The Threshold Challenge for Teachers in 2016

 

My favourite definition of education is this:

“Education is a conversation between one generation and the next, about what is important” ~ Sir John Jones.

The quote does, however, invite the question – “What is important?”

At a secondary school recently, I asked that very question of staff, who discussed it in small groups, and together we make a list of what they thought was important. Here’s what was listed (in no particular order):

  • Learning how to learn
  • Creativity
  • Resourcefulness
  • Resilience / Willingness to risk failing
  • Teamwork
  • Communication and presentation skills
  • Problem solving skills
  • Independence
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Tolerance and understanding of others
  • A growth mindset
  • Research skills
  • Digital citizenship
  • Self-awareness / Self-assessment.

What interested me is that nobody mentioned “memorising important historic dates” or “knowing the first 20 elements of the periodic table”.  Nobody even mentioned “learning times tables”. That’s not to say that those things are no longer useful, but that nobody mentioned them, shows me that teachers know, tacitly, that some things, while still useful, are now less valuable, and other things which have always been valuable are now even more so.

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The threshold challenge for teachers in 2016, is how to spend more time teaching the things which, in our heart of hearts, we know have increasing value, while still preparing our students for assessment systems that primarily measure the things that have falling value.  Do you see what I mean? If we spend all our class time teaching creativity, communication skills and resourcefulness – we are doing them a disservice if they face an exam testing their knowledge recall in a room where communication is banned and resourcefulness is called ‘cheating’.

The threshold challenge for teachers in 2016, is how to spend more time teaching the things which have increasing value, while still preparing our students for assessment systems that primarily measure the things that have falling value.

We have to do both, not either/or. That is one reason (of many) that the flipped learning model makes so much sense. It allows us to make sure we are covering the knowledge they will need for the exam, while freeing up significant class time for “…what is important”.  Flipped learning is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end – which end is the freedom to teach the things that matter most, in engaging ways, whether or not they are assessed on an exam.  (Until the yoke of exams is lifted off our shoulders).


 

If you are interested in flipping your class, or if you have already done so, but are looking for easier, cooler and more effective tools, workflows and strategies, I’ll be running a workshop in Melbourne on 19th February.  You can find the information about that workshop here.

Or if you would like me to present to your staff on this, or any other topic related to the use of ICT in education, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

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Student in a Flipped Class? Cut homework time in half using this tip!

Most of us read much faster than talking speed yet still comprehend what we read. In the same way, it’s possible to listen much faster than your teacher can speak. But many of us have never thought about that, because in real life, we only hear words as they are uttered. (In the classroom, the speed your teacher can move her mouth is holding you back!)

But If your teacher makes screencasts, videos, or audio podcasts, try playing them at double speed. You’ll be amazed to find that you can comprehend what you are listening to just fine. In fact, after listening for a while, you’ll discover that it starts to sound surprisingly normal. After listening at double speed, if I slow a podcast down to “normal” speed, it sounds comically slow!

So how do you do it?

With an audio podcast it’s easy. Almost all podcast players have the option to adjust playback speed. My favourite is Overcast. To my ears it does the best job of speeding up voice while preserving clarity. Plus it has some really innovative features like “Smart Speed” which reduces the length of the pauses between words; shortening the total listening time, without speeding up the words themselves. Brilliant!

Swift Player

For videos or screencasts on your iPhone or iPad, try Swift Player. It lets you speed up any video on your device, or online (YouTube, Vimeo, etc).

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.

Tapes: A Ridiculously-Quick, Frictionless Screencasting Tool for Mac OS X.

AppIcon.175x175-75A while ago I wrote a post covering all the screencasting tools I could think of from expensive-and-complex at one end of the continuum to free-and-simple at the other. Since writing that post, I have discovered another screencasting tool that I am quite enamoured of.

Tapes is the simplest and fastest way to make a screencast I’ve ever seen. It’s quick. I mean really, really, quick to use.

Click on the Tapes menu bar item, choose “Record New Tape” and bang! you are recording. When you choose “Stop and Upload”, it instantly tells you that a link has already been placed on your clipboard. You can immediately paste that into an email or discussion thread, even as the video is still being uploaded in the background! It’s that easy and quick. Watch this little 1 minute demonstration to see what I mean. It’s really quite something.

It’s not the tool I’d use to make a full-featured screencast. But for a quick explanation, it just can’t be beat.

Tapes has a one-time purchase price of $12:99, which also gives you 60 minutes of recording each month (ongoing) but if you buy it from this promo code, you’ll get an extra 15 minutes per month.

If you are looking for a free alternative, QuickCast is similar but not so amazing.  For example, unlike Tapes, when you click to record, it gives you a 5 second count-in, whereas Tapes just starts recording.  Also with QuickCast, once you finish recording, you have to wait until the video has finished uploading before a share link becomes available. Furthermore, once your video has finished uploading in QuickCast you have to pull down the QuickCast menu and click on the video, to copy a share link, whereas Tapes does all that for you.

Those shortcomings in QuickCast might seem inconsequential, but they mean you’ll find yourself wasting minutes every time you make a screencast, whereas in Tapes – as soon as you’re finished recording, you can paste the link somewhere, and forget about it, moving on to the next task. That increase in efficiency is noticeable – and since efficiency is the core reason for wanting to use either of these apps in the first place, Tapes is the better choice.

 

Finally! Record the Screen of Your iPad in Any App, with Narration.

Yesterday X-Mirage added the ability to record not only your iPad screen and audio via Airplay, but also your voice narration.  I’ve been waiting for someone to implement this for ages.

First, Before we get to the details, here’s a little video I made to demonstrate how good the result is.

I’m a fan of iPad screencasting apps like Educreations, Collaaj and Explain Everything, but the limitation on all these apps is that they can only record within the app itself, due to Apple’s sandboxing policy. In other words you can’t use Explain Everything to make a video tutorial about how to change settings in the Settings app, or how to create an eBook in Book Creator or how to write a formula in Numbers or Excel.  Nor can you use them in combination with a content-based app to make a screencast explaining a topic.

X-Mirage is not the first computer application to allow video mirroring from an iOS device. It’s not even the first to provide a video recording function. In fact, both AirServer and Reflector have made this possible for some time now. But X-Mirage does something these others don’t. [Edit: actually AirServer has recently added this functionality too]. It allows you, via your computer’s microphone, to simultaneously record your voice. Now you can simply work on your iPad and describe what you are doing, and X-Mirage captures it all!. When you are finished, the video and two audio tracks are mixed down into an MP4 video and saved to your computer. [It seems that this is only possible on a Mac at this stage. The PC version of both X-Mirage and AirServer will record iPad video and audio, but not your voice – sorry PC users].

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

X-Mirage is remarkably simple to use. With your iPad and computer connected to the same WiFi network, Launch X-Mirage on your computer, then swipe up from the bottom bezel of your iPad to bring up the Control Centre. Tap the AirPlay button at the bottom of the Control Centre, and choose the X-Mirage option and toggle mirroring to ‘on’. You will then see your iPad screen mirrored to your computer.

To start recording, click the (quite obvious) red ‘Record’ button at the right edge of the window. To record your microphone as well, you also need to click the smaller microphone button immediately to it’s left. That’s in fact the only part of this process that is anything less than child’s play – you have to click both those buttons when you start recording. First you need to start the video recording, and then once that is going, click the microphone button to start recording your voice.

x-miragewindow

Because X-Mirage uses your Mac’s microphone (not the microphone in your iPad) you do need to be aware of your computer’s proximity (Ie. you can’t be walking around with your iPad while recording). The upside of this, however is that if you have a good external microphone attached to your Mac, your screencast’s audio will benefit from better sound quality than if X-Mirage recorded from the iPad’s microphone directly.

X-Mirage is $16 with discounted educational pricing available from the website.

Even at the full price, It’s well worth the money (in my opinion).


 

PS. I do know that it’s possible to use Reflector (or AirServer) to mirror an iPad screen to a computer, then simultaneously use some other screencasting software on the computer to record what Reflector was displaying – I’ve done that myself a number of times.  It’s a lot of mucking around, though, and for all that effort you have to really want to make a screencast for it to be worth the effort!

 

Make screencasts interactive with eduCanon

I’m daily investigating teaching tools in the hope of finding one that gives me the dopamine hit I get from discovering a really great one. Every once in a while, something comes onto my radar that immediately stimulates my brain’s reward and pleasure centres. That’s what eduCanon did.

Like most great ideas, eduCanon is based around a really simple concept; it really only does one thing – but it does that one thing very well. It allows you to embed questions into any screencast (or any video for that matter) hosted on YouTube, Vimeo or TeacherTube, and it tracks your student’s responses to them.

As students watch the video (from within eduCanon), and the playhead reaches the time marker at which you’ve inserted a question, the video automatically pauses, and the question slides in from the left. Once the student has read and answered the question, she clicks “Submit”. Then your explanation appears, either explaining why the response they chose was incorrect, or confirming that it was correct. On clicking the “Continue” button, the video automatically resumes playing until the next question is reached. It’s really quite a fantastic thing to add to your video lessons, helping students to stay focussed and leaning forward while watching.

Because eduCanon uses HTML5, rather than Flash, playback works great on an iPad, too.

Screen Shot 2014-02-16 at 12.44.05 pm

The first time students watch a video, they are unable to skip through the video; they have to watch the whole thing from start to finish and attempt every question. Once they have watched it once, however, they are then able to come back at a later date and skip around the video reviewing specific parts. This is useful if (say) they understand the introductory concepts in a video, but want to review more sophisticated concepts toward the end.

The process of building questions into your video is utterly friction-free (that’s one of the things that impressed me most about it). You paste in the URL of the video, then watch it play. When it gets to a point at which you want to ask a question, you simply click the “Build Question” button. Then you type in the question, two or more (multiple choice) answers, click the radio button beside the correct answer, type in an explanation for each of the multiple responses, and click the “Save Question” button. Simple!

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You have the option of publishing your videos as “public” which means you can share them with anyone to use for personal learning/revision. If you would like to see it in action, have a look at this sample which I have published as a public video. The answers people choose in a public video are not collected by eduCanon.

The real magic happens though, when students link to you (using your teacher code). You can assign a video to the class, and then eduCanon collects data for you on your class’ completion of the task and their responses to your questions.

One of the most commonly asked questions I receive about flipped and blended learning is “How can you know if your students have watched the video?”. Well, this is one way to know!

I think it’s remarkable that all of those features are 100% free! (and that includes add-free). An optional “premium” subscription ($48/year) gives you additional features, such as the ability to export your class data as a .csv file so you can import it into your own class record-keeping software or Excel spreadsheet. A premium subscription also gives you the ability to create free response questions (whereas the free version only allows multiple choice questions).

Verdict: This is the most exciting new web 2.0 platform I’ve found this year so far. I’d recommend it for anyone who makes screencasts or educational videos for their class.  The small investment of time required to type in the questions should see a big payoff in student engagement.