Tuesday, 17 October 2017

The next big thing

Waiting for the next big thing. Isn't that what we're all doing?

Every year tech giants release new versions of their flagship devices, and every year they make small incremental upgrades.

It's 0.1mm thinner!
It's got smaller bezels! (Frames around the screen for those who don't know!)
It's got a processor that's 10% faster!
It's got a bigger battery!
It's got no headphone jack! (Boooo!....)

Whoop-de-doo. I have never been someone who waits in line for the next iPhone, or rushes to buy a new release of a video game the day it hits store shelves. But lots of people do. Heck, you even have people who make a living waiting in line so others don't have to!

Tech hardware has reached something of a plateau in recent years. There really is not that much more that manufacturers can do to drastically improve the user experience from a hardware perspective.

And when it comes to increasing the use of technology in schools, it is a very similar story. I am approached on a regular basis by someone who wants to sell me something at a reduced rate (just to get a foothold in the market) and I am yet to see something that completely blows my mind.

Every publisher is trying to get into the e-books game, and each one is developing ways to augment the experience for both students and teachers. But every product is essentially the same, albeit some better (and more expensive!) than others.

So where should schools spend its money?...

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

3 Tools to Untether Teachers

I have worked in many schools that rely heavily on the use of interactive whiteboard displays to promote engagement and student involvement in lessons. These boards serve a great purpose, but I often find high school teachers use it far less than their primary counterparts. Older students seem to quickly get over the novelty of being able or allowed to write on the board usually reserved for the teacher...

These days a lot of teachers are asking for something that would allow them to share their mobile device screens with the class. This would allow them the freedom to be more mobile and also break down the traditional barrier of the teacher's space being the front of the classroom. Below are a few options for you to try out.

Apple TV is a dedicated box that connects to your display and can catch streams from iOS devices. It allows you to watch movies or TV shows, but also works well with screen mirroring. It is expensive though, and exclusive to Apple Devices so make sure you are in the right environment before you dive into this one.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Devices devices devices

For a self-confessed gadget geek, what can be more fun than the opportunity to test and play with a variety of cutting-edge (mostly!) devices? Well, getting to keep them all I guess!

Just recently we embarked on a journey to test devices for use by our teachers in the classroom. This is one of the first steps in our journey to embrace digital learning, and it is quite an exciting one!

We have bitten the bullet and purchased 7 devices that will be tested over the course of 7 weeks. And yes, because we bought them outright, we get to keep all of them! Even the ones we don't like...

Seven teachers will use each device for one week on a rotation system and complete a feedback survey at the end of each week, rating the device in terms of a variety of factors ranging from battery life all the way to ease of use. Already, after just one week, some practical design elements have been highlighted as being critical, but I won't spoil the surprise just yet.

Why are we going about it this way, I hear you ask? Surely there must be hundreds of schools that have embarked on similar journeys - could we not just use their experiences as a platform to make our own decision? Well, no. We have identified that we are a school with unique characteristics. We have a body of students that come from a largely comfortable financial demographic, an exciting mix of young and more experienced teachers, and an academic record that is second to none. All of these factors contributed to our decision to undergo our own rigorous testing to evaluate exactly what it is we need and what would have the biggest impact on improving outcomes for our students.

I would love to know what you guys think based on your own experiences? Are we going about things in the right way? What can we expect from our endeavour? Let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Plickers vs Clickers

So, much like a few schools I know of, we own a set of "clickers".

If you don't know what I'm talking about, think of the popular game show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" and the "Ask the Audience" bit and you've got the gist of it. It basically allows teachers to quickly gauge student progress and have results displayed immediately. Very nice. The problem with these systems is that they are expensive (we paid around R30,000 for ours) and most schools have only one set that needs to be booked out well in advance. For most teachers, it is simply not worth the hassle.

Welcome to the arena: www.Plickers.com. I have only just started using it myself recently, but already the teachers at my school are in love with the idea and have been using it very successfully over the course of the last couple of weeks. The idea is very much the same as with traditional clickers, although this is what could be called a "low-tech" option. Why? Because all you need is ONE device (a smartphone or tablet will do nicely) and a set of printed cards for each class. Each student is assigned a specific card and they respond to multiple choice questions by holding up the card to the teacher. Their answer depends on the orientation of the card (see image below), as the 4 sides of the image on the card each represent answers A, B, C or D.
An example of plickers card. In this example, the answer would be "B". 

The teacher then simply holds up his/her device and captures the answers which are displayed in real time on the board behind him/her. NEAT!

My experience with it has been near flawless. All it needs is a little advanced planning to think up the questions ahead of time (although I did add one or two in the spur of the moment as well!) and voila!

Here is the result of one of my questions:

A word of warning: Plickers or any similar tool should be used like most things - with moderation.
A recent article on Edutopia discussed research that indicates "...while clickers seem to boost students’ ability to retain factual knowledge, that may come at the cost of deeper conceptual understanding."

you've been wared! But...happy plicking!

'till next time.


Sunday, 4 June 2017

Google Drive Extension for Office

In the tech world, when you come across something that has been around for a while, it is like arriving at a party an hour late. You feel a little bit silly for having missed out on some of the initial fun, but it doesn't really matter if the rest of the party is amazing!

This is how I felt last week when I discovered the Google Drive plugin for Office. I have had many discussion with teachers who love the idea of using GSuite to store and access files from anywhere, but prefer using their trusted Office formats. Using Microsoft's Office365 has been the obvious solution, but for schools who use GSuite as their platform of choice, this becomes more of an issue. 

By installing the Google Drive plugin for Office, users have the option to save files directly into their Google Drive from within Word, Powerpoint or Excel.

This is a game changer for some people who would previously dismiss the idea of using Google to store their files as they are not happy using Docs, Slides or Sheets. I am a massive fan of being able to use software the way you would like to, and not ONLY the way the creators intended! 

Well done el Goog and el Micro-suave!

Hope this helps some of you out there!

'till next time.


Sunday, 14 May 2017

Little kids and tech - are we doing it right?

Animal Cards

I can't remember where I heard this story, but it's a good one. A father wasn't sure why his big 50" TV had all these horizontal smudge marks across the bottom of the screen. That was, until one day he saw his 3-year-old walk up to the TV and try to "swipe" across the screen to change the channel from the news his dad was watching!

Our children are digital natives. They grow up knowing what apps are, and NOT knowing what a phone with a cord looks like. We need to embrace this fact rather than think of ways to prevent it from happening - it is an inevitable process that will happen regardless of what we think of it.

But do we, as parents or educators, leverage this attitude and familiarity with technology to create amazing learning opportunities for our young children?

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

GIF's are great for explaining what you mean!

Over the last few months I have been experimenting with different ways to create short, quick tech tips for my teachers. I have tried video tutorials, emails, hyperdocs, interactive PDF's (more to follow on some of these) and most recently started experimenting with GIF's.

Now, I have used GIF's before, but have always found them slightly cumbersome to create. then last week, after reading about LOOPY on Lifehacker, I discovered a tool that makes creating a GIF super easy.

Licecap let's you record any area on your screen (like many popular screencasting apps do) and outputs to GIF format immediately. You can decide on how many frames per second you want the playback to be (this will have an impact on how smooth it will appear, at the cost of increased file size) and also the size of the window you want to capture.
The response I have had from teachers has been VERY positive. As an example, I had sent out some written instructions on how to change the view in Outlook. One teacher struggled, but after sending a GIF demonstrating how to do it, she managed it without a hitch. She emailed back straight away with a massive thank you!

How do you use GIF's to enhance your teaching?

Let me know in the comments below.

'till next time.