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.