Why your school needs clearly defined social media policies

pinnacleIt’s not to stop teachers from doing the wrong thing with social media; It’s to give them confidence to use social media well, knowing there is no appearance of impropriety.

If there were no balustrade on the ‘Pinnacle’ lookout in the Grampians, very few people would venture to the edge to take in the arresting view.  The barrier gives hikers confidence to go further than they would otherwise dare, because their safety is assured.  The railing doesn’t restrict people; it liberates them to go further!

The railing doesn’t restrict people; it liberates them to go further!

Is it appropriate for a teacher to reply to a student’s electronic message at 9:00 pm? 11:00 pm? I don’t think there is a universal answer to that question, but I do think there should be a school policy about it.  If a student sends a text at 9:45 pm, and the school policy says 10 pm, a teacher can confidently reply, leaning against the balustrade of that policy.

I meet a lot of teachers who are reluctant to use “this website” or “that web 2.0 service” with their students for fear that doing so might make them the star of a story on 7’s Today Tonight (and not in a good way).  That fear can be soothed by creating well publicised, unambiguous and clearly defined policies.

Narcissus and the Selfie Stick

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 12.56.41 pmIn Greek mythology, Narcissus was a hunter, so good-looking that he didn’t consider any of his female suitors fair enough to be worthy of him.   One day he glimpsed his own reflection in a pool of water and fell in love!  Unable to resist the charm of his own visage, he surrendered to his fate, sank into the pool and drowned.

If Narcissus were alive today, I reckon he’d carry a selfie-stick in his quiver.  I’m just saying.

A USB Thumb-Drive for Both iPad and Computer

Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 1.30.49 pmIf you work with 25 iPad wielding students in a classroom, then you already know that sharing large video files between iPads or between iPads and computers comes with some friction.

Sure,there’s a festival of ways to transfer content from a student’s iPad to your computer or vice-versa, or from a student’s iPad to another student’s iPad.  (AirDrop, Dropbox, Instashare, PhotoTransfer WiFi, Email, just to name a few) but each has it’s limitations – especially if your school’s Wi-Fi is flakey or the internet is slow.

A Mobi My iStick in your pocket is a pretty neat solution. When you plug the iStick into your computer it behaves just as any USB thumb-drive would – because it is a USB thumb-drive.  But slide the slider over, and at the other end is an Apple-approved lightning jack that fits into the lighting port on a student’s iPad.  It’s the first USB thumb-drive that works with an iPad and it lets you copy files directly between iOS devices (whether or not they are your own) and computers, without needing Wi-Fi, bluetooth or an internet connection.

What’s Good:

Copying files to the device from a computer is as simple as can be.  Transferring those files to an iOS device is just as straightforward. When you plug the iStick into your iOS device, a pop-up message asks to use the iStick. You click Agree. The iStick app opens, you select the “iStick” tab and you can see all the files on the iStick, open them, move them to the camera roll etc.  You can even play movies on the iPad screen, directly from the iStick without first copying them to the iPad (Super if you are running out of storage space on your iPad!).

What’s Not:

On the iOS side, things are not quite as simple as they are on the computer. You need to install the (free) iStick app on every iOS device that you want to use the iStick with. Working with Photos and movies is straightforward enough.  Within the iStick app you see a “Photo Library” folder. That shows you all the Photos and Videos on your iPad, which you can then easily copy to your iStick.  For other documents, however, the process is clumsy and slow. You need to first open the document in the app that created it (say, Pages) then choose “Open in” and select iStick.  Then you need to open the iStick app (on the iPad),  select “iPad” (or “iPhone”), navigate to the inbox folder, select the file and chose to move it to the Documents folder (still within the “iPad” tab of the iStick app on the iPad).  THEN (if you haven’t given up by now) you insert the iStick USB thumb drive, navigate to the Documents folder in the iStick app, and choose to move the file from there to the iStick. Once you have done that, it’s simple to drag it off onto your computer as you would with any USB thumb drive, but the process of moving documents to the iStick is horrendous!

My advice:

  • If you want to shift large videos or photos between devices quickly and avoid doing this over Wi-Fi – this is a great solution.  It would allow your students to create movie projects on their individual iPads, and then you could pass the iStick around and they could all copy their finished product to it.
  • If you want to increase the storage space on your iPad – because perhaps you have a model with only 16GB – again this is a great solution because you can store movies on the iStick and still play them from there without first having to copy them back to the iPad.  If you were to move the videos off your iPad any other way (Eg. upload them to Dropbox) you would then have to re-download them before watching them!
  • If you are travelling, and want a way to back up the photos and movies you are taking – or to transfer them from your iPhone to your iPad in the absence of Wi-Fi – it’s great!
  • But if you were hoping to use the iStick to conveniently shuttle all kinds of miscellaneous files – PDFs, text documents etc – between iOS devices like you are accustomed to doing with USB thumb-drives and computers … forget it!  Sure, you can move files that way. (It’s not that it doesn’t work, per sé) – but the process is so graceless that you’d be better off attaching your files to a self-addressed email!

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Do teachers need to make their own videos to flip their class?

Now that teachers can make use of the Khan Academy, Edrolo, and a smorgasbord of other quality content, Is there any reason for teachers to publish their own screencasts, videos and podcasts for their class? Isn’t that just re-inventing the wheel? That is a question I am asked frequently.

My answer is both ‘No’ and ‘Yes’.

No.  The most important aspect of the flipped classroom, in my opinion is NOT the videos or podcasts at all, but how teachers leverage and reapportion the class time that is reclaimed by relegating didactic instruction (where it is still needed at all) to a video or podcast. The fact that qualified teachers on Edrolo and other services have produced much of the content that needs to be covered, lowers the barrier to entry into the flipped classroom model.  So then, “I don’t know how to record a podcast” or “I don’t have time to make screencasts” are no longer valid excuses for continuing to waste valuable class time, standing at the front of the room ‘teaching’ recordable stuff.

Yes. We need to help students to see that despite their youth, they now have the ability to create their own quality, original content and publish it to a genuine audience, making an authentic contribution in today’s dominant media forms.  This is one focus that should be at the top of our list of things to reallocate class time to. I suggest that It is much easier (not to mention less hypocritical) to encourage students to publish their work to an authentic audience in video and audio if we are doing it ourselves.  And for a teacher, what more authentic audience do we have than our own students?

By all means, make use of the great work by other teachers – but supplement it with your own recorded lessons.  Show your students that when you tell them about the disintermediation of publishing (that in 2015 anyone can publish and have a voice), you yourself are walking the talk.  Don’t be surprised if your students find your videos more engaging and personal than the off-the-shelf ones, too.

An Elegant File-sharing Solution for an iPad Classroom: Showbie

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Showbie works on an iPad and on a computer in a web browser. The functionality is the same, except that there are no annotation/drawing tools in the web browser version.

Showbie is a very simple but very effective and robust paperless iPad classroom solution. I like it.

In an iPad classroom, there are dozens of effective ways to share files back-and-forth with your students.  Some of these are free, some … less free.  They tend to fall into two categories. In the red corner there are the LMS-type solutions (Edmodo, Schoology, Stile, Chalkup) and in the blue corner, simple shared-folder solutions (Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive).

Showbie is a bit different. It falls somewhere in between.  Much more capable than a shared folder, but without the feature-bloat of some LMS solutions, and with a really nice, super-simple, elegant user interface.

My Recommendation: I would recommend Showbie to any iPad class teacher who wants to go paperless, but doesn’t want to manage his/her class through a full-blown LMS.

When you sign up for a free teacher Showbie account, and create your first class, you are given a class code (much like the join code in Edmodo or Schoology).  When your students sign up for a free student account, they will enter that class code and instantly be listed in your class.

Within your class you can create “Assignments”.  In each “Assignment, you will see a “Shared Folder” and a folder for each of your students. Students will not see the shared folder. When you want to hand out (say) a worksheet, you put it in the Shared Folder and it instantly appears in each student’s folder on his/her iPad.  If students upload a file to their folder, you can see it in their folder on your iPad. In this way, you can “hand out” a document to the whole class, but when they “hand in” a document, it is not shared with other members of the class – just with you.  Of course if you want to share a document with just one student you can do that by putting it into that student’s folder directly rather than the “Shared Folder”.  It’s effective because it’s simple. It’s simple because it’s a direct metaphor for what you would do with real paper.

One of the great features of Showbie, is that if you hand out a document (say, a test or worksheet) students can open it right there in Showbie, and use the pen tool to write on the sheet.  When they save it – it is in their folder and you can see it.  Then of course you can open it, do your correction, and instantly they see it – still in their folder! It’s very elegant.

cricket

Drawing/writing in Showbie is quite responsive. A free account gives you ten colours to use and one pen width. A pro account provides an additional 4 pen widths. I drew the drawings on this worksheet and wrote the answer at the bottom, using the free pen width. I’d prefer a thinner one, but it’s OK.

Alternatively, of course, (if the simple markup tools in Showbie are not good enough for some reason), a student can open the document in any other app on the iPad (Notability, NoteShelf, … whatever) and do what they want to it, and then re-upload it to his/her Showbie folder for the teacher to see.

You can use Showbie on a computer too, via a web browser. This works very well except that you can’t write directly on the documents in the browser version.  It’s fine for uploading documents, writing messages to students, etc. but you will want to pick up your iPad to do your correction.

Overall, I think it’s a much more effective way to share work with students than using Dropbox, Google Drive or OneDrive and if you find you are using Edmodo or Schoology mainly for sharing documents and are not using all the other features it provides – I think Showbie is a cleaner, simpler option.

A basic Showbie account is free (and is probably good enough for many teachers).  Or you can upgrade to “Pro” for US$10 / month if you are trying to spend your faculty budget before the end of financial year.

Typing Subscripts on an iPad

1856315296-roundedWith the release of iOS8 Apple allowed third parties to make keyboards that can be installed on your iPad.  If you are a science teacher, or for some other reason need to type subscripts or superscripts, one of the easiest ways to do this now, is to install Chemistry Keyboard ($3.79)  Whenever you need to type a chemical formula (in any app), you can click the globe icon (to the left of the space bar in the default keyboard) to switch to Chemistry Keyboard.  Within Chemistry Keyboard, if you press and hold on a number key, a pop-up gives you the option for superscript and subscript variants of the number. Slide your finger to the one you want, and it’s inserted at the cursor. Simple.  Tap the globe icon again, and you are back in the default Apple keyboard.

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How to record or present your iPad screen without wifi

It is now possible to display your iPad to a projector screen using the white charge & sync cable that came with your iPad.

There are many ways to display (or record) your iPad to your class over wifi – but in my experience they’re all pretty flaky.

X-Mirage, AirServer, Reflector, AirParrot, Doceri, AppleTV… etc —They all rely on both your iPad and your computer (or AppleTV) being connected to the same WiFi network.  That’s probably fine in your own classroom but it won’t work if you go to a conference or a colleague’s school.  Even when it works I find it kludgy. If one or other of your devices drops it’s wifi connection for a second (not uncommon), your display will freeze.  Also if the WiFi network is being taxed heavily there is often quite a bit of lag – especially for video or graphics intensive apps. Also some apps don’t mirror faithfully over Wifi – nor even if the iPad is directly connected to the projector with a $60 lightning-VGA cable.  For Example, NoteShelf or Penultimate, when connected to a projector directly or via wifi, don’t show the tools palette.

lightnngtoMac

My Preferred Solution

It’s now possible to display your iPad to your class by connecting it directly to your Mac using the lightning-USB cable (the same one you use to charge your iPad).  Once your iPad is connected to your Mac, launch QuickTime Player (in your Applications folder). From the File menu Choose “New Movie Recording”.  This will open a movie window and show your web cam.  If you hover your mouse over the window you will see a floating recording palette.  Next to the record button, there is a small white V icon.  Clicking that will let you select your iPad as the camera source!  Of course you can record it if you want to – but you don’t have to – you can just use it to show your screen to the class.

The Advantages

  1. Unlike using a wifi connection, the display won’t drop out if the wifi connection drops for a moment.
  2. Unlike using a wifi connection, there is no lag – It’s super-responsive.
  3. You can use it anywhere – you don’t need an internet or even wifi connection.
  4. When using QuickTime Player, your class sees exactly what you see on your screen even in apps like NoteShelf and Penultimate. That is not possible using any other method.
  5. It costs nothing – unlike using a lightning-VGA adaptor ($59)
  6. Unlike using an adaptor to connect your iPad directly to a VGA cable, the lightning cable is light and flexible – so you feel less tethered to the desk and the cable is less likely to fall out (though compared to wifi you still can’t walk around the room), obviously.  That’s the one disadvantage.
  7. Unlike using an AppleTV or lightning-VGA adaptor, you can easily switch back and forth between your iPad and Mac – or display them both at the same time.

The Limitations

  1. This only works if you are using OS X.10.10 Yosemite.  It didn’t work on older versions of OS X.  Nor does it work with the Windows version of QuickTime.
  2. This only works with iPads that have a lightning connector (not the older 30-pin dock connector).  Ie. It works with iPad Air, iPad 4, and all iPad minis. It also works with iPhone 5 or later.

Handwriting on an iPad – My Recommendations for Apps and Styli

 

IMG_5617Two years ago, I wrote this post about my search for the best handwriting tools for the iPad.  I reviewed both software (notebook apps in which to write), and styli (pens with which to write).

In summary, I recommended Noteshelf as my app of choice, and the Adonit Jot Flip Stylus as the best stylus.

Twenty-four months later, have I changed my mind?

Yes and no.

First, the Apps.

Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 5.38.40 pmMost of the apps I reviewed have been updated and improved since I wrote that post.  I still think Noteshelf is the best of them. It is still much the same as it was but has made significant improvements.  The most notable improvement is that there is now an option to create notebooks that automatically sync with Evernote (as Penultimate did two years ago).  Unlike Penultimate, though, you can turn this feature on or off on a per-notebook basis.  I have one notebook that automatically syncs to Evernote. I use that one for quick notes, detailing phone conversations, etc.  It works great.  All other notebooks I prefer to sync manually when I am ready to sync, rather than continuously in the background.

The other feature I previously wrote about preferring in Penultimate, was the way it handles cut and paste using a lasso-drag-tap feature.  It’s incredibly cool and useful. Noteshelf now has that feature too.

I still think Noteshelf is the most responsive and accurate notebook app, with the best set of features. Not the cheapest (Penultimate and some others are free) but the best – even more clearly so than it was two years ago.

Second, the Styli

I still love the Adonit Jot Flip – and it’s still the stylus I turn to when I want to scribble notes on my iPad.  It’s just fantastic. It does have two significant shortcomings though.

  1. It really is not an appropriate choice for kids – because that little clear plastic disk is just too easy to break/lose. So is the screw-on cap.
  2. It’s no good if you are using a stylus to record a screencast in an app like Explain Everything, Educreations or Collaaj, because the app records the ‘tap-tap’ sounds of the hard plastic disk striking the glass and it’s quite distracting.

I’ve  tried a number of new styli since writing that original post.  Most significantly, I bought the Evernote edition Adonit Jot Script stylus (for more than AU$119), which features a fine nib – the idea of which really excited me.  More recently I’ve tried the Edugrip App Pencil.

Adonit Jot Script

Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 4.50.42 pmI hate it.  If you are thinking of buying one of these, my advice is to borrow one and try it out first.  Maybe it’s just my handwriting style or something, but I find it laggy, unresponsive and inaccurate.  It requires AA batteries, needs to be switched on each time I want to use it, and needs to be synced via Bluetooth LE to the iPad.   I find the experience annoying, and my handwriting is not even nearly as neat as it is in any other stylus I’ve used! That’s just too much compromise to make for a fine point. Plus there is no pocket clip, no ball-point pen in the back, and compared to the Adonit Jot Flip, it feels cheap and plasticy, and it’s more than twice as expensive! Like the Adonit Jot Flip, it makes an audible “tap” when it touches the glass, so it’s no more appropriate for use in screencasting.  I never use it for anything.  I only keep it so I can show people who are thinking of buying one why they shouldn’t.

App Pencil

IMG_5606This stylus is a new offering, with an unashamedly educational focus.  The App Pencil is actually quite great for its intended market.  It’s basic, robust and inexpensive ($15).

It features a triangular transverse section (like those big grey-lead pencils kids use when they are learning to write) and the material is a sort of dense rubber – so it’s super-comfortable to hold.  It is all in one piece; there is no cap to lose, no plastic disk to break off.  “Unbreakable” and “Child” are two words that can’t be used together.  Nothing can withstand a determined kid, but i think this is about as resilient as a stylus could be expected to be!

What I really like about the App Pencil though, is that writing with it feels surprisingly good.  Most styli I’ve tried that have a rubber tip like this, are hard to write with because the rubber drags over the glass and feels blunt and numb.  I liken it to writing with an eraser. But the App Pencil feels better than most; it slides relatively smoothly over the glass.

Like all styli with blunt, rounded tips, it’s hard to form small characters (because you can’t see the point on the screen where the line is being formed) but for typical note-taking, diagram labelling, etc., it’s a pretty good experience.

The App Pencil has a rubber loop at the back end, that could be use to tie it with a string to the iPad (assuming the iPad has a case that provides something to tie it to).

I wish App Pencil were triangular along it’s entire length, so that it wouldn’t roll, but the ends are circular in transverse section, which means that it easily rolls across the desk.  (not that it will break, though, it just bounces when it hits the floor).

Edugrip claims that the App Pencil works with all Apple and Android tablets except the iPad Air.  That said, I have an iPad Air and it seems to work just fine for me.

It will be the stylus I use when screencasting with Explain Everything.  I’d also recommend it to any teacher planning to booklist a stylus for students to use at school.

What can teachers bring to the classroom, that has increasing value?

For the past 12 months I’ve been asking this question to teachers and school leaders in various forums:

What do teachers bring to the classroom that is still scarce now that we have Google, YouTube and Wikipedia?

As expected, I’ve received numerous answers to that question, and with a nod to ‘Family Feud‘, the top ten answers are on the board:

top ten responses

You’ll notice that “Providing Knowledge” is not on the list.  Twenty years ago, knowledge was one of the most valuable things a teacher contributed to the learning experience of students.  Now it doesn’t even make the top ten.

I think an equally valid question to ask is this: What can teachers bring to the classroom that not only still has value, but which has increasing value?

What can teachers bring to the classroom that has increasing value?

I’d be interested in your answers to that question. I have a few of my own, (which i’ll develop further in future posts.)

  • Critical thinking.
  • Mindfulness.
  • Wisdom.
  • Honest and constructive feedback.

Here’s the point: You can cut the ‘Class-time Pie’ anyway you want.  But if the largest slice is being given to standing at the front of the room disseminating a commodity of falling value, then less time can be devoted to really building a precious classroom experience for students.

classtime pie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Install Fonts on Your iPad

Have you ever crafted a Keynote slide or Pages document on your computer, thoughtfully selecting the perfect font, only to find that when you open the document on your iPad you are greeted with the message:

“The font FortuneCookie is missing.  Your text might look different.”

This morning I made a slide in Keynote on my Mac, and chose the font FortuneCookie.  My iPad replaced FortuneCookie with Helvetica Neue – a nice enough font but not the one I had chosen!

Or perhaps you are just bored by the small selection of fonts on the iPad and want to add a few.

Unknown to many people, it’s actually quite easy to install additional fonts on your iPad.  Start by downloading AnyFont ($2.49)

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Fig 1. iTunes on my Mac, Showing the File Sharing section within the Apps tab, of the iPad.

Then connect your iPad to your computer, open iTunes, select your iPad in the devices list, click the Apps tab at the top, and scroll down to the File Sharing section.  Within the File Sharing section, you will see a list of all the apps that are available for file sharing.  Select AnyFont from that list, as shown in Fig 1.

Drag any true type font (.ttf) or open type (.otf) or true type collection (.ttc) from your computer to the left-hand pane titled “AnyFont Documents”.  If you have just installed AnyFont this pane of the window will be empty.  You can see that I have added 14 fonts.

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Fig 2. Close up view of the AnyFont app on the iPad, with FortuneCookie.ttf selected. Tap the large icon to begin installing.

Now you can close iTunes on your computer and disconnect your iPad.  Open the AnyFont app on your iPad, and tap the font(s) you have just added.  The app will take you through a few steps to install the font.  (These steps feel unusual as you are doing them, but they are quite easy and safe).

That done, open an app such as Pages, and format some text and you will now see that your new font is available to use.

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Fig 3. My Keynote slide, looking nice with the font FortuneCookie.

That’s all there is to it.  Now you can make your presentations and documents look as nice on your iPad as you can on your Mac.