After some time with the iPad…

I have now had my iPad for some time, maybe a few months? I think it arrived during the June/July holidays so that would make it basically one whole semester with it, I guess, and it has now become an essential part of my kit, even more so than my laptop. I thought now might be a good time to reflect on how I am using it…

If anything, I regret not getting the larger iPad and if i were to upgrade, that would be the one thing I would consider. I got the 32gb version and it is a chore having to manage it so that I at least have some space on it! How have I filled it? Mainly apps, some of which I use infrequently so I could free some space there by deleting the games which look good and I have little time to play! I have little music on there and few photos. I have removed most of the books, as well.

So what am I using it for? Checking mail, checking news headlines and watching podcasts, reading magazines, and general web surfing. It is great having the device so close and easy to use if I need to just check a reference in a TV show or a song lyric.

My fave apps? Depends but I use Informant HD for the scheduling part of my life as it syncs so well with the iPhone; I use iThoughts for planning and brainstorming; Tab Toolkit for song tabs; Max Journal for writing daily logs of events; Flipboard for checking various newsfeeds…There are some games which I enjoy on there but realistically, they are there for a very rainy day! I hope to find time one day to once again play Red Alert!

In short, I take it with me when I go out or on holiday. I can do nearly everything I need to do on the iPad, except the intensive video editing or graphic design work which I have to do on my laptop, but other than that, it suits my purpose.

Managing iPads at school

They have been in our school for a little while now so what has happened?

The class set is not used as much as I thought it might have been. Why so? Not sure…Too hard to access? Not really. They are in the Library, like everything else we have, so …

One of the Deputy Principals has arranged to get his own personal iPad to use at school, with a view to showing other staff how they can be used. He is trying to live in a paperless world – good luck with that!

We now have a HOD who is trialling one as well but there are some hassles.

  • Until the wireless setup is sorted, maybe sometime next year, the iPad is very limited, in my opinion. Using mine at home is virtually painless and I use it all the time, but that is mainly due to the wireless.
  • We are essentially talking about a personal device, being used in a corporate setting. This means that it is not (yet) going to work like a teacher laptop. We can’t really lock them down too much. Kids can delete apps, move things around, access stuff they are not supposed to, etc. Maybe the upcoming iOS update will fix this? I hope so.
  • Managing iTunes accounts is also problematic. I have set one up at school to manage our devices but if we give one to other staff, they have to manage their own accounts and apps, which are downloaded to their own computers and if that computer goes down, then what happens to the apps? They go too!

It will be a problematic situation as we grapple with the issues surrounding these devices.

Awesome Note

I have been trialling a range of note-taking apps this past week or so and I actually purchased this from the iTunes Store. Is it that good? Well, read on.

More info on the product can be found here but my overall opinion is that it is worth it. It allows you to write notes and memos, obviously, and you can place them in folders. The appearance is very professional. Folder appearances can be customised and so too can the notes. It allows for some basic taskwork, assigning priorites and marking them as complete.

I have tried to use it as a lesson organiser but have had only moderate success with this. I was able to make a folder for each class and add a note for each week. I would really like the ability to add, say, a spreadsheet to this for marks, as well as a roll. Maybe links to other docs kept on my iPod or online? Links to URLs? The ability to export the notes to something other than Google Docs (which is blocked in EQ schools) would also be nice. Maybe as a text file?

The app also has a few built-in folders which are useful, such as Shopping and Quick Memo, which allows you to quickly add a note and then assign it to a folder later.

Still some way to go before it becomes a killer app but at the moment, it is in my iPod dock. That might force me to keep using it!

The First iPad Post

The first iPads have arrived in school and we are currently in the process of testing them and then devising how we will use them. It is quite an interesting experience just using it, and I am typing on it now. For a start, there is no action in the keys and while it is quite quick to type on, it just feels “different”. I Have found that sometimes my fingers slide on the screen and that causes the predictive nature of the app (Pages) to think it is some other word. Suddenly I look up and find gibberish.

But I digress.

It is a thing of beauty and a joy to use. I have ordered my own and can’t wait for it to arrive so I can set it up the way I want, with the apps I want and so on. I have installed a few already onto the school machine just to see how they feel and one that I have no regrets about is Pages. It is Apple’s word-processing app from the iWork suite and available as a separate app from the itunes store. All of the usual typing features are there and I can change the way the fonts look, insert pictures and objects and more. The documents can be exported as Word documents which is a bonus. There are some pretty templates to start with also.

The basic built-in apps are nice. Calendar enjoys the larger screen size but still has no task functionality so that means looking for a different app to have both tasks and events (on my iPhone I use Pocket Informant). The videos play beautifully as do the photo slideshows.

We have also bought the Apple cases to protect them and they are a tight fit which is a good thing. There are others on the market, though, and I am keen to see them to make comparisons. I would also like to see the optional camera connection kit so I can download additional pics to the device while I am out rather than having to wait until I get home to sync with the computer.

So those are my first impressions. I will have more to say once we have trialled it more thoroughly. How will it be used at school? Not sure. Do we let staff have a play? Issue it to students? What apps go on it? It is a little more confusing that the iPod discussions as the apps are slightly different and it is useful in different ways. The iPod apps will work but some are not as pretty running in 2x mode as others.

On another point, battery life is good. I am not using it all the time but so far it has lasted a couple of days with intermittent use. The screen does get very “grubby” with fingerprints and marks, especially as users play games and the like, sliding their fingers around as they try to slice fruit, etc.

How will I use it?

I think it will be a different way of consuming media. At the moment, I tend to watch a video podcast or two before I go to bed and it will definitely be easier on a larger more vibrant screen. I doubt that I will use it to read books, though. I am much too used to reading my novels in more conventional form, though it is handy sitting here in the dark and not having to worry about lights!

The killer apps on my iPhone are productivity-related and I am keen to see if there is an iThoughts-like app for the iPad.

I also want to see how it goes with an iPhone connected; will I be able to use the camera ?

More to come. obviously…

Moodle in schools

Much of my waking (and sleeping!) time lately has been taken up with the development of a Moodle site at school. This will form the basis of our school intranet so at the moment we are using it mainly as a Noticeboard with some Galleries.

I have begun developing a few databases for Reviews of books, games and the like, as well as Study Guides which are essentially research pathfinders, combining some web links and notes to assist students with their research.

All of that seems mighty fine but it has taken some time. I am sure that Moodle is better than what we had before (which was nothing) but the refinement of some of the areas takes time. We had previously used a Sharepoint site for the Notices and that allowed us to sort the Notices by Year Level. I can’t get Moodle to do this (yet) so…more thinking.

It is only available from within the school which is a bit of a bugbear, but it saves me from fiddling with it all the time from home, which is what would happen otherwise! At least this way, I can only work on it at school.

The Reviews section is fairly good, and I am happy with it. I need to refine things like the display of comments and the default views but essentially it has been interesting putting the database together. I am also happy with the fact that I was able to get a printer-friendly view formatted, using CSS. What does this mean? When the user prints the Notices, the side-columns and headers and so on disappear. They are left with just text. This was a major feat (for me, anyway!) so I was happy with that. Now I have heard some don’t like the size of the font so…

As time progressed, I will have more to add re the development of the site….Stay tuned.

Songsmith

An email I received this morning directed me to check this out. It is Songsmith, a program made by Microsoft which allows you to sing a song into the computer and it then gives you chord suggestions and a tune. Like karaoke but in reverse. no matter how good the product may or may not be, the ad is worth watching.

You can find it here.

Of note is the use of a Mac laptop covered in stickers to showcase a Windows-only program. Makes me laugh, anyway!!

Computers in Libraries

As our school library design progresses, I need to think about this issue. Should we have a lab of computers in the library? If so, why? What purpose do they serve? How are they to be used? How are they used differently to computers in other parts of the school? What kinds of computers should they be? How should they be managed?

To illustrate…we currently have 20 desktop machines in the library and they are used basically as a de facto lab. When teachers can’t get their class into a normal computer lab, they eventually end up at the library. Sometimes they get sent down during class to print out their assignments. During lunch breaks, the computers are all used by students working on assignments or doing other things (but not playing games!). Is the library the only place where they can access computers outside class time? Must be!

So while students in class are using machines as typewriters, sometimes just using Word to type their assignments, others are not able to access them for research.

20 computers are not enough for a whole class so we sometimes have to offer laptops to supplement their class.

Some courses have taken the approach that just having a student use a computer to create a product , i.e. type an assignment using W ord, means that they are using ICTs in their course.

What to do? I would like to see them gone and replaced by a few machines for students to access their email or conduct research but as we move towards a wireless/laptop model across the school (like most schools), is there any point in hardwiring for machines which might well be obsolete in the future?

As you can see, we are yet to have this difficult conversation!

Macbook Pro Battery Dilemmas

It has to happen at some stage to everyone, I guess. My trusty old laptop battery finally died, but in a more spectacular fashion than I had imagined. The seam popped open and would not sit flush with the body so I Googled some sites and sure enough, it happens. Mainly from too much heat or being left turned on for too long. Late night rendering and burning of movies for school!

photo The only good news to come from this is that I was able to order a replacement part from Apple and it was here within 24 hours, basically. Typically good service but I am philosophical about it. It happens.

iThoughts

I am a fan of mindmapping and have already discussed this. How to use my iPod for this task? There are a few products available in the App Store but the one I settled on was iThoughts.

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As you can see, it looks much like other mindmapping programs. You devise a main topic name and then add branches to it. Each branch can have children (sub-topics). One of the best things is the ability to have notes for each topic or sub-topic. Many of the free apps do not have this feature. The just-released version (2.5) adds relationships between topics, another great feature. The best thing (for me) is that it exports to XMind, my desktop mindmapping app of choice. It also exports in other formats, of course, such as Nova, Freemind and so on.

I have begun using it for just about everything. It allows me to chart progress on certain tasks or aspects of a topic, hide various nodes, add notes, as I said, and then export into XMind. It is on the home page of my iPod, obviously!

Learning in Hand – review

Learning in Hand is a podcast “channel”/program which I subscribe to. It is fantastic, in a word, presented by Tony Vincent, an educator who provides advice about how to use iPods and the like to enhance learning.

Recent episodes included a lesson on how to combine images taken from Google Earth and the Internet and combine them with text in another app, Strip Designer, to create small comic strip images. This was a great tip as it showed how the unique nature of some of the iPod apps could be combined. Sure, a similar activity could happen on a computer in a lab but for that matter, a lot can be done on both sorts of devices. People choose to use iPods for their convenience or mobility or ease of use or whatever. Not every student wants to be tied to a machine. And as we move towards more portable styles of education, with more students having some form of mobile device, it is going to mean that we need to look at what can be done on those devices.

Subscribe here.