Sep 292011
 

What a great week! Glad it is over and I can get ready for a great weekend but not before I throw up a new post.

If you read last weeks blog, I am sure you are waiting on baited breath to hear how this weeks meeting with the iPad teachers went. As far as meetings go it wasn’t too shabby and as it turns out, the past three weeks with the iPad kids went quite well too. As expected, everyone had both positive things to say and some frustrations to report.  Unfortunately this blog post will focus on one universal frustration which has dogged all of use these past three weeks.

Virtually every teacher at our meeting had the same niggling question. What is the best way to collect work from the kids? We have all struggled with trying to find an effective way for kids to submit completed assignments. As I had said last week, we have all resorted to having the kids email their work to us but the consensus is that another way has to be found.

The whole thing serves to illustrate just how important paper has been in sharing information over the centuries . Paper is a simple and effective way to transfer knowledge and demonstrate understanding. Paper has been the common currency of education and part of the the daily transactions between student and teacher for generations. It would seem however, that this important part of the educational process was not identified by the good people at Apple. It is my opinion that this is something that the iPad MUST be able to do before it could be considered an educational tool.

Now don’t get me wrong, it is undeniable that the iPad is a powerful learning tool and we are finding new and exciting ways to use it on a daily basis BUT the inability to easily complete the most basic of transactions between student and teacher, suggests that the ipad wasn’t really designed as an educational tool.

What we have discovered is that the iPad is fantastic for dispensing information to the user whether it be text, video or audio. Students can even produce some cool stuff to prove that they have acquired the concepts we are trying to impart but it is that missing link between student and teacher. The centuries old exchange which makes up the economy of education has somehow been overlooked or perhaps purposely left out by Apple.

By meetings end, we had decided to approach Apple directly to see if they had an “educational expert” on staff who could address our frustrations and perhaps suggest some solutions. As of Friday at 3 PM we have not heard back but we are hopeful.

So, as of weeks end,  I remain thankful that I have been given the opportunity to break new ground in the rapidly changing landscape of education. With any luck, if I continue to bellyache on a weekly basis, I may even influence the way we teach children in the years to come.

 

 

 

Sep 232011
 

Well we are three weeks in, our routines are entrenched (kinda), the curriculum is flowing and summer break is a distant memory. This coming week will be our first scheduled check in with all the iPad teachers and I am looking forward to finding out how things are going.

For the most part, it would appear that things are going fairly well. At the very least, when an administrator walks by the classroom, the gentle glow of the iPad shining up on the students faces creates the illusion of engagement. I am not sure that this is what was imagined when the word “enlightened” was coined but somehow it is strangely appropriate.

What I do know for certain is that kids are getting work done and with surprisingly little fuss or muss. To be honest, I envisioned being in a constant battle, keeping kids on task and off Angry Birds but it really isn’t working out that way. Certainly I have kids playing games instead of doing their work but they are isolated incidents and hardly difficult to control. I have far more difficulty in my other classes with kids squandering time on addicting games in a networked computer lab, where I have complete control of each and every computer.

I think the difference is that because the iPad is application based, the ability to transition quickly from classwork to game and back to classwork is clumsy and inefficient. With a computer, this transition is much faster because almost everything is browser based and switching between tabs is quick and seamless. The result is that the iPad student is locked into one task at a time, therefore eliminating the tiring game of catch me if you can.

The biggest issue around distraction comes from getting the kids to listen for instructions and pay attention to what you are doing at the front of the class. As a general rule, when I talk, I like their attention. What I have to do is get the kids to turn the iPad face down on the table or put the cover on but it is astounding how quickly 25% of kids will be back on the device. As Stuart Shanker would say, they have some difficulties with self regulation. I have yet to master how to get the kids to resist the urge to play but I am working on it.

As for how I am distributing curriculum using the iPad? I am using the Edmodo App and for the most part it is pretty magical BUT there is one glaring shortcoming. Students cannot turn in completed work done on the iPad to Edmodo. This is more of a shortcoming of the iPad, as it is the way Apple has created the device but it is a pain in the backside regardless of whose shortcoming it is. I have been reduced to getting kids to email me the assignments but this is messy and time consuming. Kids can still link to an on line document and submit that but then you are defeating the purpose of having Apps like Pages or Keynote. I am investigating options such as Google Docs, Evernote or simply blogging an assignment but in my mind it is defeating the power and the purpose of the iPad and its Apps.

Finally, I had a little bit of a Twitter breakthrough this past week using the iPads, which was really kind of cool. I have used Twitter before to participate in various current events over the past year and I set my classes loose on a our Province’s Administrators during their 2010 BCPVPA conference but I haven’t used it as a question answer medium within a regular class. I have always been a bit hesitant about letting kids loose in this manner but this past week I had the kids fire up questions and observations they had about a documentary we were watching using Twitter and it worked phenomenally well. I find our iPad cohort a pretty tight lipped group but the twitter thread generated some great thoughts and questions which spun into a fantastic post viewing discussion. Twitter served as a fantastic discussion starter and I will definitely be doing this again.

So this is my third week. Nothing earth shattering or shocking to report just steady as she goes. At this point I cannot make any definitive statements about whether iPads are good bad or indifferent, they just are, and only time will tell if they are the panacea of an education system in transition.

Check Out: iPads In the Classroom – Assumptions

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

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