Friday, 21 June 2019

iPads in class: A review

We started our rollout of just under 200 iPads in January and thought it was about time to touch base and reflect on what we have achieved thus far. Let's take a look!

The start

But first, some background. We took the decision to start with teachers before students. I covered the reasons behind this in more detail in the "most important people in a school post, but in short, we felt the need to properly train and equip our teachers before we unleashed the beast of students with devices!

Each teacher was given a 10.5" iPad Pro with an Apple pencil and Smart Keyboard - literally the best device we could provide. We went through some initial testing and decided on the iPad as our device of choice (you can read about it here).

Teachers also come to me for dedicated timetabled Tech Training once a fortnight. This gives me the opportunity to touch base with them and support them on their journey of becoming more tech-savvy and taking risks in their classroom to create rich and engaging learning experiences (I don't mind if you get a little sick at the sound of that, I did as I'm typing it!).

Phase 2

This year in January we started our roll-out of devices with students. Every Grade 8 receives an iPad 6 with an Apple Pencil (yikes!) and a nice cover. The decision to go with the R2000 Apple Pencil was not an easy one, but mad easier due to unavailability of the Logitech Crayon and Rugged Combo Case. We were very intrigued by these accessories, but unfortunately, South Africa lags somewhat when it comes to tech products being available for purchase. Eventually, we had to decide between a keyboard and the Apple Pencil, and the pencil won. Off the bat, I would say that this was a great decision as the students absolutely love their pencils! It just immediately encourages creativity.

We are currently in the process of discussing with teachers their take on how things have gone thus far, and it will culminate in a survey to gather some quantitative data. We did a similar survey with students earlier in the year and the results were quite surprising - they pretty much use their devices in every lesson in one way or another and most of the time, all the time. Which is surprising if you know my teachers!

Photo by @aaronburden from @unsplash

The plan this term is to do more lesson drop-ins and take a deeper look at exactly HOW the students are using the devices. How effective are they in using it? Does it add value to the learning process or is it merely a replacement for a piece of paper?

Teacher feedback

So I guess my questions to teachers are: What are the general pain points? What about this whole process makes you think that you sometimes wish there weren't iPad devices in classrooms?

Based on the general feedback I've had from discussions, some teachers feel that the iPad can still be a distraction for some. You would have thought that by now, 2 terms in, that they would be used to having this thing in front of them! But for some of them, they still take every opportunity to do other things than what they are supposed to. I guess it comes down to training and helping them see the iPad as a digital tool that will help them achieve success.

The one "Shining Light" is Apple Classroom. Having control and the ability to monitor student usage of their iPad relaxes even the most resistant of teachers. Well done @apple, you're onto a winner here.

When the rubber hits the road and you ask teachers to get off the fence and tell you honestly what they think about the move towards a digital future, most of them seem to agree that introducing the iPad as part of everyday learning is a good idea. Despite all the minor hiccups, the benefits are obvious and if we're not going to teach young people how to use digital devices effectively, where will they learn?

Steps forward 

We have definitely identified a few things that we would like to do differently with our next roll-out. We use Snapplify as our textbooks platform and the way in which we distribute textbooks can definitely be improved. Parents are able to load books directly onto their child's account which removes the middleman (ie the school). Uh yes please, let's do that instead!

Teachers have also asked if they could request specific skills they want students to learn in term 1 of their tech training. These could be subject specific, like for example graphing maps etc. for Geography. This would then, of course, inform my planning for these sessions.

Overall I think we are happy with the way the first year has gone. We have learnt valuable lessons that we will take with us going forward. I am also very excited about some of the changes announced for the "new" iPadOS, like desktop browsing for safari (yay Google Docs!) but that is definitely for another post!

Hope you enjoyed reading this one - fire away with questions if you have them!

Bitmoji Image

Friday, 14 June 2019

Google Summit 2019

Excited to be in a room full of teachers who are clearly very passionate about what they do!

The day started with a great keynote by Chris Betcher (@betchaboy) who really inspired everyone to reconsider the role of technology in teaching. He highlighted a few key points, but something that I really enjoyed was:

If you want students to perform you have to 

  1. Give them something to care about
  2. Give them the tools they need
  3. Give them choices
  4. Get out of their way

 Just take a minute to reflect on this and how you do this in your own classroom.

An Edtechteam Summit allows you to choose the sessions that you want to attend, so there is literally something for everyone. I decided to attend a session hosted by @dylanlangheim on how they have integrated coding into their curriculum, something that is becoming commonplace and an absolute necessity. If you haven't thought about how to bring this into your own school, I recommend you look into it ASAP.

Some useful places to start would be, or Tynker or even Scratch.

I'll check back in later!

In the next session with Chris Bletcher (@bletchyboy) ...

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

iPadOS for Education - will it be any good?

Like a proper tech guy, I spent the majority of Monday evening watching the live stream of Apple's WWDC event.

I watched Tim Cook announce the latest developments in new software as well as one notable new piece of hardware. I just heard today that the top spec'd Mac Pro would set you back over R500,000...yikes! Also, did someone say cheese?

But let’s talk about iPadOS!

It’s about time that Apple realises the iPad is a unique piece of hardware that sits somewhere between a fully fledged computer and a phone. The touch interface means that it lends itself more to a mobile operating system, hence iOS having been the choice thus far. But the announcement that the iPad would get its own dedicated OS is a good thing.

So out of all the features announced, which ones will have the greatest impact for us teachers in the classroom? Let’s have a look.

Markup anywhere

If you are a fan of the Apple Pencil like I am, then you would appreciate this new feature. When we couldn’t get our hands on Logitech’s Crayon (as was our initial plan) we decided to go for Apple Pencils and forego a keyboard (we couldn't afford both). We have since been very happy with this decision, as the ability to take hand-written notes with the Apple Pencil is second to none. Now, with a simple swipe from the bottom corner, you can annotate on any page in any app - a very useful feature indeed. These markups can then be added to notes or saved anywhere to use later.

SMB shares in files app

We are traditionally a Microsoft house, with over 200 Windows machines deployed across campus. The introduction of iPads means we now have to be able to work cross-platform, as we also rely quite heavily on G Suite. Staff are slowly but surely migrating files to the cloud, but we (like many schools) still have a lot of network shares which up[ to know has been somewhat of a headache to get access to from iPads. Nextcloud is an app that does this well, but the laborious setup procedure means we have not rolled this out. With the announcement that the Files app will now natively support SMB shares in the new iPadOS, teachers will have access to all the files they need on the go. Bliss!

2 instances of the same app in split screen

Sometimes you have more than one document from the same app that you are working on. Now you are able to open them both at the same time in a split screen window and move things across from one to the other in a very convenient manner.

Text editing gestures

Most teachers would prefer to do “real work” on a proper computer. I started typing this on my iPad Pro, but now that I have access to my MacBook Pro, this is what I am working on. Yet with the new announcement that editing text will be easier thanks to some intuitive gestures on iPadOS, I might not have to choose this option in the future. 3 fingers swipe will undo, and selecting the cursor and moving t to an exact location is also much simpler.

Swype typing (AKA quickpath)

I have long been a fan of quickpath typing - I used the now defunct SWYPE keyboard on my Android phones and have more recently tried Swiftkey and GBoard. I often change from the default keyboard to something else for exactly this reason as I can type so much faster on a touchscreen keyboard this way. So now I don’t have to! If only they could Afrikaans as a language...

Desktop browsing on safari

Apple has been claiming that your iPad Pro can replace a laptop for some time now. A good step in this becoming a reality is the announcement that Safari will open Desktop webpages by default. This means editing Google Docs in safari will provide the complete desktop experience, unlike the App which has some limitations. 

So there you have it. My take on a few new features that may actually benefit us in the education space. I for one can not wait until September when these features will be available as part of iPadOS.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments!