Friday, April 26, 2013

Transitioning to an iPad classroom

It's been two weeks since iPads have been in the hands of the students in my class, and the focus of the work we have been doing can be summed up in one word: transition.  Much of the work of my class has been carried out through various free web tools accessed via netbooks, so for my students and I, moving from pc to Mac and one device to another, we have focused on becoming acclimated by using it for processes and tasks that were already familiar.  Here's a quick recap of what we did and how it went:

Writing spaces

We use Google Docs regularly for drafting and collaborating, and Kidblog for our blogging platform. While both of these tools can be accessed from the web browser, they both also have apps for the iPad.  Overall it seemed that students had very little trouble at all moving from using these cloud-based tools on the netbook to the equivalent iPad app. Though the apps did not look the same as the interface students were used to, they were simple and user friendly so students didn't have much trouble making the change. 

The Kidblog app was a little buggy, as a couple of students lost posts that they had started writing, but the Drive app worked smootly, was reliable, and eventually most studnet who were using their blogs to draft theri writing switched to Drive, then copied and pasted in their blog to publish.  The Drive app was missing some features available on the desktop version that my students had come to love (like the ability to chat and post comments), but the writing we were working on this week didn't necessitate collaboration, so this didn't come up as an issue. I'm interested to see what happens when students do come back to writing collaboratively.  I asked one class if they were concerned about loosing this feature, to which they replied that they would find a way to make it work.  I'm sure they will.

Browsers and Bookmarking

Recently our school had made Chrome available as an option for internet browsing.  The experience of using it in my classroom has been a huge success. It was faster than the version of IE we were using, worked seamlessly with all of the Google apps, and had a Diigo extension that was awesome for bookmarking.

The mobile version of Chrome, while a great app to have, doesn't have near the features of the full version.  I do like that with Chrome you can view bookmarks and history across browsers, but not having that Diigo extension available was a huge drawback for the research that we were getting into.  My students were familiar with Diigo, and while bookmarking in Chrome is fairly simple, it doesn't offer the handy annotation features of Diigo, features that we've built our research process around.

The solution: installing the Diigo web highlighter on the iPad Safari browsers.  To do this, I had one of my classes go through the steps of installing it as directed by the app.  Of course, what I thought would be a five minute process ended up being about 30.  I eventually figured out that I could save one iPad, whose browser I already set up, as the back-up in Configurator, then when I applied this back-up to all devices the web highlighter would show up in Safari.  I've got to remember that for next time.

Students didn't seem to have much difficulty using the iPad web highlighter to bookmark and annotate, though with the touch screen it did seem to take them a bit longer to select the text on the webpage they wanted to highlight.  And as for the actual Diigo app, I ended up deleting it from the students' iPads.  About the only thing that the app was useful for was making the process of installing the web highlighter a bit easier.  The web-based version of students Diigo libraries seemed be fully functional and more user friendly.

Learning the basics of iPad navigation

I assumed that since the iPad was fairly easy to use students wouldn't have a whole lot of trouble figuring out how to use it.  And for the most part, that has been the case. iPads don't have the same ability to multi-task, but students seem like they are figuring out how to use the gestures features to swipe between different apps they are using.  For example, when when created annotated bibliographies, students had to move in and out of their Diigo library, the Bibme site, and their blog, while also occasionally referring back to model and requirements that I had posted for them on my website.  This was a bit more time consuming than what they were used to, but it was also a good exercise in learning the multitouch gesture feature, and most students when I asked them didn't seem to mind.

Next steps....

The transition from working in spaces where we had already been has thus far gone pretty smooth.  What I'm most excited about is venturing into tasks that take advantage of capabilities that are specific to the iPad.  As I'm finishing up this post, I've got some of my students in a reading class experimenting with using the apps Flipboard and Zite to create personalized magazines around topics of their choice.  In class we are also working on creating documentaries with iMovie and Explain Everything.  I'm also getting acclimated with Apple TV.  It's been a pretty awesome experience, and I look forward to writing and thinking more about it in my next post. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

In preparation for a class set of iPads...

I was excited last week when I opened an email from my technology director, letting me know that I would soon be getting a class set of iPads. A huge part of what makes this news so awesome is that I have spent the last two years engaged in an iPad pilot set up through a professor at a local university. With a single iPad, I explored the potential benefits and limitations of the device, which was in both my and my students' hands daily.

Since my students were already immersed in a technology-rich environment (most days I had my students use net-books--  researching, collaborating, and composing), the direction of my inquiry took shape around both comparing the two technologies and examining how the iPad could be integrated into our existing (PC-based) digital writing workshop.

Though the greatest limiting factor was that I only had a single iPad to work with, I learned quite a bit, and it will be this learning that I will build from when my class set arrives. But now, before that day gets here, I'd like to use this post as a space to share some of the conclusions and realizations I've made over the last couple of years about the use of iPads in my 8th grade ELA classroom. These are points that I've discussed with colleagues, shared in professional development, and presented at conferences. I'm not sure why I'm only now posting them here, but I know that I need to.  This will likely be the first of many iPad related posts.

What I've taken from the single iPad pilot: 
  • One of the greatest strengths of the iPad was its physical properties...long battery life, portability, and quick boot time. It can easily be moved from student to student, and I did not have to plan around the time that would take to turn on and be ready to use, as I do with my net-books   Since there were no moving parts, I also feel like the device will undergo less wear and tear from everyday use. 
  • Since my starting place was the tasks my students carried out on their net-books  many of the apps I first searched for were those that could carry out equivalent tasks to what my students were doing on websites accessed through the net-books. Many of the web tools I had my students use were not accessible to on the iPad or could be accessed on a limited basis. So, for example, since a student couldn't use the Piclits website on the iPad, I had to download an app like Instant Poetry to carry out a similar task. I discovered that most apps I found were inferior to the equivalent free PC web tool that the rest of the students were using. 
  • What I am most interested in learning more about are apps that allow students to carry out tasks not possible on a PC.  This is an area where I feel lies the greatest potential for understanding how best to integrate the tablet into teaching. And also, as it true with the web-based tools I have learned to integrate, I am interesting in learning more about how different apps and functions can work together in particular learning situations. 
  • The iPad was great for web browsing, media consuming. As for producing, it's great for taking quick photos and videos, and editing with iLife package apps, like iMovie and iPhoto.  
  • Most of my students initially claimed that they didn't mind typing on the iPad for writing pieces of longer lengths. Almost every student who made this claim changed their minds after a couple of days of typing on an iPad during writing workshop time; touchscreen typing was slower and more labor intensive. Students who wrote on the iPad, while they were able to use Google Docs as a drafting space with the Drive app, were not able carry out digital conferences through using the chat and comments features not available on mobile devices.  These are functions of Docs that many of my students have come to appreciate.  Not having this access is what I have come to believe will be the greatest constraining factor when integrating iPads into my class, at where our digital writing workshop is concerned.  *And by the way, I shared my concern with the students today, and they assured me that they would find a way to make it work out...and I am sure they will. 
So, I guess if I were to sum up what I had discovered through the last couple of years with toying with an iPad would fit into my classroom, I have learned that:

  1.  An iPad is not a laptop
  2. Thinking about iPads from netbook/laptop paradigm hinders their learning potential. 
I'll more easily transition to this new iParadigm after I have a class set of these devices up an running, and I am looking forward to getting that process started.  I think that ideally, though, the best learning environment for students is one where they will have access to multiple types of technology. Where students are able to use iPads for some tasks and laptops for others.  I know that this is what it's like for me in my own daily use of technology   Since I began using mobile devices in my personal and professional life, I have been in a continuous process of experimenting with which device is most ideal for particular situations.  I'm still figuring this balance out, but it seems to me that finding this balance  deciding which tool to use and when, is an important skill that we ought to give students the chance to develop in school.  I hope to explore this area is well.

I can't wait to get started...