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  So then, “I don’t know how to record a podcast” or “I don’t have time to make screencasts” are no longer valid excuses for continuing to waste valuable class time, standing at the front of the room ‘teaching’ recordable stuff.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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

Remote-Control Keynote on iPad With Your iPhone

keynoteappnarrowThere are lots of options for giving a Keynote presentation from your iPad, most of which are sub-optimal.  This morning I discovered that I can do it over Bluetooth (not WiFi) from my iPhone. I didn’t know that was possible! It makes presenting from an iPad a realistic option.

Option 1 – AirPlay

You can AirPlay your iPad screen to an AppleTV, or to a computer running Reflector, AirServer or X-Mirage.  I’ve done that sometimes in the past, but there are four problems.  ① Sometimes AirPlay can be a little laggy – especially if you have video in the Keynote slides.  ② The iPad is a little bulky to hold while presenting. Its heft restricts hand gestures and I think, looks a bit awkward. ③ I find that sometimes when there are lots of WiFi devices in a room all accessing the WAP (as is usually the case in a classroom) the AirPlay connection tends to drop out altogether.  That happens too frequently to be viable.

Option 2 – Cable

You can hard-wire your iPad to to the projector using a VGA or HDMI cable and the appropriate lightning adaptor. But if you present from your iPad while hand-held and tethered to a cable; you’re likely to accidentally unplug it mid-stream when you trip over the cord. And if you are going to leave the iPad on the table, your own movement in the classroom is restricted (or you’ll be constantly dancing back and forth to change slides – which I think looks comical, and frankly, a bit amateurish.

Option 3: My new preferred option.

5cA third alternative is to connect your iPad to a cable, then use Keynote on your iPhone to control Keynote on your iPad. This has been possible for a while, but what has stopped me from doing it is that (I thought) it relies on having both iPhone and iPad connected to the same WiFi network.  I don’t trust that arrangement because I’ve sometimes found the whole “both-devices-on-the-same-network” thing to be a bit unreliable – with dropouts being too frequent.  Also in a number of schools in which I’ve worked, even though my devices are connected to the same WiFi network, they still can’t see each other (I’ve no idea why – but presumably there is something on the network preventing this kind of interoperability).

5c-600contBut I recently discovered that if you turn the WiFi off on your iPhone, you can use the Keynote app on your iPhone to control Keynote on iPad via Bluetooth (directly between the two devices). In my testing that provides a more robust link, making presentation from the iPad via iPhone viable.  While you do have to turn WiFi off on your iPhone, you can leave the iPad’s WiFi on which seems to work just fine. That is handy if you need to access the web, or another app during your presentation.

The iPhone app allows you to advance to the next slide, go back to the previous slide, navigate to any slide by number, and the iPhone’s screen displays the current slide together with either the next slide or your presenter notes.

It’s a pretty good set-up.  The iPad is directly connected via cable to the projector so video isn’t laggy.  The iPhone is not sending video via AirPlay – it’s just controlling the iPad – so it works reliably, and the iPhone sitting in the palm of your hand acts as a confidence monitor, too (so you don’t have to turn your back to the class to see what is on the slide – it’s in the palm of your hand!)

 

Our Teachers Didn’t Have a Choice; We Do.

Many of the structures, processes and workflows that characterize schools, we’re designed by teachers in a time when there were no choices.  Our teachers were constrained by technological limitations that no longer constrain us (except for the limits we put on our own thinking).

Our teachers couldn’t choose where or when to interact with their students.  They had access to their students for a limited amount of class time each week. We do have a choice. We can engage with our students in class, but we also have a choice to interact with them via any one of numerous synchronous or asynchronous online platforms. 

Our teachers couldn’t choose how their students would publish their learning / ideas / stories / art / research. In fact, they couldn’t  choose to publish at all. Our students, on the other hand, have a dizzying array of available, socially relevant publishing options, the possibilities of which, ought to have us spinning in our chairs with excitement.

Our teachers didn’t have a choice about covering the whole curriculum in class – how else would their students be exposed to all the nuggets of knowledge they needed?  Our students have the Library of Alexandria at their fingertips! That gives us a choice that our teachers didn’t have, about which parts of the course to spend time on in class and which parts to let our students take responsibility for covering themselves – or with the help of a smorgasbord of online teachers / animations / forums / courses / tutorials / screencasts / podcasts.

Of course, just because we have a choice doesn’t mean we should necessarily exercise it in any given situation. Conceivably, the way our teachers did things might sometimes still be the best way.  But one would imagine that with all the choices now available, the old ways are unlikely to be most effective in a majority of situations.  (Though they are still practised in a majority of situations).

A gasp-worthy context-aware healing brush app for iPad

2074924066-roundedEvery device has it’s particular strengths and weaknesses, and while it’s true that there are certain tasks you can do on a computer that are not as easy to do on an iPad, the list of tasks that can’t be accomplished on an iPad is an ever-shrinking list.

Photo editing is a case in point.  It’s been possible to do basic photo-editing on the iPad for years now, but anything beyond basic has always sent me back to my computer.  That’s starting to change though, as new apps such as Handy Photo ($2.49)  emerge which let me do things for which I used to need Adobe Photoshop ($9.99 per month).

Context-aware healing is a great example.  In Adobe Photoshop the context aware healing brush lets you select an object in a photo that you want to remove and Photoshop will remove it and fill in the background intelligently – guessing at, and reconstructing what might have been behind the now-deleted object, based on its context.  (It’s quite magical to watch, really).

Amazingly, you can now do that on the iPad using a remarkable app called “Handy Photo“.  It’s very simple to use, and besides letting you delete objects, lets you move them and perform a range of other photoshop-like tricks that I haven’t seen in any other iPad apps. The gap between computer and iPad is closing rapidly.

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I’ve been using Handy Photo for a while now (for personal use), but demonstrated it for the first time at a workshop the other day, to the amazed gasps of the audience.  I thought if it impressed them so much, it could be worth sharing here, too.

OCR With your iPad

Grab it while it’s hot! – at the time of writing this app is free!1431425451-rounded

Let’s say you find a newspaper article that is stunningly relevant to what you are teaching at the moment, but the language in the article is pitched at the wrong reading level.  Maybe you teach primary students and the AGE Journalist has used too much scientific jargon in an article that is also too long. How cool would it be to substitute a few words, and delete a few paragraphs? Or perhaps you teach VCE students and the Herald Sun editor has dumbed down the terminology to make it more … accessible, but you’d prefer to edit some of that meaningful terminology back in to the article to strengthen its ties to what your students are learning.

Scanner with OCR will allow you to take a photo of the article with your iPad’s camera, and it will ‘read’ the text in the photo and give you a plain text document that contains the entire article! You can edit the text, delete sections, copy and paste bits out into another document. It also means you can save the article to (say) Dropbox, and because it is text you will be able to search its contents, later.

There are other iOS apps that will OCR a scan. The most obvious one is Smile Software’s PDFpen Scan+ which has been around for a long time now (perhaps six months or more).   That app is expensive though – at AU$9:00. It’s also nowhere near as good (although the interface is more nifty and it will let you scan multiple pages). It’s OK for a standard typed page, such as a letter, but it has real trouble with columns of text, and in my experience it makes quite a few errors even with a standard page of text. It also seems to struggle with things such as bullet points.  In one document I scanned this afternoon, it interpreted one bullet point as a “$” and another as a “0”. Also once the OCR is completed, you have to export the entire document to (say) Pages, and then edit the text there; you can’t just select and copy a paragraph, like you can in Scanner with OCR.

Scanner with OCR on the other hand was practically flawless in my testing. It rarely makes a mistake, even with bullet points – and copes with multiple columns deftly.

Normally just AU$1.99 – today it’s totally free.

This is New! ‘Swivl’ for iPhone – Your ‘Personal Cameraman’

A breath of fresh air for vodcasting

If you’ve ever made a video-podcast, you know how restricted you feel. You have to set your camera on a tripod, take careful note of the field of view, and make sure that while you’re recording, you stay within that area. That’s not difficult if you are just sitting in front of a webcam. It’s much more of an issue, however, if you are demonstrating a practical skill that requires you to move around, or if you like to pace back and forth while talking.

Swivl solves that issue.

I bought one of these cool gadgets a few weeks ago and have been delighted with it’s performance and ease of use.

Swivl is an iPhone mount, with a built-in IR receiver, that tracks and follows a remote transmitter, which you carry in your hand, or clip onto your lapel. This gives you the freedom to move around, without leaving the camera’s field of view, because the camera follows your movement. The Swivl will rotate horizontally through 360°, and also tilts up and down through a small range.

The hand-held transmitter, also contains a quality microphone, which transmits your voice to the iPhone. That means that the audio doesn’t suffer if you walk away from the camera. (I have embedded an example video below which demonstrates this).

Note: The remote microphone function, the remote record/stop function and vertical tracking are managed via the iPhone app. These features are therefore not available if using anything but an iPhone. There is no Swivl app available for Android. That said, basic horizontal tracking can be used with any camera-phone or pocket camera.

The Good

  • Horizontal tracking is silky-smooth.
  • Swivl can be mounted on a standard camera tripod or simply placed on a flat surface.
  • Videos can be saved to the camera roll, or uploaded to YouTube from the Swivl app.
  • Horizontal tracking works with any camera phone (not just iPhone), or even with a pocket video camera such as the flip. The Swivl comes with an adaptor that can be fitted to the screw mount on any video camera.
  • The microphone quality is very good but as expected has a fairly high gain. I wouldn’t use it for making an audio podcast, but for a vodcast, it’s awesome!
  • The build quality of the unit is quite good (except for the battery compartments – see below).

The Bad

  • The automatic vertical tracking works well, but is a little bit jerky sometimes. I have found that unless I really need vertical tracking, it is better to turn this feature off, which can be done in the Swivl.app settings on the iPhone. You can still force the unit to track vertically by pressing a button on the remote (it’s still jerky).
  • The battery drawer on the main unit opens too easily. I found that if I transport the device anywhere, it will pop open. I now have it stuck closed with duct tape.
  • The battery compartment in the remote transmitter/microphone is even worse! In fact to start with, I couldn’t even turn the remote on. I had to open it up and bend the terminals to make proper contact with the AAA batteries, and then duct-tape that closed as well.

Features I’d like to see

  • You can buy an AC adaptor for the base unit, rather than using AA Batteries. But it’s disappointing that even with the AC adaptor, the unit won’t charge the iPhone.
  • It would be awesome to have the option of video zooming as you walk away from the camera.

Availability

At the time of writing, I don’t believe there is an Australian distributor for Swivl. I had to order it from the USA, at www.swivl.com. The price was US$170 plus postage and handling.