On Tablets and Toys

Categories: Gadgetry
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Published on: May 26, 2011

A lot of folks are dismissing tablets as toys.

Watch this video and tell me the iPad is just a toy.

Also, for $500 (for the iPad) and $10 for Garage Band, he has a recording studio. He would likely have spent a lot more on all those instruments, plus he’d need somewhere to store them all.

(Credit where due: video found on The Unofficial Apple Weblog.)

Mac Defender

Categories: News
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Published on: May 25, 2011

The big IT news these days is the Mac Defender phishing scam infecting Apple computers. Apple at first refused to acknowledge the problem, but is now putting together a software update to combat the installed program.

And PC uses everywhere are rejoicing.

I totally understand the smugness. For years, PC users (including myself for a time) endured the “Ha ha Macs don’t have viruses” taunts from Mac users, and now’s their chance to throw it back in their faces. However, I have a few problems with this, and it has nothing to do with track records, product histories or semantic debates on whether or not this is truly a virus or social engineering.

First, it’s like saying “Yay, the hackers have won!” Yes, we knew this day would come as the userbase grew. Is that something we really want to celebrate? Maybe we should be turning this energy toward educating users and getting software engineers to be more pro-active in securing their products.

Second, it’s like saying “Yay, now your computer sucks as bad as mine!” Does anyone really win that debate? If your house gets robbed, and then your neighbor gets robbed two days later, would you go next door and laugh in their face?

Finally, justifying it by saying “Well, they were smug jerks first!” doesn’t hold water. PC users have been just as bad over the years, flaunting their access to video games and the affordability of their machines over Mac users. There are zealots on both sides. Pick your side and move on.

Personally, if I were really turned off by the Apple news, I’d just go back to Ubuntu. The benefit of being educated in all three OSes — Windows, OS X, and Linux — is I have real choice. They all have their advantages and disadvantages, and I’d rank them in different orders for different needs.

But I can’t bring myself to be happy that the hackers are getting ahead.

That’s Just Great

Categories: Media
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Published on: May 24, 2011

iPad 2s are in short supply right now. First LG hosed up the screens, then a factory exploded.

Meanwhile, our iPad PLC team is aching to get their hands on the tablets so we can start evaluating them properly. Our entire 1:1 rests on having tablets in hand.

Which makes it especially painful to watch these jerks at SquareTrade smashing them up:

No, that’s great, guys. You try and sell your warranties. Meanwhile, I can’t give you any money because you’re smashing up tablets we could really use!

Google Apps Tip: Grade Quizzes with Flubaroo

Categories: The Classroom
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Published on: May 20, 2011

One of the best parts of working with technology is you quickly learn that if you have an issue with something, chances are somebody out there has already run into it and found a solution.

Case in point: when we demonstrated how to make quizzes using Google Forms and Spreadsheets within Google Docs, the teachers’ first concern was grading. This is, of course, a valid concern, but they were not the first ones to think of this.

Enter Flubaroo.

This simple script add-on to Google Docs allows teachers to set up an answer key in one row of their spreadsheet and use it to score the students’ responses. Here’s a video demo provided by the Flubaroo folks:

This is going to be a key element in moving toward paperless classrooms. All teachers and students need is access to their Google Apps accounts, which can be accomplished whether we do an iPad 2 or Android tablet deployment or have students bring their own devices.

Students Will Find a Use

Categories: Philosophy, The Classroom
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Published on: May 19, 2011

If we put technology in students’ hands, they will find their own way to use it.

Today our band director sent me an example of students doing just that. A young lady with her own iPad 2 brings it to class every day. When the teacher put a grammar lesson on the board explaining the breakdown of sentence structure, she snapped a photo.

English lesson
A student's photo of a teacher's lesson

She then uploaded that photo to Facebook and tagged all of her friends from that class. Now they all have instant access to the teacher’s original notes at home. (And if they all had devices of some kind, they’d have it available in class, too.)

This is exactly what I would like to accomplish with a 1:1. We’re just barely starting to explore the possibilities, and we already have a student taking advantage of the same technology.

I would also argue this is a reason not to block Facebook outright. Yes, this functionality can be replicated with Edmodo or other services, but why reinvent the wheel? Why force the students on to more and more services if they’re willing to take advantage of something they use every day anyway?

This brings up another topic that came up in our District Improvement Team meetings: will the devices in a 1:1 just be a distraction?

I think this is a good example of how it won’t. More and more of our teachers have loosened their restrictions on iPads, iPods, and similar devices in their classrooms, and I have yet to hear stories of kids being disruptive with them. I have yet to be told we made a mistake in allowing these devices on our networks, or that a student was playing Angry Birds when he should have been taking notes, or even that a student uploaded all of his notes to his iPod and kept it in his lap during an exam.

Yes, there are going to be students who will be off-task and disruptive, but there are always going to be students who are off-task and disruptive. Should the few spoil it for the many?

Our pilot is about getting teachers on board. The students are waiting for us to catch up.

Why the iPad: Ease of Use

Categories: Gadgetry, The Classroom
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Published on: May 17, 2011

A key reason we selected the Apple iPad for our 1:1 investigation is its ease of use. With only one button on the front of the tablet, 99% of app functionality needs to be included on-screen, whether through gestures, the accelerometer, or touchable buttons, tabs, and widgets.

When we first broached the tablet idea in our District Improvement Team meetings, teachers were skeptical. Some of them continue to struggle with the change from Windows to Mac OS X, and they feared the same problem with the switch to a tablet. If they had to spend time figuring out a whole new operating system, it would not be near as successful in the classroom.

Furthermore, they knew they had to have the training to support the students. If a handful of students are struggling to keep up in the back of the room, it will bring the whole class to a screeching halt.

This is perfectly understandable. I explained to them the one-button setup, and how my own children use my iPad and iPod touch without any difficulties. When we first purchased an iPod touch, my then six-year-old son learned it quickly. He proceeded to teach our then four-year-old son to use it, and we didn’t find out about it until he borrowed it from me one day and I watched him switch between three different apps, unaided, in five minutes.

Little Bird on the iPad
Little Bird playing with a drawing app

Now my four-year-old daughter uses our iOS devices, and she loves the iPad. She does some flashcard alphabet games, uses the Toy Story app, and likes games where she can draw or dress up little princess figures.

The problem with this approach is teachers — and, to be fair, most adults — still don’t quite understand it. They’re used to keyboards and mice and windows and buttons and options everywhere. They haven’t seen a tablet of any kind, and they assume technology means learning.

We want this part of the argument out of the way as soon as possible. If teachers are afraid to learn the use of the device, it’s going to make it difficult to get them learning how to use the devices in class. The only way to do that is demos and hands-on experience.

To start with, we called a faculty meeting and gave a brief presentation on the iPad, including what it could do, an overview of some favorite apps, and discussed why schools are headed this direction and why the District Improvement Team felt it was the way to go as well.

This worked very well, and by the end of  the meeting, while some were still skeptical on the ease of use angle, most of the faculty agreed it was a good direction for our students. From there we recruited our iPad evaluation team, or our iPad PLC.

These twelve members will be receiving their iPads shortly. I’ll discuss more about how we’re handling their investigations in another post, but these twelve are itching to get their hands on the devices. A couple of them are still expecting a challenge, but at least they’re optimistic.

I’m confident the ease-of-use will hold true. Our board has gone paperless with iPads, and I have yet to have one of them call me for tech support; if any problems have come up, the superintendent has handled them. I had two teachers come to me for help with their personal iPhones, but it was because they didn’t know what settings to enter for our district mail servers or their home addresses, not for using the device. My in-laws have frequent problems with their PC laptop, but they use a lot of apps I’ve never heard of on their iPhones.

Students will pick them right up. In fact, at last count, we had over 80 student devices on the district network, many of them student iPods and iPads. (Yes, I allow this. Another topic for another post.) If they have been a distraction in class, I’ve not heard of it. If the students have had trouble getting on the network or adding their email accounts, they’ve not come to me for help.

At last we have devices that are truly easy to use, and that’s the best kind of device to get into a student’s hand for daily classroom use. When technology is part of every class, teaching that technology can’t get in the way of teaching the classroom material.

Google Coming Around on Management?

Categories: Apps, The Server Room
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Published on: May 16, 2011

Google may have a solution to device management after all, though it’s just a start. Check out the Google Apps Device Policy app on the Android Market. Right now it looks more like a competitor to Apple’s MobileMe features such as location reporting and remote wiping, but it’s a start for security for schools or companies.

According to this announcement, it’s only available for Google Apps for Business, Government, or Education customers. This at least gives IT folks some options in securing their users’ devices, especially if those devices are company-issued. Judging by user reviews, it also appears the app is difficult (if not impossible without rooting/jailbreaking) to remove.

It doesn’t say anything about pushing out apps, restricting apps or setting wireless passwords, or managing things like proxies or DNS settings. I’m also curious whether the My Devices page it mentions will list device serial numbers and activated accounts. If we get serious about testing an Android tablet at my workplace, I’ll be installing this and taking it for a test drive.

Sir Ken Robinson: Changing Education Paradigms

Categories: Philosophy, The Classroom
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Published on: May 13, 2011

This is an animated version of Sir Ken Robinson’s speech on changing education paradigms at the RSA. This is an excellent speech on how education is stuck in its same old habits and how we are overdiagnosing children with things like ADHD and medicating them to conform.

A system that is not growing and evolving is dead. This is especially true of education, where today’s students are going to be tomorrow’s innovators.

At least, they could be if we don’t medicate them to the gills.

Chromebook: Final Nails?

Categories: Gadgetry, News
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Published on: May 12, 2011

Jim O’Hagan weighed in on the Chromebook in an article at EdReach, “Chromebook is Cool, But…”, and he brought up two great points.

First, the Chromebook is effectively useless in special education. There are a plethora of tablet apps for special education, and the touch-screen nature of a tablet allows some special needs students to manipulate content effectively. A laptop restricted to web apps isn’t going to cut it.

Second, there are a number of privacy concerns about putting student data on the Cloud. Some schools won’t even touch Google Apps for this reason, and using a Chromebook where everything is on the Cloud is not going to sit well with them.

Give the article a read. Jim expands on these thoughts and it’s worth a few minutes of your time.

Chromebook’s Other Shoe Drops

Categories: Gadgetry
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Published on: May 12, 2011

I filled out the form to receive information about the new Chromebook for my school, and I’m a little disappointed.

There are going to be two models, one from Acer and one from Samsung. Their displays are 11.6″ and 12.1″ respectively, making them just a little smaller than a 13″ MacBook and approximately the size of several netbooks.

In addition to what I discussed yesterday, here are my concerns:

  1. It may cost three dollars more for the 3G, and the wireless card is separate. While the cost increase is negligible in the big picture, the card is going to be one more thing for end users to lose.
  2. The pricing is for a three-year commitment. Even at $20/month, that builds the total cost out to $720. For that price, schools can purchase an iPad or Galaxy Tab and trick it out with a warranty, accessories, and apps. Or purchase two sub-$300 netbooks.
  3. The Samsung model with the longer battery life and larger screen will cost a few bucks more, and word is it doesn’t have a user-replaceable battery. The latter is not the end of the world, but the former can add up across several hundred or thousand units.
  4. Even at 6 hours and 8.5 hours, the battery life still isn’t what a solid tablet will get. And those numbers assume end users aren’t really pushing the device’s performance.

On the plus side, they do save workload on techs and there’s a service agreement for the three years of the lease. There is not a lot of information on exactly what is covered, and these things will see a lot of wear and tear if they’re going home with students.

And the big question still remains: will they truly be as useful or flexible as a tablet loaded with apps?

I still believe this is about three years too late. This pricing and setup could have been huge for schools, and it’s a great way to get a laptop into every kid’s hands. But with the tablets hitting the market now, I don’t think they’re going to gain as much traction.

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