Mar 152015
 

JavaScriptWhat an embarrassment! My online learning project is a shambles and I have resorted to a book. A real honest to god paper book on learning Java Script. Oh the shame, oh the horror, oh the heresy… Will I , can I ever live this one down? Meh… Who cares. This project is about learning isn’t it and I wanted to use a book so be it.

I have a little secret however, this book comes with a companion website www.javascriptworld.com that gives me the files and scripts, which I can use as I go through the book chapter by chapter.

What find useful about this format, is that I can (as I have in the past) use the information in this book to help me build a course of my own.  This is a common trait in teachers I find. You can give them a Course in a Can, all ready to go and they end up tweaking it suit their needs or teaching style.

This is the problem with all packaged curriculum whether in be online or hard copy. Teachers will always dissect it, modify it and repackage for delivery in their classroom and it will not look anything like it did when it came out of the government approved curriculum factory.

I think this trait of compulsive re jigging of curriculum comes from a teacher’s preservice days, when doing a B.Ed., you would swap unit plans amongst the members of your cohort and adapt them to suit your student teaching assignment. This ultimately saved an immense amount of time and energy because you didn’t have to hunt down resources, write out the curriculum word for word and then present it. More time could be spent on the craft of teaching, coming up with creative ways of presenting the materials. With the odd tweak here and there to make the unit plan your own, you were ready to go in a day or two instead of weeks.

Today, I still find hard copy materials useful in planning my units or lessons but with the use of the internet there is a plethora of digital resources I can call on to add to the framework that hard copy materials give you. This book is actually just one of a number of resources I have been gathering to learn Java Script and will use to cobble together my own course.

So far these resources include:

What this means, is that my learning project has moved on from trying to learn Java Script for the sake of learning Java Script to learning Java Script for the purpose of having a serviceable course to deliver to my students. Don’t worry, I have no delusions about becoming a Java Script Guru through this process. What I suspect or perhaps I should say hope, is that by going through the process of building this course, I will acquire the skills needed to support my students through a beginning level course rather than leaving their learning up to Khan Academy.

 

 

 

 

Jan 152015
 

Google-ClassroomGoogle Classroom the latest name in a long and unceremonious history of distributed learning platforms. Many people don’t realize that digitizing and delivering curriculum by computer has been around for quite some time. When I entered the education game in 1996, I started off using a program called Pathfinder followed by PlatoNautikosWeb CTMoodleEdmodo… and now Google Classroom. There have been others, but these are the ones I have used.

Some might say this list alone is evidence that distributed learning systems don’t work but I would prefer to look at this list as the genealogy of an evolving technology. In fact WebCT, Moodle and Edmodo are still very much alive and well, and now Google Classroom has just joined the party.

So what pray tell has Google Classroom brought to this party that the others don’t? Well… Nothing really, at least from a classroom teacher/student perspective there isn’t anything special about Google Classroom. Its basic function simply allows for the teachers and students to engage in the age-old transaction of Assignment-out & Assignment-in. What Google Classroom does have over other platforms is simply this. Full and seamless integration of its suite of Google Drive applications in a secure learning space.

Certainly, “secure” is a relative term when discussing cloud technologies but as far as data security goes, I would say the Google Vault is probably the safest place for our students data. Of course there is the question of, “who is going to protect the data from Google” but that is another blog post.

With this said, I am sure there are some of you are saying to yourself, BIG FRIKIN DEAL! Google Classroom does nothing that can’t be done in the here and now. Not only that,  it doesn’t add any other functionality over the platforms that already exist… but remember, this is only the beginning.

I can only expect that there will be ever-growing functionality being added to the classroom over time and this is a large part of why schools are jumping on board. Although the other platforms are beyond where Google Classroom is today, Google has the money and the people make innovative improvements that their competitors are not capable of. IMHO

So after 4 months of using Google Classroom, what would I like to see?

Better assignment management – Currently assignment management within the classroom interface is pretty crude. All you get is a long list of the years assignments from most recent assignment on down. This can become a bit cumbersome, especially if you are a teacher that hands out daily small assignments vs a teacher who assigns a fewer larger projects.

What Google Classroom needs is:

  • A flexible system where teachers can group assignments by term and unit, so that the assignment interface is less cluttered and focuses on the unit at hand.
  • They also need to think of their discussion streams more along the lines of a threaded forum or at least make that an option within the classroom set up

More efficient marking interface – The single biggest complaint I have received from teachers about Google Classroom is about how laborious and slow marking is in the Google Doc environment. Some teachers have even resorted to printing out a class set of assignments and marking them old school. This totally defeats much of the purpose of a digital classroom in that we end up going back to paper to mediate the learning transaction.

Google engineers need to understand that teachers can have as many as 200+ students. I estimate that marking an assignment in the Google Doc ecosystem can take between 1 to 2 minutes longer than on hard copy. Those who are not in the know will say “BIG DEAL!… Suck it up you whiny teachers!”. but once you start adding the time up, it is conceivable that teachers will have to spend 200 – 400 minutes more marking a set of assignments in the Google Classroom ecosystem than they did when marking hard copy.

What Google Classroom needs is

  • A dedicated marking interface
  • Quick and easy transitions from one assignment to the next
  • The ability to mark up assignments using a tablet and stylus.
  • Make it so markup and grade can be entered in one window

Classroom design options

Give teachers some options on how the Classroom is laid out. Have the basic functional layout but allow teachers to drop in modules such as Twitter feeds, YouTube channels or a Resource Library. I am going to venture a guess that may be in the works as the classroom is already a two column design and the left column is rather bare, just waiting for something to occupy the space.

Grade Book

Embedded into the Google Classroom is a rudimentary grade system where you can give assignments mark values and drop in the numerical grade earned but to be truly useful to teachers it needs to go far beyond its current functionality.

The grade book needs to

  • Allow for different assignment types and weighting
  • Provide a view that allows teachers to see and edit all marks over the year
  • Basic analytics such as class average, missing assignments, due dates

I am sure there are dozens of other things Google engineers could consider as they improve Google Classroom but these items are what I would consider most important to teachers.

Conclusion 

Google has done a good job in launching a basic curriculum delivery system. Nothing fancy, just a simple curriculum delivery platform that is definitely not as powerful or functional as WebCT, Moodle or Edmodo. At this point, any institution that currently runs one of these other platforms, have no reason to jump on the Google Classroom bandwagon.

As we look down the road however, I fully expect that Google will begin to introduce more innovative features which will make the Google Classroom the go to platform for running a digital classroom. We can only hope Google recruits a couple teachers to help them figure out the way these features should work.

Jul 152013
 

schoolreformThis mid summer blogpost comes to you courtesy of a tweet I sent a few weeks back. It got a retweet or two and I had a wee bit of a discussion about what it all meant with my twitter friend @HGG, which eventually brought up an obvious question. If parenting is more important to a child’s academic achievement than school, why doesn’t the education reform movement focus their vitriol on the living room rather than the classroom?

Ultimately, I think we all know why reformers don’t point fingers at parents, it’s just bad politics and teachers are ripe for the whipping. The other problem is that there is a laundry list of things beyond the classroom that can derail a child’s academic progress, something I call “Academic Disruptors”. Some of these disruptors are related to parenting but much of it is simply a reflection of the twisted society we live in. The unpopular reality is that failure to thrive in school, is a MUCH larger issue than just a lack of rigorous academic standards or teacher accountability measures but reformers don’t want to hear that, they just want someone to blame other than taking a look at a socioeconomic system that has come to ruin.

Screen Shot 2013-07-05 at 8.33.36 AM

Out of curiosity I asked a few people (teachers and civilians) to give me three things they feel get in the way of a child’s success in school. Obviously the teachers looked beyond the classroom but curiously, I did not get a single response from a non teacher who pointed to the classroom. The list of “academic disrupters” I compiled are essentially all forces beyond the hallowed halls of your local school.

The list has some fairly obvious items but there are some not so obvious ones in there too. Many are interrelated but I mention them separately because they can stand on their own as an academic disruptor. What follows are the items from that list, juxtaposed with the two pillars of education reform as we see it being sold by reformers.

  1. Tougher academic standards
  2. Greater teacher accountability

As you read through, you may ask yourself “Yes well… how many of kids does this list really represent?”

My response is that any single item may not represent all that many kids but collectively, I would say that it represents a significant percentage of any school population. The other thing to remember is that this list is far from complete and could potentially be endless.

I hope as you read through, it becomes clear just how ludicrous the education reform movement in North America has become. The simplistic bifocal solution of tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability cannot fix the education system, simply because it does not address the real academic disruptors in our schools.

Poverty – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will immediately address the daily effects of poverty on a child’s ability to be academically successful.

Hunger – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will provide a child the daily nourishment they need to be ready to actively engaged with the curriculum.

Divorce – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will mitigate the emotional turmoil that can be created by divorce and ensure that students experience academic success.

Mental Health – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will negate any mental health issue that could impede a child’s cognition or ability to build positive relationships with their peers, allowing them to be academically successful.

Addiction – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will address the root causes of addiction and substance abuse in our society and pave the way for academic success for our children.

Fitness & Health – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will address the epidemic of poor health and fitness issues faced by North American society and empower children to become more academically successful.

Body Image Disorders – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will protect our adolescents from the biological, psychological and environmental factors that are believed to cause body dysmorphic disorders and allow all children to be academically successful.

Digital Distraction – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will keep children from spending inordinate amounts of time outside of school on passive non academic activities such as gaming, surfing the web and playing on their smart phone.

Nutrition – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will prevent children from starting their day with a bag of chips and a can of coke. This will ensure that all children eat nutritious meals before during and after school, enabling them to be ready for their academic day.

Enabling – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will stop parents from enabling their children to engage in behaviours that negatively affect their academic performance and ensure academic success.

Pregnancy – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability, will prevent teens from having sex and conceiving children, allowing children to stay in school and be academically successful.

Employment – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will ensure that academically successful students will be gainfully employed once they have completed school.

Death – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will shelter children from the detrimental emotional effects of death in the family or amongst their friends, allowing them to be academically successful.

Developmental disabilities – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will ensure that children with developmental disabilities will no longer need psycho educational assessments or classroom assistance and they will still be academically successful.

Bullying – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will eliminate all bullying regardless of where or when it takes place, allowing for all children to feel included in the school community and become academically successful.

Relationships – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will ensure that students do not get themselves involved in distracting or harmful relationships with their peers, allowing them to be academically successful.

Now if anyone tries to tell you schools can be fixed within the walls of a classroom, you can call BS with confidence that it can’t.

If you come up with anything else, feel free to add to the list. I would love to hear more.

**NOTE** This post is intended to be a critique of the school reform movement in the USA, not a critique of the Canadian education reform movement. It can however, be seen as a “Don’t go there” warning to Canadian education reformers.

Latest attacks on education

North Carolina axes masters degree pay bump

Sep 132012
 

Well I was thrown a curve ball this year. My iPad cohort has morphed into a hodgepodge of new and old technology. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the numbers to run a straight iPad cohort so I am getting kids carrying everything from the latest and greatest in Apple and PC products to pencil and paper.

Now being one to complain (a lot), I am tempted to go on for a couple thousand words lamenting about how hard done by I am but I know I would not garner much sympathy from many of my colleagues. So I won’t! Instead I will look at this mishmash, as a little slice of reality, a true reflection of what the average secondary class looks like and carry on.

This year I will be able to write about realty, rather than an iPadian utopia.

For example, tomorrow I am going to have the kids write a journal response to the statement Highschool Should End at Grade 10 and instead of taking work in via a common app or digital format, I will be taking work in on Paper – Evernote – Google docs – Keynote – Microsoft Word and a holy host of others, because that is the reality of the modern classroom.

What I have also come to realize or perhaps resign myself to, is that with BYOD, a Personal Digital Device is just that a Personal Device. It is unrealistic to expect that everyone will be carrying one on any give day, never mind everyone carrying the same device. What I have also come to believe is that for BYOD to work, it is up to the student to make it work. The teacher can set the expectations around use and digital formats in which work needs to be done and after that, it is up to the student.

If the teacher takes on the role of the “director of the device” the classroom simply becomes a Twenty First Century version of the teacher centered classroom. If the purpose of BYOD is to help students become more independent learners, then the device needs to fit the learner, even if that device is a pencil and a piece of paper.

It is a brave new adventure in iPads In The Cla… I mean, iPads, Laptops & Paper – n – Pencil In The Classroom. Let’er fly and see where we land.

Wish Me Luck!

Jun 282012
 

This past week, a few of my colleagues and I moseyed on up to Kelowna for the #Canflip education conference, to check out what all the flipped classroom hubbub was about? I actually had done a wee bit of it myself already but I have by no means “flipped out” quite yet. I needed more information and as you all know, I am the Eeyore of Edtech. I am always looking for something to be negative about, so I happily moped my way on up to Kelowna looking for a reason to be a naysayer.

For those who are not familiar with the term Flipped Classroom, it simply refers to the practice of reducing or eliminating in-class lectures by making the information piece of the learning process available to students outside of class time. When the student come to class they are ready to work on relevant activities, labs or projects, rather than listening to a teacher drone on for hours on end. Homework becomes nothing more than accessing the “lecture” or information online and then coming to class ready to ask questions and get down to work. Essentially, what use to be done at the kitchen table, is now done in class and what use to be done in class in done at the kitchen table.

This conference was the doing of three teachers Carolyn Durley – Graham Johnson & Paul Janke  from Okanagan Mission High School in Kelowna BC. They have become quite the trio around these parts, gaining notoriety for their class flipping. Fortunately for the likes of me, they are now sharing their experience because going to Chicago for the mother of all Flipped Classroom conferences is simply not in the stars for a small town boy like me.

Now as the Eeyore of Edtech, I would love to sit here and write several bellyaching paragraphs about how bad the conference was but the good folks at Okanagan Mission High School put on a hell of a show. Well planned and chock-a-block full of good info, it was a fantastic springboard from which attendees could begin to plan their own classroom flipping. The whole program was second only to the pulled pork sandwiches they served for lunch on the first day. They were straight up awesome!

Attendees ranged from the skeptic, to the recent #Edtech devotee, to hardcore Techno Geek but everyone seemed to be open-minded about the concept. For myself, there wasn’t much new, other than a couple useful websites and some nifty activities to go along with them but what I the conference did do was got me thinking… Yah Yah Yah groan all you want. Here comes Eeyore!

As with everything Edtech, I don’t necessarily think about what this means for me so much as I think about what this means for students, my colleagues and my school. As a result, I spent the whole conference asking myself things like, Would this be a good thing for every kid? What about the teachers who are master story tellers and their lectures are what makes them great? How many teachers have the technical skills or the time to develop the technical skills to flip their classroom? How do we introduce the concept to staff and support those who want to try it? and I wrapped up my thoughts with the idea of creating a Camtasia studio where teachers could build their videos with the help of expert staff and student volunteers.

Although I didn’t come out  of the conference inspired to turn teaching on its head, I will continue move ahead with turning it on its ear. The reason my buy in won’t be whole hog is because I see flipping the classroom as new tool to add to my tickle trunk of tricks, rather than a methodology on which my teaching should be based. I enjoy standing and delivering my lessons and in my humble opinion some of them are gems. Based on the kids laughter (on occasion) my students like what I do in the front of the classroom too, so I won’t be eliminate all lectures anytime soon.

In the broader scope of things, the conference reinforced for me that teaching is becoming evermore dynamic and complex but we need to recognize that everyone cannot be all things. With this in mind, I have resolved to help any colleague who wants to flip all or parts of their teaching to do so. I think there might be some traction in my Camtasia studio idea, where teachers have the space and tools to produce their materials but this will take some planning and the techno geeks like me will need make this happen.

Wish me Luck!

Some Resources

Flipping Math

Flipper Teach

Flipped Classroom

The Flipped Class Network

Camtasia Studio

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 RahRah SisBoomBa 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!

Jan 312012
 

Happy New Year my friends ( I am going by the lunar calendar ) It has been a while but I really haven’t had much to write about, or at least there hasn’t been anything über exciting to share. Winter blah’s seem to have set in and it seems like me and the iPad cohort are just simmering like a pork roast in a slow cooker.

Actually we have been doing stuff but I think there just isn’t as much NEW stuff to share. What we did launch in the new year is the iDoc project I was talking about before Christmas and the kids have been working diligently on their documentaries.

The assignment was to take a teen health issue and create a 15 minute documentary on the topic. See Assignment Here Rubric is Here

I really didn’t want to restrict what it was they did but I had to give some guidance in how they should set up the iDoc so the assignment reads a bit like a step by step but I hope it is open enough for some liberal interpretation. Sometimes we give kids too much guidance and provide too much hand holding, so I tried to leave things up to some application of creative licence.

The single most important element of this iDoc is the 10 questions which the kids are researching and asking others for the video clips. These will be what guide the production and ultimately achieve the “Purpose” of the video. That being, sharing relevant information which teens should be aware of.

During this process, I am learning some things myself.

  • You must resist the urge to organize, control and supervise the kids every move
  • You cannot be a slave to the curriculum
  • Time is your friend
  • Patience is a must

In other words you have to roll with it. This is not the world of the standardized learning outcome. It is a learning environment of unpredictable learning outcomes and challenges but it is real learning, not that prescribed stuff that the ministry doles out in those must cover packages called IRP’s

Now for those of you who are reading this and saying BUT YOU HAVE TO FOLLOW THE CURRICULUM!!!!! Don’t worry, I am giving the kids a dose of boredom every 3 days, just so they will be all lerned up reel good, by the end of the year. Lord knows, I don’t want to deprive the kids or some quality ministry approved learning about STI’s and Drug addiction.

Finally, what has become so incredibly clear in doing this iDoc project, is that with the freedom that tools like the iPad provide us, comes a greater responsibility for learning. What might be surprising to some is that this shift in responsibility will not be onto the backs of teachers. As teachers let go of their role as the one who knows” and embrace a role as the one who shows”, students will need to take on more responsibility for finding the information they need. The days of passively sitting in the classroom looking to teacher for the answers are dying a rapid death and as such, so will the traditional responsibilities for learning.

I am loving my new role as director, as the kids come to me and ask, what do you think? or what should we do with this? I just hope this is the way we are going and it isn’t an anomaly in our daily academic routine.

Nov 102011
 

It has been a few weeks since I last did an update about the state of the iPad experiment so I figured I had better peel something off before I lost readership. Not that 3 or 4 followers are what I could call much of a “readership” but I mustn’t dissapoint.

You might have noticed that I have been a tad preoccupied lately, with figuring out my little screen casting project but unfortunately is has come to a grinding halt so I decided to take a break and work on something else for a bit. As a result I am back to trying to figure out the best way to move documents from the iPad to a place where they can be stored and evaluated.

Now at this point I need to explain that I am one of those teachers who doesn’t usually play nice with the powers that be. In particular I am a bit of a pain in the butt with regard to the technology they would like us to use. About 4 or 5 years ago, we migrated from Novell to SharePoint in order to create a learning platform which teachers and students could use for the business of learning. I, being the techno snob that I am, decided that SharePoint was trash and launched my own learning platform using Moodle. I ran the Moodle site quite happily for 3 years but abandoned it this year because of the cost. Still being a non conformist, I continued to resist assimilation into the SharePoint continuum and opened up shop using Edmodo.

It is with Edmodo that the meat of this blog post begins. For those who haven’t read my previous posts, Edmodo is a skookum little content management system for education. What is even more amazing is that it is FREE but there is one small problem as it pertains to the iPad. Actually it isn’t a problem with Edmodo, it is a defect in the genius that is Apple. Since users cannot get access to the file system on the iPad, they can’t upload assignments. If a student who uses an iPad wants to upload a file to Edmodo. They have to sync the ipad to their computer; do the convoluted file transfer process through iTunes; open up a computer version of Edmodo; find the file they transferred and upload it to Edmodo. What should take all of 10 seconds directly from the iPad turns into a royal pain in the backside. As much as I like Edmodo, if I am going to do the iPad class again next year, we won’t be using Edmodo.

Out of desperation (insert long sigh of defeat here) I began looking at SharePoint again and to my jaw slacking surprise, it seems that SharePoint 2010 might actually be a useful product. Coincidentally, our district is migrating over to SharePoint 2010 this very school year and what is more! There is an APP for that. When I discovered this little interdigital relationship, I thought to myself… Self, could it be there is a light at the end of the fiber optic cable? Could it be possible that in this twisted cross platform relationship, that Apple would let Microsoft get into its file system? Well I would like to report that it appears that it is possible using one of two Apps on the market, SharePlus or Filamente.

SharePoint 2010, is a cloud computing platform, which allows users to interact with documents and resources wherever and whenever they want, At school, at home or at Starbucks. If a kid wants to work on an assignment at home but doesn’t have an internet connection for whatever reason, all they do is pull down the assignment from the server before they leave school; do the homework at home and as soon as they walk in the door the next day, the iPad syncs with the SharePoint network and the assignment is automatically handed in.

If set up correctly, this could be absolute magic! Imagine if all the work a kid does on a SharePoint distributed assignment, is uploaded automatically to the server. No more conveniently lost files or the ever classic “I have it on my computer at home”. As a teacher you could evaluate work at any time. The end of the day, week or just on the due date, it is all there all the time.

As much as I hate to say it, SharePoint might just be something I can use, or worse, endorse. Yikes! This is not good. My carefully groomed reputation as being a fecal agitator might just be in danger. Resistance might very well be futile.

Oct 152011
 

Nothing to report here… Just some fragmented thoughts and whatever’s. A bit of a schizophrenic week actually but that has been my element these past 15 years of teaching.

The iPad group didn’t move the earth or cure cancer but we did have some progress with assignment submission using WordPress blogs.  It was a bit messy to start but I think we have turned the corner on our work submission woes. Outside of that, there was nothing exciting to report from the iPad front.

What did happen which was of note is that I had a wee bit of a revelation.

This “Ah Ha!” actually originated with my “regular” kids, specificaly my classes with a significant number of ESL kids who seem to always be lost in my class. Try as I may, it is very difficult to help these kids keep up with the curriculum and I would (on occasion) lose sleep, thinking about how to deliver content in a manner which would allow them to absorb the information at their own pace.

It was only this week, that I came to consider the possibility of screencasting as the answer to my problem. A visual snapshot of the critical elements of my lessons,which  a student  can refer to at any time. I make the screencasts available through YouTube and my students can use them complete an assignment at there own pace. It was a stroke of delayed genius! Admittedly the videos I have produce so far are rather crude but I think they will become far more polished and useful as time goes by.

Now this, in and of itself, is not all that special. Teachers have been screencasting lessons for a number of years now. What is more important however, is that I started to think about how I can do this with the iPad kids. As intuitive as the iPad and all the apps my be, sometimes people still need instruction. The complexity gets ramped up when you are using more than one application at at the same time so being able to capture a video on how to use these apps would be great.

Currently there is no way to create a screencast of an iPad and considering the restrictive nature of Apple products, being able to do this would be significant. We had all hoped that iOS5 would provide us with this functionality and it has come close but it stops short of allowing a teacher to capture lessons and spin them into an instructional video. With that said… I think I may have stumbled upon a screencasting solution for the ipad. It won’t be simple but if it works, I will be able to create 720p screen casts of my lessons using the iPad and post them to YouTube.

Unfortunately, I will have to drop a couple hundred bucks to see if my idea works… but if it does? It will open the door for some serious advancements in the use of the iPad as an instructional tool. Stay tuned to see if my idea works.

Look Out Future Shop… Here I come!

Update 

Well the good news is that I can do it! The bad news is that I am going to have to wait until I can get my hands on a little piece of technology that will allow me to send the image from the iPad to the capture device.

 

Oct 082011
 

For the past 4 weeks, I have been standing on my digital soapbox sharing my opinion about using iPads In The Classroom and for the most part, response has been good. It certainly hasn’t hurt my ego getting quoted and re tweeted but do we really want to hear about what I think? What about the kids and their thoughts? So this week is a little snip-it from the kids and what they think about iPads In The Classroom Thus Far.

I put 5 questions to the kids which they could choose to answer or not. Most of the kids abstained but the small sample gave me a pretty good idea where we currently stand and where we have to go in the future. Here is a sample of their answers.

Why did you join the iPad class?

    • “My handwriting is horrible and I hoped this would allow me to avoid having to hand in assignments done by hand”
    • “Because I love to use technology” X 5
    • “I thought it would be pretty cool to use technology so ofen and associate the ipad with school and its so awesome that we have this technology available. Also i have a bunch of friends in the cohort.

What do you like about the iPad class?

    • “I like how it’s relaxed and done on computers since I can type faster and have freedom to search things on the internet.”
    • “I like the fact that I can go on the internet to research n a project and not have to go to the computer lab. I also like the fact that I can access my classmates comments and thoughts when we have a discussion in class “
    • “I like the fact that we are actually using a pretty big variety of apps and the teachers are also involved with the ipads.”
    • “Doing our assignments online,so that we can finish or hand in it at anytime.”
    • “We’re able to get information instantly”

What is bad about the iPad class?

    • “The major thing is sometimes it is annoying when you are trying to listen to the teacher and other people are playing on their IPads so the teacher has to stop the lesson to get their attention”
    • “Too many people playing games and making the teacher wait.”
    • “It is stupid the way we have to hand stuff in!!!”
    • “The biggest issue is that there’s are some things that you need to have an app for but one isnt available. Or its too expensive or its not a good app.”
    • “We spend a lot of time on technical stuff rather than the real topic.”
    • “you can get very distracted, trust me I know”

Is the iPad class different then what you thought it would be?

    • “It’s different because I thought we wouldn’t be using things such as twitter because it’s not always the safest thing to have.”
    • “It is basically what I expected but the classes seem to move slower than in the regular class.”
    • “All the handing in stuff with different apps.”

What should be done to make it better?

    • “Maybe make sure that before starting the lesson everybody has their iPad covered or flipped over so their would be no interruptions.”
    • “Use only ONE Program to hand things in with!!!”

    I have to say, I was surprised by their responses. At least one kid will usually throw me for a loop when I do things like this but there is nothing here that we could not have predicted. What I am most pleased about is that there doesn’t seem to be anything grievously wrong here. It looks as though we only need a few tweaks here and there and get this flippin “handing assignments in” thing figured out. Perhaps the solution to most of our issues would be solved with an Android iOS with Google Docs integration and things would be better?

    Anyhow, my wife is sitting on the couch wondering why I am ignoring her on this Friday of a Thanksgiving (Canadian) long weekend so I must depart and enjoy Family, Friends and the gifts I have in the little world I live in.

    Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

    Cheers!