eClicker Student Response System

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Bill over at Big Nerd Ranch put me on to their eClicker Student Response System. I have been using SRSs for about four years now, focused primarily on the Promethean ActivVote and ActivExpression systems. These more than any other technology (perhaps until the iPad, but that remains to be seen) changed my teaching; I use them regularly and happily, and the students love them.

I heard about and played around with Socrative, a web-based SRS, and had some good success with it. My biggest complaint is that the number of question formats is too limited, i.e. only open response or multiple choice.

Promethean has always offered a computer-based version of the ActivVote (and I think ActivExpression) system, whereby an image of the device appears on the computer screen and you use the mouse to push the buttons. They now have an iPad / iPhone version of this same system. I have the free app for the iPad, but we’ve not quite figured out how the client works, as well as some other of the technical issues.

In the meantime, I’m excited to try out eClicker. My first impression of it is that it seems similar to Promethean’s virtual app, but without all the hardware / firmware issues showing up. I’ve not tried eClicker yet but will soon and give a rundown of how it went.

In the meantime, thanks again Bill and Big Nerd Ranch.

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iBooks’ Collections and Going Paperless

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I’ve had a bit of an iBooks renaissance. When I got my first iPad a little over a year ago, I liked iBooks, but I tended to prefer the Kindle app (and Kindle books), both because of the interface and the (greater) selection of books. But, as is often the case with Apple products, the simplicity of iBooks is winning me over. But not for eBooks necessarily.

I go to the gym before school and use my iPad to prep for class; teaching four literature classes makes it easy to read ebooks via my iPad. But the opening unit of my Sports in Lit class looks at competition, and the readings are all essays from various sources. I knew that iBooks could display .pdfs, and so I (down)loaded the essays to iBooks. Problem solved.

I found it curious, however, that the ebooks and pdfs weren’t in the same location / library in iBooks. As I accessed these collections (via the Collections button), I noticed that the Collections could be customized, and herein lies the renaissance. Now I have a collection for each of my units for my three different lit classes. I’ve converted everything from essays to lecture notes to assignment sheets to pdfs and now store them in iBooks. This makes the iPad a comprehensive resource for my courses, i.e. I will always have the iPad in my school bag, and so if I have a question, say, about how much a category is weighted in the grading of a certain assignment, that assignment sheet is easily accessible via iBooks.

(I had experienced this phenomenon before with ebooks whereby, with the iPad close at hand, I was checking more quotes / sources from my papers because I was more likely to have the iPad with the ebook than to have the paper book itself, not to mention the fact that I could grade papers from different classes and have all my texts at hand without having to carry the books themselves. Now I can do this same checking with handouts, assignment sheets, etc.)

Doceri Stylus

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I’ve written about Doceri before, an interactive white board app for the iPad which I love. When my tech person ordered it for me, she told me that there was a dedicated stylus to go with it. I received that stylus a couple of weeks ago and have played around with it enough to have some opinions.

To be blunt, it’s not quite there. The advantages to it aren’t worth, in my opinion, the disadvantages. So let’s go over both. The primary advantage is that it combines pen and eraser, so to speak, in one stylus / device, so that one end of the stylus writes and, flip the stylus over, the other end erases with no extra tapping or clicking to change modes. This is both an intuitive and cool feature, but one that, at this point, is perhaps anachronistic, i.e. if we are to be on the move with the iPad and stylus, it becomes cumbesome to flip the stylus over. Additionally, when the stylus is used, the pen and eraser buttons on the iPad disappear. I would like them there so that, as I move around, if I don’t want to flip the stylus over, I can use the writing tip to change to eraser mode. This would give the stylus a bit more flexibility, i.e. when sitting, the eraser is much more useful than when mobile, but there is no way to erase other than using the stylus eraser.

I will admit that I haven’t explored the full functionality of the stylus, so I might be missing out. Apparently it can also have dedicated functionality (my impression is that you can give it specific commands / jobs to do in addition to writing and erasing).

I also don’t like the feel of the stylus; it’s too metallic, almost like using a thin ballpoint on a single sheet of paper on a hard surface (rather than a soft rollerball on a folded over notebook).

The final disadvantage, and really it’s just an annoyance, is that for the stylus to work it must be plugged in to the headphone jack of the iPad. I will not purport to know anything about the protocol of the stylus but I would have to assume that this is what lets the stylus write and erase. The cord, however, is indeed an annoyance, both when plugged in but even when storing the stylus (i.e. what do you do with that cord when your stylus is in your pocket or in the mug on your desk?).

My basic Targus stylus from Best Buy does a great job, feels good, and can work through a screen protector (which the Doceri cannot).

So the Doceri stylus definitely has potential but I think there are still a number of kinks to be worked out with it.

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iOS5 Keyboard

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Just a quick note on a cool feature that one of my students pointed out (thank you, TM). When I downloaded iOS5, I noticed that the screen keyboard up/down button had little tick marks on its right hand side. I assumed they did something but I couldn’t figure out what. I tapped, I dragged, nothing. Finally, one my seniors, with not a little trepidation in her voice, admitted that something was wrong with her iPad. The keyboard was split on the screen. I didn’t have an answer, but then one of the other students explained that by tapping and holding the keyboard up/down button, you can then either split the keyboard to either side of the screen or leave it whole. When I asked why one would want the keyboard split, the response made perfect sense: the split keyboard allows much easier use when holding the iPad with both hands (as opposed to having it lie flat on a surface). I played around with it a bit, and indeed this is the case: much easier to use the split keyboard when holding the iPad.

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My Last on .pdf-Notes, I Swear (maybe not…)

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A few final thoughts on .pdf-Notes, as I’ve used it some more:

– the flattened .pdf is definitely the way to go for grading because I can see them in the Dropbox folder, which allows a browse approach (tap on left and opens on right, similar to Mail or Gmail) rather than opening in .pdf-Notes which requires opening the document and cluttering the library

– but, the flattened .pdf only works with handwritten notes; any text boxes (sticky notes?) do not appear in the flattened .pdf and require opening in .pdf-Notes to see them (and they do appear automatically); so any students who filled it out with a textbox and saved as a flattened .pdf might as well not have; I still couldn’t see it in Dropbox

More on Doceri

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Here’s the intro from Doceri’s website:

Doceri™ is a revolutionary iPad software suite for classrooms, conference rooms, and auditoriums – any place where you give presentations, teach, or collaborate.

In a nutshell, Doceri is the ultimate tool for presentations and lessons. Through the Doceri Remote iPad app and Doceri Desktop software, you can control a computer (Mac or Windows), easily launch any document or application, and annotate over them at any time. You can save drawings and play them back in the future allowing even better presentations to be created from your existing PowerPoint or Keynote slideshows. If you just want to use it as a whiteboard, you can create any handwritten/drawn content on any background of your choice. And with additional room control hardware, Doceri can even be used as the remote control for projectors, DVD players, and all other audiovisual devices in your room.

Doceri is the presentation control that you’ve always wanted!

So here are some things that I’ve found less than ideal about Doceri (and let me be clear; these are minor in the grand scheme of things):

– the mouse functionality, especially beyond clicking, takes some getting used to: to click and hold, you have to tap with one finger and then tap another finger and then drag (for scrolling, say); this is a bit cumbersome, though I don’t find myself needing to do it too often (there are stylus issues here as well, in terms of both Doceri’s and third party stylus)

– Doceri advocates the use of the recording function (whatever you do in a given session is automatically recorded and then re-playable); this is a very cool feature but I’m not yet sure (because I’ve not researched it much yet) what can be done with those recordings outside of Doceri; they are saved with a proprietary extension that seems incompatible with other applications

– the clicking, because of the use / size of a fingertip or stylus, can be somewhat imprecise; you can zoom the screen in on the iPad but this is an extra step; again, not a deal breaker but it does take some getting used to

Let me also address here the stylus issue. Using a stylus makes it much easier to write. I have been using a generic Targus stylus, which works quite nicely. Doceri, however, sells their own stylus that works more like a pen/pencil, i.e. there is a writing end and an erasing end. I just got the Doceri stylus today and have only played around with it a bit, but here are some initial impressions:

– one of my iPads (I admit it; I have two: a 1 and a 2) has a screen protector on it; the Doceri stylus seems not to connect as well through the screen protector (having compared the usage both with and without the protector

– the Doceri stylus actually plugs into the headphone jack of the iPad (and apparently requires the volume to be up); this I assume increases its functionality, but the cord between the two can be an annoyance

– the Doceri stylus doesn’t feel as natural when writing, almost like a cheap ballpoint (feeling very scratchy and metallic); it also seems as if the Doceri stylus has to engage, i.e. it has to push down past a certain point to write; this is less the case with the unprotected screen but still an issue; in short, the Doceri stylus seems not to be able to keep up when writing quickly

– the Targus stylus has none of these problems but….

– the Doceri stylus has the added functionality of erasing with the stylus; this seems like a good thing but, with the stylus plugged in, the pen and eraser buttons disappear from the Doceri toolbar (which seems unnecessary); indeed, the stylus eraser is a cool thing but to flip it over might (might) make it a less efficient process than simply tapping the eraser button

– on the other hand, the Doceri stylus allows more seamless dragging / scrolling in that tapping with the stylus allows dragging without incorporating the second finger (necessary with the Targus stylus or finger-use)

Doceri – iPad as Interactive White Board

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I’ve been meaning to write about Doceri for a while now but haven’t gotten around to it but here goes. We’re building a new high school (moving in Jan. 3, after December break; that’s a bit terrifying) and one of our concerns from a technology standpoint is the extent to which interactive white boards would be utilized by teachers in the new school. A few of us have them in the old school, but we of course are those that have committed to using them (and I think there are maybe 5 in classrooms in the old school). One of the iPad questions was can it function as a white board, i.e. can we simply install regular white boards at a fraction of the cost and use the iPad plus a projector to simulate an interactive white board. Obviously this does away with a lot of the whistles and bells of the interactive white board and focuses almost entirely on annotation / preservation-of-notes but this is the majority of what the white board is used for (at least that’s my impression; I’ve been using a Promethean ActivBoard for maybe four years now and, while the whistles and bells – the clip art, the sounds, magic text, etc. – are fun to both explore and implement, it is rare that my lesson is incumbent upon them.

I had downloaded (before the iPad pilot with the class) some white board apps: ShowMe and AirSketch. ShowMe is really a screencasting tool that allows you to record yourself drawing and speaking and then post it to the ShowMe website. I’ve not played around with it much but it has potential, especially the combo of audio and (self-generated) visuals. AirSketch works through a web address provided by the app. As long as the iPad and the browser are on the same network it projects through that web address. You have a nice selection of colors and thicknesses without being overwhelming, and can save what you do to iPhoto or email it, etc. (a fairly standard selection of options). There is also of course the category of iPad notebooks (e.g. Penultimate and Memo) which allow (hand)writing but have limited save and share options. With the project-able iOS 5, these can be used as white boards of sorts.

Doceri reflects the same basic model of the iPad-as-interactive-white-board with one important distinction: it doubles as a remote mouse. Now this too is a category all its own which I’ve explored, having used MobileMouse and Logitech’s TouchMouse. TouchMouse is nice for the iPod Touch / iPhone because it is simple and is best used for basic mouse functionality (advancing slides, simple clicking, etc.). MobileMouse makes your iPad into a track pad, supporting gestures and replicating your dock to allow for simpler toggling among applications.

Doceri combines the remote mouse with the interactive white board. It is pricey ($50.00 or so for the desktop software and a free iPad app) but if it can replace an interactive white board, the price becomes negligible. It connects to your computer via its IP Address (one concern about the remote mouse apps that use a utility on the computer but otherwise connect via the wireless network is what if every classroom has that set-up; how does my iPad know to control my computer and not the one next door; when I was first showing MobileMouse off, I was in another building on campus showing it to an administrator; when I returned to my room, I realized that, rather than just showing him the interface, I had actually been controlling my computer from his office). Once connected, on your iPad, you see your desktop, whatever’s on it. You can then be in mouse mode, annotation mode, or pointer mode. The third allows you to point (using a big arrow or hand-with-outstretched-finger of different colors) to various things; imagine the mouse arrow on steroids. If you want a blank white board, you can choose a background to write on: either blank (of different colors, including chalk board green) or with paper or math patterns.

I have not used my interactive white board since I got Doceri (sorry Promethean). It allows me to wander the classroom and write on the board, I can give the students the iPad for them to write on the board, I can write on a blank screen or annotate a web site, document, among other things.

Doceri is not perfect. It can be clunky at times. But more on that later.

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