homework and can contact me instantly for help.

Mass Email Function – This function is a HUGE help in managing students. I currently use a third party vendor called constant contact for emailing students and parents about assignments due, special announcements or any other issues that warrant a mass email. This may be a bit of a long shot for Edmodo to put into place but it would be handy.

Testing Module – As much as I hate to say it, a testing module would be good to have. I know that the word “test” is the new baddy in the 4 letter word world but on occasion it is necessary to give the kids a test. It keeps them honest and heck, lets be honest. It is kinda fun seeing the panic in their eyes once or twice a term.

Web based Text Input – In my opinion this is another must have for kids to be able to submit things like question answers and minor assignments using a java based text box. It is a much easier way to submit answers then uploading a document file every time they complete their work. This is especially important for those who are using an ipad, since you cannot search to and find files for uploading on your ipad. The iPad situation is turning into a HUGE pain in the backside for the kids and I.

Now there is about another half dozen items I would like to see Edmodo implement but I am a realist. I can’t have everything but what we have here is a start. It is by no means a perfect online learning environment but it isn’t all that bad either. Edmodo has many advantages, especially for individual teacher the most significant of which are that it is simple, effective and FREE. Considering Edmodo is backed by Union Square Ventures, the same company which backed Twitter, LinkedIn, Formspring and Zynga, I can only assume that there is more to come for Edmodo. In the end only time will tell if we have a winner on our hands but I look forward to whatever comes down the line and I will be there to praise it or pan it.

Pie in the Sky Wish List

  • Wiki Space
  • White board for real time instruction
  • Ability to add twitter feeds
  • Collaborative space
  • Google Docs integration in lieu of collaborative space