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iPad and Mobile

Using Google Drive as a file server

Have you ever been in a situation where you need to host several files on the Web? Did you need for those files to have a dedicated URL? Personally, I have had few situations where this was the case, but today I encountered a learning activity that required students to quickly upload images they just captured so they could add them to a Google Map. After some searching around, I found that the Google Drive hosting API is perfect for this sort of thing. Here is what I did ...

Create Drive Folders

The first thing I had to do was create a set of Google Drive folders for students to put the images they just captured. For this activity, students were running around our university taking pictures of some of the landmarks. They were then going to use these images to create an interactive map of the campus with the My Places tool in Google Maps. I created several folders in a Google account I use only for this class. My TA's and I connected a class set of iPads to this account so the students could load their images directly into Drive, which is what they did as soon as they got back to the classroom.

An important step in this process is to set the permissions for the folders to Public. You can do this directly through Drive. You will find the folder, right-click and choose Get Link.

 

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 10.56.52 PM

 

You will then need to change the permissions. Google has a great explanation for how to do that right here.

Set Up the Hosted Site

This part is actually much easier than you might think. The first thing you need to do is grab this little URL:

http://googledrive.com/host/<folderID>/

Not sure where to find the folderID? I discuss it in this post. The URL will end up looking something like this:

http://googledrive.com/host/0B5YVN51uO5e_WGtSc2tBDB2bUk/ (don't worry, it doesn't work)

Google will add some characters to this URL as soon as you hit enter, but don't worry. It will work just fine. Here is an example of the files my students uploaded today. Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 11.04.13 PM Once students have found the image they need for their project, they will need to copy the URL so they can paste it (above).

Note: The only files that will show up in the hosted folder are image, video, document (Word, PDF, etc.), and HTML (and other web-authoring files). Google Docs, Slides, Sheets and Drawing files will NOT show up in the hosted folder.

In my case, the students were pasting these URLs into a Google Map placemark so their images would show up when the placemark was clicked. Several of them held the iPad the wrong way, so their images are sideways. (Sigh.) Here is the map we created in class.

So, that's it. Students can take images, quickly upload them to a Google Drive folder, and they are instantly hosted on the Web with a dedicated URL. No logging in, no FTP, clunky photo albums. Just my files and their URLs. I don't think I will need this functionality all that often, but it sure will be handy when I do.

Move over LiveSlide ... Hello Apollo

Apollo IconA few weeks ago, LiveSlide got a complete overhaul. So complete, in fact, that it was given a new name. I have written before about how much I enjoyed using LiveSlide, and I am happy to report that my overall satisfaction with this tool has not changed at all since I first started using it. I would like to go over a few of the new features that I really like about Apollo. First of all, Apollo is a classroom presentation/engagement tool. Imagine a classroom full of children with devices or computers, such as iPads or Chromebooks. Imagine instead of projecting your content on one big screen and requiring students to follow along, you could project your content onto every screen at the same time. This is exactly what Apollo does, but the newly updated version does so much more.

Slide Sharing

The main feature of Apollo is that it lets the teacher set up classes and share presentations with students on multiple platforms. Since this tool is completely brower-based, students can access the content from phones, tablets, and computers. Students can create an account in minutes, and for a small subscription they can access all of the decks from a class anytime they want. The free account allows students to follow along while the teacher is presenting, but they don't have access to the decks outside of class.

The teacher can set up the decks to advance all at the same time, or students can browse the slides at their own pace. There is also a tool for taking notes, though this would only be necessary if the student has the subscription. Several of my students have paid for the subscription, and they have liked being able to review their notes and the slides (with my annotations from class) when preparing for a test.

Annotations

The teacher screen features several different tools for annotating slides during a lesson. The tool I use most is the pen. I have surprised myself at how often I write things down on the slides, or draw arrows and circles for emphasis. I guess I have used PPT for so long, I forgot this is what teachers actually did when chalkboards were cutting edge technology! The eraser tool from LiveSlide is gone, which is a little annoying. I do like to be able to erase things when I make a mistake, so hopefully that feature will come back.

Control

The feature with the most promise is the ability to hand over control of the slides to a student. The student must be signed in to the class to do this. Once there are students signed in, I can pass off control and they will be able to annotate the slides for everyone or advance the slides. This has a lot of potential for group work and gathering formative assessment about their progress. In the past, I would have groups stand up and share what they talked about. Now, I can give them control and let them show their work instantly on the big screen.

Assessment

A new feature to Apollo is the ability to quiz students on the fly. The multiple choice tool has been there all along, but now you can turn a slide into an assessment by having students annotate or draw an image. Their drawing is instantly saved to the deck, and you can get quick feedback about their understanding of a concept. For example. you could create a slide with an image of a plant cell. While you are on that slide, you add a Drawing Quiz. When the students get to that slide, they will be prompted to draw on the image (e.g., label the parts of the cell) and submit their answers. The images then show up in a dashboard for you to look at. You can also add the student submissions to the presentation if you want to show it to the class.

Web Content

One of the hardest things about teaching in a BYOD environment (at least for me) is deploying links for everyone to view. In a computer lab, I can use SMART Sync or LANSchool to send content to all of the students, but this is much harder in a classroom where everyone is on their own computer. I have tried shortened URLs with bit.ly or goo.gl, but I still have to stop what I am doing and write the address on the board. With Apollo, I can add a URL to a slide, either in advance or on the fly, and it instantly creates a link in the lower right-hand corner of the screen. Students can then click on that link and view the content I have pushed out with minimal disruption to instruction.

I can do the same thing with videos. By simply adding the video URL, Apollo identifies the video and embeds it into the deck. So, rather than put a class full of students asleep watching a video on a big screen, I can have small groups of students huddle around a small screen and discuss a video. I have already done things like, "Stop the video every time you see [blank] and discuss what you think the teacher will do next." It's much more active than just showing the video and trying to discuss it as a whole group.

Recording

One feature I have not used yet is the ability to record a presentation while I am presenting. In order to do this, you have to download the native app and present from a laptop. I haven't really had a reason to do this yet, but I will play around with it this summer when I have some time.

There are many things I like about Apollo. I like that their team is so responsive. One of their reps actually drove to my campus to watch me use it in action, and gave me some feedback for adding students to the class. I like being able to wirelessly control the slides from my iPad and walk around the room while the students have the same content on their screens. I love being able to add links, blanks slides and video on the fly for students to view. Even more than that, I really, really love being able to annotate the slides in real time. No lag, no awkward angular lines ... just my good ole' terrible handwriting for the students to behold in all its glory. Apollo really is a great tool for teaching in a BYOD class. You can learn more about Apollo at their YouTube channel.

I would encourage you to give Apollo a try. I am also interested in hearing about other strategies for keeping students engaged and active in a BYOD environment. Let me know of your ideas, I would love to hear them.

Presenting with LiveSlide

I am always on a quest to find better ways to control my content during class meetings with my iPad. I have tried just about everything, from mirroring with Airserver to SlideShark, and nothing has quite done what I want. Either the tool is too unpredictable (Airserver) or it is too narrow (SlideShark), so I continue to keep my eyes peeled for ways to present my lectures while mobile in the classroom.

The best solution I have found so far is LiveSlide, a simple browser-based tool that lets you remotely control slides from any device. Teachers can use it as I do, to project content to the class while controlling it from a mobile device, or they can share the slides with their students and have them follow along during class. Students can also take notes on the slides for themselves, and the tool has a few interactive features for questioning and quizzes. I have not used many of these features, but I plan on it in the coming weeks.

LiveSlide is incredibly easy to set up. Since it is browser based, there is no app to install. Educators who sign up with their school e-mail will be automatically upgraded to the Elite account for free.

Once your account is set up, you can either create presentations from scratch or import them from your computer or Google Drive. Obviously, I use the last option since I typically create my presentation with Google Slides anyway. I have imported approximately 20 presentations so far, and I have not had so much as a hiccup during the process.

Students can view slides using one of two options. If they want to simply view the slides, they can join remotely using an access key. The teacher can decide whether or not the students can advance the slides on their own or if they must view them at the teacher's pace. The teacher can add quizzes and polls for students to answer, and students can submit questions while the teacher is presenting. I typically log in from my iPad then join the presentation from whichever computer is connected to the projector.

If students want to make a copy of the slides for themselves, they can pay a small account fee and be added to the course. All slide decks for that class will show up in their account, and they can take notes directly on the slides. I have not used this option, so I cannot verify how the students takes notes (writing on the tablet screen vs. typing). I think this will be a great feature when I begin to use it.

My favorite feature of this tool is that teachers can quickly add content and blank slides to a deck while they are teaching. You can add a YouTube video, take or import a picture, or add a blank slide to draw a diagram. I have already surprised myself a few times by drawing impromptu diagrams or importing a picture for everyone to see. This is a feature not available on any other web-based tool I have used.

There are a few limitations to LiveSlide that I hope will improve over time. For one, there are shape tools (circle, square, and line), but there is no way to move the objects around once they have been added, and I can't figure out how to delete them. I don't use this feature much, but I might if it was more responsive. Also, sometimes the tools disappear from the page if my iPad goes to sleep. I have to reload the page for the drawing tools to come back, which can be a little distracting while I am teaching. If I don't draw attention to myself, I doubt the students know what I am doing. :-)

Overall, I have to say I am quite impressed with this little tool. The team that created and maintains this tool is very responsive (hint, hint ... read that last paragraph). You can learn more about LiveSlide from their YouTube channel, which I plan on viewing carefully in the future. I hope to use more of the features in the near future and write more about it.  Keep up the great work Atlas Learning team.

*Note: There are a few tools on the web that use the name LiveSlide. Make sure you look for the one in the Atlas Learning toolkit. There is also a social network called Liveslide, but that is not something I am interested in at this point. :-)

 

All In: The New LMS

Today I attended a presentation sponsored by Apple about the changing role of mobile technologies in higher education, particularly colleges of education. This is of particular importance to my college right now because we are beginning to talk a lot about how and why to use different types of technology in our courses. Many faculty have been using technology for many years in their courses, but we are starting to see a shift in the role of technology in terms of how students access and use information. The presentation today, given by John Landis, Ph.D., was very much in line with the conversations I have been having with some of my colleagues over the past few months.

I will be honest, Dr. Landis' presentation was impressive. He is a great storyteller and is current on the trends and predictions sweeping through both K-12 and higher education. He understands that technology has traditionally been used to help teachers do what they've always done more efficiently or faster. He knows that students these days can get the same content traditionally transmitted from the instructor on any device, anywhere, at any time. And it's usually a lot more interesting. None of this was new to me, but it was still delivered in a fresh and relevant way. Landis presented a blend of theories, examples, and demos, primarily from his MacBook and iPad Mini, and the technology worked like a champ. He mirrored his iPad display using an Apple TV, and could switch pretty quickly to his MacBook Air to demo other programs. As a pretty heavy tech user, I was impressed that he was able to change speeds in so many different ways without so much as a hiccup.

What this presentation made very clear to me, however, was something I have been mulling over for quite some time. It is this idea that in order to fully leverage the benefits of one device, you must fully employ all of the devices in that particular ecosystem. In this way, Apple is actually becoming a device-based LMS. Just like Blackboard or Moodle have a suite of tools under the hood, Apple has an array of powerful tools that can really change the way teachers and students approach learning. The catch, however, is that one must buy in to the whole ecosystem in order to really see these benefits. For example:

  • I can create a customized, multimedia iBook on my MacBook for free, but it only really handles Mac-based media (.mov, Keynote, Pages, etc.).
  • Only my students with an iPad can download the multimedia version of the book and get the full benefit. Students running Mavericks can also read the book on their Mac, but students with Android or Windows devices are left behind.
  • I can mirror my iPad to my MacBook using AirServer, but it's not stable and does not work over my schools WiFi. If I want to really mirror my iPad, I need an Apple TV.
  • I can sync content across devices with a variety of tools, but the only way to sync ALL of my content is with iCloud, which is only for Mac.

The point is, each tool Dr. Landis showed us does amazing things. I want to try everything he showed us (except for the stuff I am already doing ... I want to keep doing it). But the only way to leverage the capabilities of each tool is to use it as part of the Apple Ecosystem (a term he used repeatedly). Apples are meant to work with other Apples, and there is really no motivation to make them work with Android (Google) or Windows. My workarounds, as I have found, are much more complex than the typical tech-using teacher is willing to mess with. I have found a way to teach from my iPad without using AirServer, which is a pretty awful replacement for an Apple TV. I use Google Docs to host and share course files, which works pretty well most of the time, but it's not as slick as content aggregated in an iBook. I have founds ways to do the things I want to do, but it's always a little more work when I am doing this across devices and outside "the ecosystem."

My take-away message is that Apple, Google, and Windows really are trying to create a system, and already have, where users must be "all in" in order to reap the benefits of their technology. More than ever, their tools only really play well with their own family members, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to lead a balanced digital life across platforms. With the exception of a few apps like Evernote or Google Drive, content on your device stays on your device.

I have no idea which ecosystem TCU will join, but I think they will eventually need to decide. These companies, which control the market, are leaving us very little choice otherwise.

Creating visual tutorials with Snapguide

For the past two weeks, the students in my graduate class have been exploring various ways to provide scaffolding to learners using digital tools. These explorations have been grounded in an article we read by Mayer & Moreno (2003), which describes 9 practical ways to reduce cognitive load using instructional design principles and digital tools. The students have done everything from creating QuickStart guides with screenshots and Word to screencasts with Screencast-o-Matic to "flipped" lessons with Educreations. The main theme that emerged from all of these explorations is that digital tools, while easy to access and use, are still quite complex and rarely work in isolation. Content creators need to understand a variety of tools to create, share, and distribute their digital products. Some people call this digital literacy. Teachers rarely have time to devote large blocks to teaching their students how to use digital tools, which is why it is helpful to have a variety of techniques to record and share explanations which can be viewed outside of class time. This is the beauty of digitally-supported scaffolding. Teachers can continue to support student learning even when class is not in session.

To further explore this concept tonight, the students created visual tutorials with Snapguide. I found this tool when I was looking through the help resources for another tool, InfuseLearning. I really liked the interface, and when I saw the iOS app I was really impressed with how easy it is to use. The students and I agreed this would be a great way for kids to practice How-To writing, and for teachers to send visual instructions home. I remember sending home detailed written instructions for parents when I was teacher, and the science projects STILL did not come back done correctly. I would have loved to have something like Snapguide to visually walk the students through the project.

It's amazing to me how visual our culture is. Now that seemingly everyone is walking around with small computers in their pockets, there is no end to the media people can create about everyday processes and skills. In addition to being visual culture, we are a culture of sharing. Snapguide combined with other tools like Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter give us the potential to learn just about anything.

Here are some examples my students created last night in class:

Check out How to Make a 3D Foldify by TCU Horned Frogs on Snapguide.

Check out How to Make a Paper Bus by TCU Horned Frogs on Snapguide.

Check out How to Create a Foldable Mini House by TCU Horned Frogs on Snapguide.

What tools do you use to learn and share new things?

Lecturecasting with a Bamboo

I recently got a question from a teacher about recording mathematics explanations using a Bamboo from Wacom. I have never used a Bamboo before, but I know people who have and I've seen other tablets like it, so I knew what this teacher was asking. When using a Bamboo, you project your computer on the screen using a digital projector, and the tablet is essentially a big mouse pad that lets you draw or write with a stylus. I have used similar tools before, and there is no projection on the tablet itself. You can just see your marking on the computer or projector.

Since the computer is the "brains" for the Bamboo, rather than an app on an iPad or other tablet, Bamboo users must use a program that runs on their computer. To my knowledge, the are not many computer programs that function as a whiteboard AND let you record your explanation. One would have to use a whiteboard app concurrently with screencasting software. This may become more trouble than it's worth, in my opinion. There is, however, a web tool called Educreations that works as a whiteboard that records pen strokes on a virtual whiteboard. The developers really push the iPad app, but there is a web component to it as well. I have used it with my students, and it works pretty well when there is no iPad available.

Using this tool, the teacer would project the browser page using the computer, and the Bamboo would be the writing tool. I wanted to walk myself through the process and recorded a demo, seen below (Note: I am not using a Bamboo; rather, I am remotely accessing the screen from my computer on my iPad using SplashTop. The iPad is acting like a Bamboo ... complicated, I know.)

The teacher to whom I was explaining this process bought his own Bamboo and teaches in a school devoid of many technological tools other schools have access to. My goal was to point him to something free that offered most of the things he wanted to do. Conceptually, this teacher understands the value of digitally recording complex explanations to students. He can go back and revisit old problems without having to rewrite them on the board, and since the entire explanation is recorded the students can watch it later when they are working independently. I tip my hat to teachers like this who catch a vision and seek out information to make it happen given the resources they have access to. iPads and other tablets are slick, trendy, and honesty, quite powerful, but they are not the only way to implement innovative teaching strategies with technology. No matter what the tool, there is no replacement for persistence and creativity.

Projecting lectures with SlideShark

As I mentioned in a previous post, I used my iPad during the Spring 2013 semester as a control center for displaying images, video, and (don't judge me) bullet points. In my imagination, this made me the coolest professor on the planet. I oozed awesome with every gesture and swipe of the iPad. My students thought I was a dork.

I don't know if that word actually came to mind, but the vibe was definitely tangible in the room. My protocol for projecting the iPad display was pretty reliable, but I was using AirServer over a Bluetooth connection that could only handle a small amount of data at once. There was often a delay between what I was doing on the iPad and what the students were seeing, and sometimes the connection would freeze altogether. This connection would also not handle video or any type of animation. Personally, I did not see this as a big deal, but my students did and said as much on their course evaluations.

This prompted me to re-think how I was going to use my iPad as a portable lectern, or if I was going to do this at all next semester. I revisited a few different options I had explored before, and nothing seemed to do what I wanted. That is, of course, until I happened to read the SlideShark blog. I had used this app a few times already for presenting slides, and I liked it quite a bit. I was able to monitor my presentation with a timer, see my presentation notes, and quite importantly, preserve any animations I had embedded in the slides. The app also handles embedded video pretty smoothly without the need to include the video file somewhere on your device. Everything is computed in the cloud and is downloaded to the mobile app.

Until recently, I still had to mirror my iPad display onto my MacBook via AirPlay by way of AirServer in order to use SlideShark. Even though it was a step up from some other apps I was using, it still got hung up sometimes and would stop advancing the main points I was covering in the class meeting. Apparently this is quite exasperating to undergraduates (though they expect me to be "cool" with their "multi-tasking").

SlideShark has now added the Broadcast feature to it's app, which lets a presenter remotely control slides through the cloud from an  iPad. This means I do not have to connect my device to my MacBook via AirServer. I just have to make sure my iPad and the computer connected to the projector are both online. Here is a brief rundown of the workflow:

  1. Upload the presentation to your SlideShark account
  2. Open the SlideShark app from your iPad
  3. Download the presentation to your device
  4. Open the presentation and click Broadcast
  5. Open a browser on the computer connected to the projector
  6. Go to: www.slideshark.com/meet/username
  7. Your slides will be remotely controlled with your iPad and displayed through this browser window. You can expect a 2-4 second delay between the device and the browser. When you stop to think about it, that is FREAKING AMAZING! 2-4 seconds?! Are you kidding me?!

Of course, this method is not perfect. You can't ...

  • Show the iPad display. This will only show your slides. If you need to switch between apps, you will still need to use something like Reflector or AirServer.
  • This option is not free. After June 15, when the trial period ends, the ability to Broadcast slides will set you back to the tune of $95 a year. That is not chump change in my household, but I think it will be worth the money if I use this tool as much as I think I'm going to.
  • I have still had some problems getting videos to play. The FAQ section says that any format of video other than AVI or WMV will not play in-app. Since I'm a Mac user, this is a problem. I am still testing it out with .mov format, since that seems to be the .wmv equivalent on a Mac. You should also be prepared for a very lengthy upload time, depending on how many videos, and of what size, you include. Additionally, this will eat up your storage space if you upload too many large files with embedded video.
  • You will encounter problems if you try to include active links to web pages. Since the slides are running within an app, the link will open a browser but it won't be visible through the Broadcast meeting in the browser. Oddly, hyperlinks within the document, such as Action Buttons, still work. This enables users to create non-linear presentations, if that's what they prefer to do. I rarely use this feature myself.

If you are interested in using your iPad as a mobile lectern for teaching, I would recommend  testing this and other methods of remotely controlling your iPad in order to see what works best for you. If your school/workplace does not block AirServer over WiFi, this by far the best way to go. If that is not an option, SlideShark may be a pretty dependable workaround.

Clicker concept vs. Clicker hardware

The first time I saw a demo with clickers, I was hooked. I was a doc student at the University of Virginia, and the Curry School of Education had a class set of  30 clickers and a receiver that professors could check out and use with their classes. A colleague and I checked out the clickers to use with a class of preservice teachers. We spent about two hours setting them up and testing them, and everything seemed to be on track for an exciting romp of student engagement and deep learning. (sarcasm). Honestly, we just wanted to see how they worked and look cool in front of the students. The short story is this activity totally flopped. The student accounts did not work and only about one-fourth of the clickers would register with the receiver. We spent a little time doing the awkward technology dance, then we bailed on the idea and proceeded with our activity sans clickers.

I have had this same experience in a dozen or so classes, workshops, meetings, and conference presentations. Thankfully, none of these have been at my expense, other than the annoying time lapse created by people insisting something will work if they bang on it long enough. In my own teaching, I had all but abandoned the use of clickers simply because they never seemed to work properly. Rather, I would use strategies that I knew were more stable, such as Google Forms. I could create a short form, send it to the students (via e-mail or a bit.ly address) and get instant feedback from my students. The interface was pretty simple, and assuming I didn't ask my students questions requiring a long, wordy response, I could take a quick pulse from the class in a matter of minutes.

Most of my classes have met in computer labs, so access to a browser has never been a problem. However, I had to rethink how to implement this strategy when I was in a traditional classroom. I tried having students send responses from these forms using their phones a couple of times, but the forms did not render very well on the small screen. This was also before smartphones had the kind of saturation they do now. About half my students had smartphones, and some of them were a little sensitive about using data for school activities (though no one seems to hesitate when it comes to sending and receiving texts during class). Go figure.

Once I started teaching a large lecture-type class at TCU, I knew I had to start thinking again about ways to engage the class. I found it very difficult to encourage discussion among a hundred students, and the "think, pair, share" technique was wearing thin because their mini-discussion never went anywhere. Very few of the students actually wanted to share their conversation with everyone else, and those that did were my usual suspects who did all the talking. I began researching ways to facilitate clickery-type activities in my large class without making the students buy actual clickers (at a $100 a pop) or bring their laptops (and all the wifi connectivity issues that come along with that).

After a lot of searching around and trying different apps, I settled on Socrative. Socrative is an app that works on multiple platforms (i.e., browser, iPhone and Android app, tablet), and it can be controlled by the teacher from either a computer or mobile device. Teachers can send out general questions (Multiple Choice, True/False, Short Answer), or they can create quizzes ahead of time and send those to students. Responses from preformed quizzes can be aggregated into a spreadsheet and sent to the teacher for later analysis. There is a separate app for teachers and students, and there are separate URLs for both if anyone is using a browser.

The best feature of this app, in my opinion, is the ability to create quizzes in a spreadsheet and upload them to the teacher account. I have found the spreadsheet to be much easier to use than the web interface because of how easy it is to copy and paste items, as well as move things around. Here is an example of a quiz created using the template, and you can download it from Socrative here. Once students have completed a preformed quiz, you are given the results in a spreadsheet. Below are two examples of what these reports look like. Correct answers are highlighted in green and incorrect in red. You can also see if a student did not respond. Students have to enter their name before they start the quiz, but I deleted them in these examples.

Running a close second to the spreadsheet-import feature is that results are updated in real time on the teacher app or account. I could display the teacher screen and see the results change as students sent in their responses. I still have not found a way to show both the questions and the results at the same time, but this hasn't been a deal breaker for me.

Quizzes can take the form of traditional MC or TF, short answer, Space Race or short answer. My college students had a strange euphoric response to the Space Race activities, which I cannot fully explain. Actually, the response from the students was very positive. They all added the app to their phones, and I would put SOCRATIVE at the top of the page that included a question. Without fail, when  SOCRATIVE popped up on the screen, the class instinctively grabbed their phones and waited for the question. They even memorized my room number, which was helpful for those times I became the absent-minded professor and couldn't remember it.

A final perk of this tool is that it runs through the Cloud rather than relying on infrared sensors to send and receive signals. As long as both the student and teacher devices are connected to the Internet, the tools works. To date, I have used this tool about 100 times and never had issues with data being received. I have had a few instances of students getting a weak signal on their phones, but those instances have been isolated and infrequent.

On my mid-semester questionnaire, several students mentioned this tool specifically and remarked that they liked seeing the results from these short discussion questions show up immediately on the screen. Turns out, students like seeing how their ideas or opinions compare with everyone else. They also like using their own phones or computers to do this without having to purchase an clicker. Pedagogically, I would typically have the students discuss the questions in pairs or groups of three and make them converge on an answer. I tried to make the responses such that students had to choose between all seemingly good options. I like to think the discussion was the best part of the activity and the technology just facilitated it.

So, how do you facilitate class discussion? Do you use clickers or apps to do this? What are you techniques?

iPad Mini-Projects in a Lecture Course

When my college got a cart with 20 iPads, I began brimming with ideas. I had been teaching in a computer lab for about 7 years, and there were many ideas I had always wanted to try on tablets and mobile devices.

Computer labs can be a challenging place to teach, and I must admit I am still not completely comfortable having to remind students repeatedly to stop looking at Facebook or Zappos. There are many activities you can do in a technology-enriched classroom, but it takes some time and careful planning to teach the students how to carefully move media from a camera to a computer to the cloud to a different computer and back to the cloud. Some of my students never become quite comfortable with storing and retrieving their data from multiple devices, even though the technology is advanced enough nowadays to make the process seamless.

An environment which is even harder to teach in than a computer lab is a large lecture hall. Until last fall, the largest class I had ever taught was about 30 students. This all changed when I began teaching the course for my college intended to orient early-career students to the big, wide world of education. This class is primarily made up of freshmen and sophomores, and they are a mix of education majors and folks from other programs seeking an elective. The class meets for two hours, three days per week. I typically facilitate lecture/discussion on Monday, Wednesday is spent in schools observing teachers and students, and Friday is a lab with more discussion, presentations, and other activities. Needless to say, this class is its own planet with quite a bit of gravitational pull.

Teaching this class presented many challenges, but the most immediate to me as professor on record was to make the Monday lecture/discussion not so brutal. Here are a few facts you may or may not know about college students :

  1. Their primary objective is to earn a high grade. This is particularly true at a private university.
  2. This objective tends to keep the students' focus on points, scores, and averages.
  3. This tends to divert their attention away from learning for the purpose of mastery.
  4. Class time, therefore, is seen as something required to help them meet their objective.

This becomes challenging because anything the students perceive will not be on a test or included in a paper becomes unnecessary, in their opinion. So for me, the goal has been to make the Monday class meetings something the students want to do rather than have to do.

One method I have used is mini-projects with the class iPad cart. I didn't want to burn the students out with these projects, but I had a few ideas I had used on a smaller scale. I was ready to try them on a larger scale with more students. My iPad mini-projects this semester included:

  1. Short Public Service Announcement videos about risky behaviors many students try in school. The students got into groups of 3-4 and made a short PSA about the risky behavior they were given (e.g., drugs, alcohol, delinquency, pregnancy, STDs, and cheating. They had to include at least two statistics we discussed in class, and the video had to include everyone in the group. They uploaded the videos to a common Google Drive account, and I made the videos available for each student to view.
  2. Group wiki about the hard decisions school districts must make about funding and cutting programs. Each group played School Budget Hold'Em, then reflected about their decisions on a wiki. The iPads turned out to be not so great at editing a wiki, but thankfully many of the students bring their laptops to class.
  3. Thank You video to participating school. The students in this class, in addition to hearing me pontificate each week about the mysteries of education, observed in local schools for an hour each week. I put them in groups and had them record short thank you messages, which I edited into one video. I then sent the final video the schools, which I assume they enjoyed but I don't really know for sure.
  4. 5 Picture Charades about the various philosophies of education. They worked in teams and tried to portray a different philosophy of education (traditional, progressive, existential, and critical) in 5 pictures. All I have to say is, students can be very creative when they want to.
  5. Flipped lesson outlining the lesson sequence using Educreations. The students were given relatively easy topics, such as long division, simple machines, branches of government, and subject/predicate, and instructed to create a short lesson for students. One of the requirements was to label each section of the lesson (activate background knowledge, state objectives, explain the concept or skill, guided practice, independent practice), which I think was one of the key parts of this project. The students thought the main take-away was learning how hard it is to explain things succinctly and accurately. I still find that challenging with my own children.

I learned a lot about using iPads with a large class in a lecture hall setting. There were a lot of challenges and mistakes, but not as many as I would have predicted. As technology usually goes, my hiccups came in places I didn't predict. I think the students received this projects pretty openly, and their products were very good for the most part. The other challenge was finding time to watch and read their creations. 20, 2 minute PSA videos can take a lot of time to get through, especially when you add in transition and loading time. I will have to think of a way to do this better. These activities definitely stretched me and increased my own skill set, and I am eager to try it again in the fall.

Mission Control

I have always been one of those teachers who likes to show a lot of stuff on the screen. Before projectors, I displayed graphs, charts, images, and graphic organizers using a TV or overhead projector. I have always loved supporting what I have to say with visuals. So, it should come as no surprise that my computer, or any computer, is a necessary resource for my teaching.

I also like to switch back and forth between media. I am that guy who always has about 10 tabs open in a browser, and an addition 5 programs running on my computer. I switch between slides to documents to video to applications. I'm sure this drives my students crazy, but they get used to it. One thing I never got used to was being trapped behind my computer while I teach. I am definitely not one of these roam-the-room types, but I don't like to stand behind my computer and constantly have to look down at my screen. Since I utilize far more tools than just PPT, the little clicker thing never really worked for me. What I have always wanted is a miniature control panel that fits in one hand and allows me to switch seamlessly between apps and media, and even mark up that media for emphasis.

Well, during the Fall semester this capability literally fell at my doorstep when my department bought me an iPad. I had always wanted to use an iPad, but I didn't want to spend the money. I tend to be a late adopter when it comes to new devices. Anyway, I got the news from my dean that I would be getting an iPad, so I began researching ways to use it as a mission control for teaching.

Mirroring

My first task was to figure out how to mirror my iPad on the screen of my MacBook Pro. I discovered there are basically two ways to do this. You can use the iPad as a remote desktop and control the computer using the device. I tried PocketCloud, Doceri, and Splashtop 2. PocketCloud never really worked for me. I would be logged in, but I would have trouble connecting my two devices. Doceri worked pretty well, and even allowed me to mark up the screen, but it cost money and I didn't really like trying to find things on the screen. Besides, I was far more interested in teaching from the iPad apps than I was using the programs on my computer. Splashtop actually works really well, and I was able to get it for free. However, it is still just a remote view of my computer, which is not what I want. I much prefer the interface and ease of use of the iPad.

To keep this short, I settled on AirServer to mirror my iPad on my MacBook. There are a couple of programs that do this, and I liked this one best after downloading a couple of demos. AirServer fools your iPad into thinking your MacBook is an Apple TV, so you can use the built-in AirPlay to wirelessly mirror your device. For AirServer to work, your MacBook and iPad must be on the same wireless network. My university is very strict when it comes to using the wireless network, so this kind of thing is blocked. I found out, however, that I can pair my MacBook with my iPad using Bluetooth, and it works just the same. The only hiccup is when I try to stream video from the iPad to the MacBook via Bluetooth. It almost always freezes, so I have started playing video files directly from the hard drive. Other than that, this is a great solution that has not failed me yet.

Apps

The next thing I had to do -- and I am still doing -- is find apps that enable me to enhance my teaching with the iPad. I mean, if there is no value added, then why spend $12 for AirServer and bother figuring out how to mirror the display? I did quite a bit of reading and researching different apps that do the things I want to do in my classes, and I have found a pretty nice set that I rely on regularly. Here they are by category.

Presentation Slides

  • SlideShark: Easy to import and sync from the cloud, and maintains animations and formatting
  • Explain Everything: A nice combo of slides and an interactive whiteboard. Also lets me record my talk and upload it directly to Google Drive or YouTube (which I have yet to do.) By the way, when I Google "explain everything," it gives me a definition for the word "everything." Now that's pretty funny.

Cloud Syncing

  • SugarSync: This lets me sync everything (that I want) from my computer to the cloud. I can then access it from the iPad and send it to just about any app.
  • Google Drive: This basically does the same thing, with the added bonus of displaying Google Docs, which I use a lot. This interface is also much better for images and PDFs.

Student Engagement

  • Socrative: This is a clicker app that still just blows my mind. I hope it stays free forever, but I'm sure it won't. I can send out quick polls to my class, both forced-response and open-ended. I can also create quizzes and exit tickets, and have the results e-mailed to me in a spreadsheet. I will probably write exclusively about this app later.

In order to demonstrate how this works, I have created a short video of how I move between apps during one of my class meetings. This is unedited, but you will get the point.

"I used to think I was good at explaining stuff ... "

I've taken a hiatus from this blog since August 28. I actually have started three other posts that I abandoned for various reasons. Well, now I'm back. For now.

This year as I began my new position, I was given access to a whole new variety of digital tools. At UNT, it was digital fabrication and energy monitoring. I had enough devices to give one per group of students, which meant I could do some really cool things. It's a lot of fun teaching project-based learning to future teachers when you have the tools to do it. Of course, there were other things we didn't have at UNT, like interactive whiteboards and mobile devices (specifically, iPads). So, there were some other important skills that were hard to teach.

At TCU, I don't have the project-based learning tools, but I do have an interactive whiteboard, my own iPad and cart of 20 iPads for students to use in class. This has opened up a whole new domain of learning and teaching with technology. I have been able to do activities with my classes I thought I would never be able to teach. My goal over the course of the next several weeks (months?) is to post some of these activities, along with examples from students.

The first activity I would like to talk about is Flipped Classroom lessons using Educreations. I have been piloting several of these Digital Whiteboard apps, such as Show Me, Explain Everything, and Knowmia, and Educreations was the best fit for this activity. Show Me also would have been a good fit for my activity because it instantly syncs lessons to the Cloud and you can access the video files from a browser. Additionally, it lets you download a copy of the video file to your computer in case you want to do additional editing or combine lessons. Educreations does not have this capability yet. As a side note, Explain Everything (paid) and Knowmia (free) are very robust tools and worth learning. They allow you to import and export media and projects to other Cloud services like DropBox, Google Drive, Evernote, and Box. There are many tools for presenting content, including embedding web pages, video, and audio files.

For this activity, I gave the students three "badges" they were to earn: video editing, screencasting and a flipped lesson. The idea behind the flipped lesson is that students present content to students to watch and learn at home with the intention of doing more collaborative, hands-on activities at school when everyone is in the same room. The students worked in pairs to create and record a short lesson, which they later uploaded to the class Educreations account.

Beyond the simple interface of the tool and how fun it was to create mini-lessons, I knew this was the only way for my students to see the importance of developing this competency as a future teacher. The students commented on how great it would be to create examples for how to correctly work math problems, edit their writing, convey science and social studies concepts that students and parents could watch at home during homework time. This is usually when students have questions, and many parents feel frustrated trying to help their children. I can't speak for everyone, but I routinely would tell my dad, "But that's not how the TEACHER did it!"

An added benefit for this activity is that students got to practice explaining academic concepts at a level their students could understand. You really have to think about such aspects as pacing, language, examples and sequence when you are planning these lessons. The students were able to practice presenting to students without dealing with some of the environmental factors that often stump early-career teachers, such as crowd control and limited attention spans. As one student explained, "I used to think I was good at explaining stuff, but this activity really forced me to think about what I was saying and how fast I talk." Even though this was not my intention, the class got an impromptu lesson on micro-teaching.

I plan on integrating this strategy into my classes many more times in the coming semester. Ideally, I could work with a teacher (or two or three) and have my students create mini-lessons based on the content being address in the schools. My students would get experience teaching lessons in a concise, understandable way, and the teachers and students would have resources to utilize at home. An added benefit would be feedback from teachers and students about the quality of their lessons and explanations. We'll see how this goes.

To see some examples created by students in my class, visit our Educreations page.