Aug 132012

I spend a lot of time reflecting about my use of iPads in the classroom and I have gotten a lot of attention and positive feedback about my glass half full approach to evaluating these marvelous little devices. Lately however, I have been getting asked “What are your favorite iPad apps for classroom?” and My response isn’t much more then a very thoughtful “ummmmmm?” This is mainly because the list is rather short and hardly impressive and it is strangely missing most of the big names in Apps for Education.

What follows is a short list of My 6 favorite iPad Apps for the classroom. Some cost a few bucks and that might be an issues for those of you who are running a BYOD program. For those of you who’s program uses school owned iPads, you might be able to get some bulk pricing if you contact the vendor. Most developers would love to get a school using their product and would be happy to cut you a break on their App.

Finally, keep in mind that this list is by no means intended to be the last word in Apps for educators. Also keep in mind that I am a Social Studies, Work Experience, Alternative school teacher so I probably don’t use the same set of Apps that a Science or Math teacher would use.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for some more reviews on Apps for Pro D and other School related stuff. I just have to get around to it ūüôā

[ws_table id=”1″]

Mar 312012

You may remember a little while ago, I wrote a post called Whoa Nellie – Are we getting ahead of ourselves?“, where I took a brief look at three problems I have encountered recently in my efforts to move toward a Twenty First Century Learning environment.¬†Following that post I tossed up a second called Whoa Nellie‚Ķ Now what?Where I discussed how creating personal digital learning spaces could be a solution to some of the hurdles we are encountering as we move toward a Twenty First Century Learning model. Now¬†that I am done with my Union Rabble Rousing for this year, I have some time to do a follow-up post and expand my thoughts on Personal Digital Spaces or PDS’s.

A PDS is simply a place where you can store “stuff” in a digital environment. It could be a piece of writing, video, drawing, presentation… Anything that you can record digitally can be put in this space. The most common of these types of spaces are Blogs but there are all sorts of different platforms you can use to create a PDS. My personal favourite is a blog, simply because you can do so many things with it. Once you create one, the only limitation as to what you can create is your imagination and your willingness to learn.

This very blog is an example of a PDS. I write and share what I have learned over my career and what I am learning on a day-to-day basis. I am proud of it and I go to great lengths to ensure that what I put up is a genuine reflection of who I am as a person and a professional. Sure, somethings I put up are complete nonsensical drivel but for the most part, I feel that I share some pretty decent stuff. Stuff that I want people to see, which leads to an other important point about Digital Spaces.

This blog is a part of my digital footprint. It is the first thing that comes up when people Google my name. It is my digital persona and therefore it is critical that I take great care in ensuring that I am putting my best foot forward when creating this digital footprint. This space is mine, it represents me and I want it to be as close to perfect as possible.

So why is this important?

If you are creating a digital space that is a quality representation of yourself, it takes effort, it takes thought and you cannot cheat the system. The act of creating this space and creating content for it, goes beyond the simple memorization of meaningless facts, theories or ideas. It forces the individual to be engaged with the topic or material they are sharing AND they have to learn to use the technology they are presenting it with.

How does this translate when we are discussing the three “problems”¬†mentioned in the first of this series of posts? Well lets take a look.

Problem 1: Students who just wanted to know “what to study for?”

If we use PDS as a place to showcase what we have learned or perhaps share some opinions about what we have learned OR god forbid, come up with an original thought about the topic du jour. ¬†The simple act of ¬†creating the content for our digital space and sharing it with the world, in and of itself… ¬†Is studying. Assuming the content is original, well presented and shows an understanding of the curriculum, perhaps a test is not¬†necessary.

What is more, when a parent wants to see where their child is at or what they have done. The PDS will speak for itself. There is no more hiding behind artificial test results, garnered from the efforts of an all night study session. Theoretically the PDS is an accurate representation of how the student is doing is school and considering it is a public representation of what the student knows or is capable of, you would hope it is an individuals best work.

Finally, a PDS is a GREAT way to present yourself to the world beyond the hallowed halls of high school. In today’s world, grades are becoming less and less significant. Sure good grades are important, but the attitude of “just tell me what is going to be on the test” no longer cuts it. A student NEEDS to create an online presence that they can market to prospective¬†post secondary¬†schools and employers. Raw numbers from test results no longer make the grade.

Problem 2: A general resistance toward accepting digital devices as legitimate learning tools.

When it came time to start making plans for next years iPad integration cohort, I was shocked that we were having difficulties recruiting individuals to participate. I figured that we would have at least one additional group of kids in a school of 1500, who wanted to participate. I was at a loss for words but really it isn’t all that surprising.

It became crystal clear why this is the case when I gave my Work Experience & Graduation Transitions students the task of creating a digital space of their own to represent what they have accomplished in their first 12 years in the education system. Only 1 student out of 26, had a web site & understood what it was I wanted. Of the remaining 25, only 3 managed to put together a site that had any kind of evidence that they were  involved or interested in anything. The problem is that I know that this is not the case for these students. They are all amazing in their own right but they have never been directed to collect or create something which represents what they are all about in a digital format.

By incorporating the use of PDS’s into the learning environment as a part of the learning experience, we create a situation where the use of digital tools as a way to¬†demonstrate¬†learning is part and parcel¬†of the school experience. There would be no question as to whether a student should be carrying a digital device, they would be as common as a binder or pencil crayons. Recruitment would no longer be an issue because carrying a Digital Device would be common place.

Problem 3: Use of digital spaces are restricted to the geeky minority.

When I was given the¬†privilege¬†of doing 3 guest lectures at my old¬†Alma matter about iPads in the classroom, I went in assuming that the new and up and coming teachers would be on par if not¬†beyond¬†what I had to share with them. I was genuinely nervous because I figured they would be part of the digital¬†elite and might expose me for the fraud I am but it wasn’t the case.

I was, in every way, more versed with digital technology in the classroom than they were. I quickly realized¬†that a 45-year-old dinosaur such as myself,¬†knew more about digital spaces then new teachers just entering the profession were. Once I¬†completed¬†my three lectures, ¬†I¬†immediately¬†went to do some research on some of these students and none of them had a significant Digital Footprint. I was astonished! People who we assume are “digital natives” have no significant presence in the digital world, yet we are expecting them to teach our children to be good digital¬†citizens. This is not to say Universities are not trying. The¬†professor¬†who asked me to speak to her classes is trying desperately to get new teachers up to speed, but the use of digital spaces is simply not seen as something “we” do as teachers.

As for my colleagues, who are actively teaching in the system today. I work with amazing people, one of which just got accepted at Oxford to do a PhD, but using Digital Spaces is not part of what she does. If we want teachers to use digital spaces and digital tools, we need to make them available and provide the  TIME to do it. Personally I LOVE the stuff and getting the likes of me to bring digital spaces into their teaching is easy but not everyone has bought into the digital frenzy.

If you want teachers to use digital tools to create digital spaces, you have to make it accessible for them. You need to encourage & FUND the use of digital spaces by the professionals you employ. Once teachers are using them for themselves, they are far more able to include them in their curriculum AND advise their students on how to create them for themselves.

Personally I am out-of-pocket in the¬†neighborhood¬†of $2000.00 a year hosting my own blogs and blogs of other teachers FOR FREE in an effort to help teachers create their PDS’s. In a sense I subsidize our school system so that we (as a profession) can move toward the “ideal” 21Century Learning Model.¬†Unfortunately¬†for my pocketbook, I think it is important enough so I take the financial hit but it¬†shouldn’t¬†be that way. If the school system want teachers to use digital spaces as a learning tool, they need to facilitate its use.

To conclude

PDS’s are the learning space of the future. They can be so much more than they currently are AND they are woefully under utilized as a legitimate learning tool. It is obvious that I LOVE the medium for many reasons but from a practical and professional perspective, Personal Digital Spaces are so important for our students.¬†The medium is so powerful, that I¬†believe it is short-sighted of us to not teach our children how to create their own Personal Digital Space and use these spaces as evidence of learning.

Life is no longer simply about grades or the reputation you have, it is also about the rock solid, concrete digital space you create.

Sep 182011

I find it quite interesting when the conversation about education and technology comes up amongst educators. There is usually a variety of opinions on the topic with regard too its value in the classroom along with a broad spectrum of comfort levels in using it, ranging from no way to every day.

Weaving its way through this conversation is the assumption that kids are far more skillful in using technology then their teachers. It is an assumption which creates apprehension in educators and creates a digital divide (real or imagined) between Teacher and Student but it is an assumption that is quite frankly, incorrect.

Certainly there are kids out there who are incredibly proficient in using technology in constructive ways and I have few of my own that amaze me with their ability on a daily basis but for the most part, these individuals are in the minority. The rest of the student body know how to use their digital devices but only for the purpose of consuming digital media. Texting, game playing, video watching, socializing… The majority of these activities are consumptive in nature and by no means denote a “skill” in any way shape or form.

I feel that it is safe to say that the majority of kids are not using technology for any substantive utilitarian purpose. In fact, the majority of people regardless of age, never use technology in a manner which is anything beyond a reactionary relationship between user and device.

This error in assumption is currently being played out in the iPads In The Classroom trail I am involved in. Twenty five students who we assumed would be quick to pick up on or already have the knowledge to be productive in an educational setting, has fallen a tad short of the mark.

This is not to say things are hopeless. We have made some progress in getting things up and running and we have had a really cool twitter driven discussion about academic success but there are still some surprising “gaps in using the apps”.

The most common issues so far involve rudimentary user skills.

  • Linking third party accounts with various apps
  • Sending Email attachments
  • Familiarity with services such as twitter and drop box
  • Attaching links to assignments
  • Saving images from the web
  • Imbedding images to presentations

In addition to not knowing how to do these basic things, frustration amongst the iPad cohort is quick to set in when they can’t get things to work. The past two weeks of this digital immersion experiment has solidified my opinion that assuming that all kids are digital savants is simply wrong.

Educators need to understand that kids (as a whole) are not as well versed with using technology for functional purposes as we might think. We need to teach them the difference between consumption and production on a digital device. In traditional education terms, it is the difference between reading a book and writing a book. Being able to read and understand a message within a text, does not mean that you can write and effectively convey a message of your own.

It has become obvious to me that the biggest roadblock to creating effective digital learners lies in the assumptions we make about students innate ability to use technology for an educational purpose. Hopefully, we can begin to break this mold and begin to move ahead in creating a digital learning environments that are absent of these counter productive assumptions.

See iPad Experiment