3 things school leaders can do to advance ICT in their school

As I visit schools, it is obvious to me that some schools are way ahead of others in their use of technology for learning and teaching. I’m sure there are many things that contribute to that diversity, but one of the biggest, it seems to me, is the approach taken by the leadership. When I look at the schools that seem to be doing things very well, there are a number of common threads – things the leaders in those schools do, which make all the difference. I offer the follwoing three as perhaps the most important.

1. Remove frustrations

It’s amazing to me how many fantastic, game-changing tools are blocked on some school networks. I’m not saying we should remove all filters – they do help to prevent us from accidentally stumbling onto things we don’t want to see and can’t unsee. But in 2016, our filters do almost nothing to prevent students from intentionally accessing inappropriate material. Blocking content is ineffectual for four reasons: (1) Most students have smartphones with a direct connection to the internet. (2) Most students have unfiltered internet at home. (3) Any student who walks home past McDonalds has unfiltered access to the internet. (4) Students know about VPN services which bypasses our filters.

Over-strict filters just thwart our best teachers’ efforts to make learning more meaningful. Our failed attempts to keep a few miscreant students from doing the wrong thing just hampers the majority of students who want to use the internet for the right thing.

If we think for a moment that filters will protect students from anything more than inadvertent stumbling onto inappropriate content then we need to open our eyes! If we want to protect students – really protect students – from the potential, and very real evils on the web, then we need to educate them. Blocking just invites students to an us-vs-them, cat-and-mouse game in which the cat comes off as annoying but embarassingly incompetent.

2. Ensure policies are clearly defined and well known

I meet a lot of teachers who are hesitant to use various, wonderful tools – because they are unsure about whether using such a tool is appropriate and permissible. They are not sure whether it ticks all the boxes in terms of safety, privacy and age appropriateness. Moreover they are fearful that if they use it, they might end up in hot water. No teacher ends up in hot water for being boring and staying to the path, but when a teachers starts exploring new ways to make learning exciting, more powerful and relevant to modern life, she has left the path and is cutting new paths. That comes with the fear that one is doing something that might be seen to be inappropriate. School leaders can support that teacher by making sure that school policies about the use of ICT are explicit, clear and well known by everyone in the school community. Then, teachers can confidently explore the new, within those clear boundaries. More on this here.

3. Empower the innovators

Often, as teachers gain the authority to influence and effect change in a school, their openness to change diminishes. Teachers enter the teaching profession wide-eyed and keen to try lots of different things and experiment with new pedagogies. They don’t have much power though because they are seen as “green” by older, wiser, more seasoned teachers who hold the decision-making power. I’ve seen young teachers silenced, gossiped about and even bullied because more experienced teachers took offence at these young, upstarts thinking they know a better way to do things. Eventually these new teachers learn to tone it down and conform to ‘the way things are done around here’. The most effective school leaders I have seen, identify innovators (irrespective of their seniority or experience) and invest them with the ability to influence.

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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.

Apps That Improve the iPad Typing Experience

A number of comments on my recent blog post indicated that many teachers and students find the experience of text entry on the iPad to be one of it’s biggest drawbacks. I read those comments and found myself nodding.

iPad Typing Woes

As a touch-typist, I am more productive on a physical keyboard when writing more than a few sentences. It isn’t just the speed of typing. There are some things that you simply can’t type! For example, chemical formulae generally contain subscript numbers to indicate the number of atoms of each element in a molecule (eg H₂O). There is no way to type a subscript number using the Apple onscreen keyboard. The same goes for typing many mathematical symbols. Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 3.18.42 PM

Many teachers don’t realise that pressing and holding certain keys on the iPad keyboard will bring up alternate characters (often the ones you would get by pressing the Option key on a Mac keyboard). For example pressing and holding on the 0 will pop up the option for a degree symbol. These are useful but there are many characters that you can’t access this way. There is no way to type the Greek symbol for Pi π, nor is there a way to type the copyright symbol ©.

Solutions

There are three apps that I’ve found though, which make the process of text creation much more efficient. The purpose of this post is simply to share those. No doubt there are other options which some of you have found. If so, I would love you to please share them in the comments.

I’d be lying if I said that these apps make typing on an iPad as efficient as typing on a computer. But they do make it much more efficient than without them. Whereas before I would rarely type much on my iPad at all (unless I had no choice), I’ve found since using these apps, if I’m comfortably seated on the couch, the bother of typing on my iPad is less than the bother of walking all the way into the other room where my computer is.

Textexpander

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Textexpander ($5.49) is an iOS version of an old, incredibly useful Mac program which runs system-wide to enable one to create snippets of text that will expand when a predefined shortcut is typed. This neat little application on my Mac has saved me 17 hours of typing in the past 6 months (according to the built-in statistics it keeps). There is also a Textexpander app for the iPad. Unfortunately because of Apple’s sandboxing policies, Textexpander can’t run system-wide, although it can operate in other apps, if they have taken advantage of the Textexpander SDK but only a minority of apps have this (Byword is one example, see below). Despite the sandboxing limitation, you can open the Textexpander app, expand the shortcut you want, and then copy and paste the result it into another application. If you are a science teacher, for example, you can save a shortcut such as “ggglucose” which will expand to C₆H₁₂O₆ complete with the subscripted numbers. This solution does require you to have already created snippets and shortcuts for all the things you might need, ahead of time. You can do that on a Mac though, as your Textexpander database can be synced through Dropbox.

Byword

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Byword ($2.99) is an iPad app for writers. It uses markdown syntax for headings, italics, bolding, lists and for inserting links. For me, it took half an hour of learning the markdown syntax, but then, it’s like a breath of fresh air to type on the iPad. Markdown syntax was new to me, but not at all difficult. For example, to *italicise* text you enclose it in a pair of asterisks. To make a first level heading you preface the text with a #.

The text in Byword is large, clear and full-screen (apart from the on-screen keyboard). Compared to typing in most apps it just feels really ‘open’ and clean. When typing on the iPad, half the screen is taken up by the keyboard, so the last thing you want is a row of formatting buttons across the top like you have in Pages, or for the app to only use 2/3 of the screen’s width (which is the case in most apps!). The image below compares Byword to three other commonly used text apps, in each case the text entry area is indicated by a dotted red line. A little bit of extra screen real estate makes a big difference.

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It is also worth mentioning that Byword has built-in Textexpander support. So if I type one of my snippet shortcuts in Byword, it will expand to the full snippet. What a great time-saver if you have a large database of snippets saved in Textexpander!

The screenshots below show how the text I enter looks as it is being typed in markdown (and with Textexpander shortcuts), and how the text will look when exported to another app.

Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 2.40.32 PMScreen Shot 2013-01-07 at 2.41.37 PM Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 2.42.41 PM

Cymbol

Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 12.09.27 PMAnother app that I think is very helpful if you ever find yourself needing to type characters that aren’t available on the standard iPad keyboard, is Cymbol ($1.99). This one is really simple. It’s really just an extra keyboard of characters that you can type. See screenshot below. There is nothing much to learn in this app. What you see is more or less what you get. There are many more symbols that could be included in Cymbol but aren’t. Nevertheless, it’s a great start.

Once you have typed the text you want, you can select parts of it, or simply hit the button that says “Copy All”. Then you can open any other app, such as Pages, Byword or WordPress and paste the text in. The superscript, subscript and other formatting is maintained when pasted.

There are a few “features” of Cymbol that I don’t like. But considering I haven’t found any other apps that do what Cymbol does – I have it on my highly recommended list.

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Better Together

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Each of these apps is useful in itself, and each worth the asking price. But when you combine all three, they together become very useful. For example, just this afternoon, I found myself wanting to write the chemical formula for Hydrogen peroxide. So I went to Cymbol, and used the features there to create the formula with subscripts. Then I copied that and pasted it into Textexpander (screenshot right) to create a new snippet for which i created the shortcut pperoxide. Then over to Byword, I can simply type and each time I type pperoxide, it expands to H₂O₂. Pretty neat.

Turn your Class into a Game Show: Triptico (new version today)

Screen Shot 2013-01-03 at 2.06.05 PMI have used Triptico for many years and have always found it to be excellent. Essentially, it’s a collection of spinners, timers, quiz-templates and name-pickers for use in the classroom.  It’s particularly great for randomly selecting students to answer questions, or to perform tasks.

I’ve often hosted Year 12 “Biology study parties”; evenings when my students and I would get together and spend a few hours eating pizza and playing biology games, you know:  ”Pass the Par-Cell”, “The Wheel of Immune”, “Who Wants to Be a Biologist Hotseat”, and various games involving eggs, balloons, whipped cream, vegemite and ping-pong balls, where the most coveted prize was a custom-made Biology T Shirt.   I increasingly found some of the tools in Triptico (such as the name picker and scoreboard) augmented those fun evenings beautifully.Screen Shot 2013-01-03 at 1.05.46 PM

But they are also really  useful in the classroom – even on more serious occasions.  Even the simple circle timer is fantastic to have displayed at the front of the room while students are working in groups so they know exactly how long they have to finish the current task.  Likewise, I’ve also found name pickers are helpful for assigning students to groups when I want to mix things up a bit.  You can even have multiple tools open simultaneously.

Today, a new version of Triptico is available.  It’s free to download and use.  The free version contains lots of great tools.  If you want even more tools, you can get them too,  by paying $23 for a “Triptico Plus” account (in app).  Triptico Plus also gives you the ability to save your triptico apps in the cloud (so you don’t have to re-enter student names or images again next time, for example, and can open them on more than one computer).  Volume licensing for schools is available, too.

Triptico is an Adobe Air  application – so you can install it on a Mac or PC (needs to have Adobe Air installed), but you can’t install it on an iPad.

My advice: If you are a teacher, do yourself a favour and check it out at http://www.triptico.co.uk

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How an iPad is a More Powerful Content-Creation Device Than a Laptop.

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That the iPad is a great content-consumption device has never been disputed. But just 30 months after its launch the iPad is now in some ways a more powerful content-creation device than a laptop in the hands of students in the classroom.

When the iPad was introduced in 2010, my school (Wanganui Park Secondary College) was one of a handful in Victoria that included them on the booklist for the following year, a move that raised eyebrows! Critics decried the iPad as “a content-consumption but not a content-creation device”. Admittedly, at first there was limited content creation software available – there was no way to make or edit a movie, take or edit a photo, record or edit a podcast or screencast, or even to annotate a PDF!

Now 2.5 years down the track, the iPad is a swiss army knife of content-creation tools. It can be used to make movies, music, podcasts and screencasts. You can write blogs, and eBooks, publish websites, and make cartoons. You can use it for time-lapse photography, claymation, freehand drawing and painting and to edit PDFs.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m arguing that it’s more pedagogically productive, NOT that it is more technologically capable than a laptop. If professional production quality is your imperative, then the iPad is not your best tool. I doubt Peter Jackson produced any part of The Hobbit on an iPad! Likewise, any serious photographer is bound to be shooting with a DSLR and editing in Adobe Photoshop on a 27” iMac. There is no way the iPad camera and iPhoto can compete. Even as a prosumer podcaster myself, I don’t use my iPad for podcasting. I use a Blue Yeti Microphone connected to a MacBook Pro running Übercaster, Audacity or GarageBand, any one of which is far more feature-rich than GarageBand on the iPad.

But comparing podcasting on an iPad with podcasting in Übercaster on a MacBook Pro with a studio-quality external microphone is making the wrong comparison. A more valid comparison (for students in many teachers’ classes) is made beween podcasting on an iPad vs not podcasting at all. The same applies to movie-making, website building, eBook creation, etc.

We’ve had computers in schools for years, but in reality many (most?) classroom teachers don’t and never did have their students making podcasts, movies, eBooks and websites. Doing so seems too time consuming and for many non-technical teachers the learning curve appears disproportionate to the benefits realised.

But producing comparable creative content on an iPad is relatively quick, simple, yields impressive results with minimal fuss, and the learning curve is … well, there almost isn’t one! There is no need to connect an external microphone (the built-in one is better than that in any laptop), no need to adjust recording levels, no need to use a pop-filter. No need to import media from a recording device to the editing device (becasue they are one and the same), and it’s unnecessary to allow 10 minutes at the end of a class, to save, unplug devices, shut down and stow the laptops. Instead, when the bell sounds, students simply flip their iPad cases closed and walk to the next class!

It is getting easier all the time to create content on laptops, too. But the iPad’s seemless integration of technologies and relative simplicity of use further lowers the entry barrier for many teachers – and that has the potential to encourage significant pedagogical change in a school.

This is new! Record a video of iPad’s screen in any app

DEAR READER, PLEASE NOTE: The App Disp Recorder no longer works – BUT Great news! those of you looking for a way to simply record your iPad screen, iPad audio and your voice narration – rejoice! As of yesterday (10th July 2014) there’s a new simple way to do it – and it’s really fantastic.  I’ve written a follow-up post about it HERE – and here’s a short little video I made demonstrating it:


 

And here is the original post that you searched for (which is now obsolete but I have left here for posterity):

There are numerous options for recording a video of one’s computer screen, from the free and simple, but limited Jing to more powerful, and correspondingly expensive offerings like Camtasia or Adobe Captivate.  There are also a number of free Web 2.0 options such as Screenr.  On a Mac you can even use the built-in QuickTime player that ships free on every machine!  But until recently recording the screen of my iPad was limited to within an individual app.  Apps like ShowMe and LivePaper have been around for a while and the excellent ExplainEverything is far and away my favourite for recording a screencast from my iPad.  But even using these tools, one is restricted to recording the screen within that one app itself.   Sure you can import images or screenshots and doodle on them, and the app will record the screen and the self-talk you are providing to narrate. What they do not enable you to do, though, is record video of your home screen, or a tutorial on how to use another app like (say) a graphing calculator.

Enter* Disp Recorder.

The Good:

Disp Recorder lets you easily record anything that happens on the screen of your iPad: navigating through the Home screens, changing options in the Settings app or working in another app such as GarageBand or Google Earth.  It will even record a Keynote presentation complete with the virtual laser-pointer etc – an option for having students record a presentation of their work to share with their peers.

While recording, you can leave the Disp Recorder app and open another app.  When you do this, the menu bar pulses red.  Tapping that red menu bar at any time takes you back to the Disp Recorder app, where you can pause or stop recording. It’s very similar to what happens when you are are on a phone call, and navigate to another app.

The recorded video can be saved to the iPad’s Camera Roll, or uploaded directly to YouTube.

It’s a universal app – it works on the iPhone, too.

The Not-Quite-So-Good:

For CPU intensive GUI-goodness like turning a page in iBooks, I have found that the video can appear a little jerky – even on the new iPad, but for most operations, it works remarkably well.

In applications where the menu bar is visible at the top of the screen (Eg. the Home screen, iBooks) the menu bar pulses red while recording, and this pulsing is recorded too.  I think this is a bit distracting when watching the video.  This is not an issue in apps where the menu bar is hidden (Eg. GarageBand).  It would be nice if there were an option to turn that red pulsing menu bar off.

I also think the $10 price tag is a little high – but on the other hand it’s the first app to offer what it does, so it really has no competition, and I don’t mind paying $10 to support an innovative developer who is extending the functionality of the iPad.

*Thanks to Shane Williams at Hunter TAFE for showing me this app.

[  September 11, 2012  10:19 AM:   Since writing this post, there have been a number of people who have said that they don’t think it would work – that the app is a scam and doesn’t do anything, etc.  (see one such comment below).  All I can say is that on my iPad 3, which has never been jailbroken, and is in Australia with the region code set to Australia, it works as advertised for me.  Here’s a video I recorded with it this morning. https://dl.dropbox.com/u/4495191/11.09.2012%208-04-14%20AM-521.mp4  It seems that most of the people who are saying it won’t work, have not actually tried it.

It is worth mentioning that there was apparently another similar app called DisplayRec produced a few months ago (no longer available) that did not work outside the USA (or at least the iPad’s region code had to be set to USA for it to work).  I am not sure if this app is made by the same developer as that one.  But this one does work.  Some people have suggested that it is likely to stop working after the iOS 6 launch.  That remains to be seen.  I’ll add a note here at that time to let you know. 🙂  ]

Update

Having now installed iOS 6,  I can confirm that Disp Recorder is still working.

Update

As of the 8th December 2012 this app is no longer available at the App Store.  If you already downloaded it though, it continues to work on your iPad.