eClicker First Impressions

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I mentioned a while back that Bill at Big Nerd Ranch was nice enough to put me on to his eClicker iOS-based student response system. I told him then that it would take me a little while to get to it, but I just had my first go at it, and figured I’d mentioned a few things here.

First, some context. We return to school from December break on Tuesday, January 3, as I’m sure most do. We, however, are returning to a brand new building, one we’ve never taught in before; our last day in the old building was the day before break, and we come back to the new building. The students then, of course, (as well as the faculty) will be less than focused on that day back. In addition to which, I meet one section of my English class that day but not the other; both sections meet on Wednesday. So I figure that that Tuesday will be a great time to some technology experiments, both as a way to figure some things out for me and as a way to keep both classes on the same page (quite literally).

So I typed in about 10 questions to the eClicker host. The section I’m meeting that Tuesday is the non-iPad section so I will organize groups of students around those that have iPhones (I know at least four or five do; thank you, Words with Friends), and ask the iPhone users to download the free eClicker Client app.

The question interface was easy to use. I was using my iPod Touch, as opposed to my iPad, and if it’s easy to do on the iPod, then I’m assuming it’s easier to use on the iPad, especially with the keyboard in place. Though I’ve not yet made an actual quiz, my impression is that you build a question bank and then pull from this bank into a quiz / assessment. Here are the questions I wrote for the mock / experimental quiz:

The question-writing interface is pretty straightforward: write your question, write your answers; it defaults to one multiple choice answer, but you can add up to four more for a total of five (I’m used to six from my work with Promethean, and I’d love that sixth option, but certainly not a deal-breaker). You tap the correct answer to identify it as correct; this was not immediately intuitive but there was text to explain how to do this (same for deleting a question: swipe it to delete, which makes a delete button appear).

Other question options are true / false and agreement. A nice feature is that both true / false and agreement allow customization of answers, either by editing the defaults or adding additional (the latter I think only for the true / false, but for instance for one question I added an ‘indifferent’ choice). Another nice feature is the explanation of the right answer box. I don’t use this feature too often but it is nice to have. Here is what the question writing interface looks like (in two stacked shots):

A few glitches that showed up, minor, with workarounds, but glitches nonetheless. For some reason the keyboard wouldn’t appear / I wasn’t able to edit answers after typing the question in two specific circumstances: first, when I inserted a picture (the coffee question); after I took the picture, I couldn’t then type in answer choices. If I typed in the answers first and then took / inserted the picture, it worked fine. Second, when customizing the true / false answers, i.e. I typed the question and then wasn’t able to type in the true / false answer boxes. If I customized first, and typed the question second, everything worked fine.

So those are some first impressions at least of the question interface via an iPod Touch. I’m excited to explore this further, see how the actual quizzing works with other devices, and continue to build a question bank. Thanks again Bill and Big Nerd Ranch for letting me try it out.


eBooks and Reading Completion

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Among the many questions I am hoping to answer through this iPad Pilot is whether using eBooks as opposed to print books would affect the willingness of students to read. I know that for me having my iPad with my school books on it allows me to get to them more quickly when I want to check or confirm something. Where I might not get up and go down the basement to the bookshelves, I will definitely check on the iPad. On the other hand, I am not as prone to using the iPad for playing games while (gasp) I suspect my students are.

So I made a chart for both sections, the iPad and the non-iPad class. It’s anonymous and simply asks students to make a check in one of three columns regarding the amount they read: ‘None’, ‘Some’, ‘Most to All’. Hardly statistically sound, I realize, but enough to give me a snapshot. So here they are.

In the non-iPad class, over five classes of reading, 25 of 91 checks were in the ‘none’ column, 29 of 91 in the ‘some’ column, and 37 of 91 in the ‘most to all’ column. In the iPad class, over six classes of reading, 21 of 85 checks were in the ‘none’ column, 22 of 85 in the ‘some’ column, and 42 of 85 in the ‘most to all’ column.

Percentage-wise, those numbers break down as follows: in the non-iPad class, 27% reported having read none, 32% having read some, and 41% having read most to all. In the iPad class, 25% reported having read none, 26% having read some, and 49% having read most to all.

For some statistical context, I tabulated the mean and median GPAs for each class. The non-iPad class’s mean GPA = 2.83; median = 2.93. The iPad class’s mean GPA = 2.95; the median = 2.91. I will thus conclude (more on my conlcusions below) that using eBooks has a slightly positive effect on reading completion.

When I was tabulating all of these numbers, I of course figured I would go to the experts in the math department. So I ran the numbers by one of our stats teachers (thank you, MD), who, unfortuntely for us, proclaimed (unsurprisingly) that the statistical sample, taking into consideration the standard deviation, was too small to draw any viable conclusions. Which I hate to admit I understood on a more intuitive level but, let’s be honest, how often do I get to use numbers this way? So I present them here for each to make of what they will.

Adding .pdfs to iBooks

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Reading the latest MacWorld, I noticed a trend there that I’ve seen elsewhere: the use of iTunes to transfer .pdfs to iBooks. While this certainly works, it seems terribly inefficient, especially with a more viable option. I email .pdfs to myself (especially with the Mail PDF function in Apple’s print window) and then open the attachments on the iPad. Once the attachment is open (in a new tab in iOS 5), two buttons appear at the upper right, one that defaults to ‘Open in iBooks’ and the other that allows opening it in another reader or app. (If these buttons disappear, which they will after a few seconds, single tap the screen and they will reappear.) That ‘Open in iBooks’ will allow seamless (and wireless) transfer to iBooks.

Office2HD Reviews

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One of our other district tech people emailed me about Office2HD, saying that she had read my blog about it but that it had received bad reviews in the App Store. I had no idea about the reviews, so I checked them out, and here’s what I responded to her:

“I checked out the reviews of Office2 (I had no idea), and I will concur with the positive ones; I have not done any of the things complained about (password protected, .docx, even presentations, though we started one today which I’ll be blogging about and we’ll finish it Monday). Here’s why I like it: I prefer the interface to Pages (menu at top rather than drop-downs) and, most important, it saves to Dropbox. I tend to compose more than edit with it, so I might not have noticed it not opening the newer Office documents, but the Dropbox feature is the seller for me.”

I suspect that many of these problems come from using it as a hub productivity tool, i.e. the tool around which one’s business is centered. Although I have certainly integrated Office2HD, I wouldn’t say that it is indispensable to me. If it were more so, perhaps I would have noticed these issues a bit more. But, as it stands, for me the Dropbox integration makes it worthwhile; I can start something on the iPad and have it waiting for me wherever else I’m working. Can’t beat that.

Integrating Media: Where an iPad Dusts a Laptop

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We began our unit on Title IX the other day, looking first at old yearbooks to collect data on male and female participation in sports, as well as numbers of sports available, number of pages in the yearbook devoted, etc. (striking not only to see the rifle team, but also with rifles in the pictures; enjoyed imagining those being toted around campus). Day 2 was spent tracking Title IX on campus. We began with a quick webquest to give students the basics of Title IX, and then they were set out onto campus with two tasks: interview people to see how much or what they knew about Title IX (as one group reported, their interview was cut quite short when one student responded a succinct ‘No’ to ‘Do you know what Title IX is?’), and take pictures of aspects of campus that illustrated Title IX in action.

The non-iPad class worked out of a computer lab (a good 3-5 minutes lost getting there and getting them settled). They completed the webquest and headed out to do their interviews and photo-taking. I had asked how many people had phones with cameras that could email pictures, and enough of them had them that we could use those, but they also had the idea to use those same phones to videotape the interviews, which I hadn’t thought of. (I’ll admit that, cruelly, even for me, I lamented how much easier this would be if they had iPads; low blow by me, I know.) With their interviewing and photo-taking done, they came back to make short presentations using the webquest info, their interviews, and their photos. They didn’t finish the presentations (which didn’t necessarily surprise me), so we’ll take the first 10 mins or so of the next class to finish them off.

The iPad class of course used the iPad for everything. We got started in my room and off they went. I still haven’t asked them to purchase iMovie, which I probably should, especially for something like this (though I wasn’t necessarily expecting them to use video clips of the interviews in the presentations); having partners use their iPads for different purposes, though, is helpful, i.e. one partner plays the videotaped interview while the other transcribes into the presentation. I will say too that this will be our first foray into Office2HD’s presentation feature, which will be interesting. Up to this point we’ve only really used the document function.

Some observations about the comparison (not all of which, I think, will be predictable): the iPad clearly makes integrating all of these steps seamless. To have one device that allows not only media collection but also the compilation of it is, to be frank, indispensable, and is the one clear (and unassailable) advantage that the iPad has over a laptop. On the other hand, I was surprised to see that the iPad group languished a bit, i.e. their sense of urgency with the project was not nearly as evident as the non-iPad group. I have a few possible explanations for this: 1. the integration that the iPad provides simply makes it more efficient (this is the least likely explanation in my opinion); 2. the lack of moving to a computer lab actually hurt the momentum of the class; that they were in the more familiar environment of my classroom decreased their motivation to leave that familiar environment. They took much longer with the webquest, which was the ‘ticket’ for them to go out and interview. On the other hand, they all essentially reached the same point as the non-iPad class, which might support reason #1, greater efficiency; 3. similar to #2, the iPad itself created greater complacency, i.e. the use of a familiar device, one that most have integrated into their everyday existence, decreased that sense of urgency.

I’ll try to post some of the presentations in the next few days.

iCal & iCloud Confusion III

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I posited this but I’m not sure I confirmed this: apparently Lion on the computer will solve the confusing overlap among existing iCal and iCloud calendars. Not sure if it will clean up the doubled (and tripled and quadrupled) calendars that resulted from the non-Lion sync, but we’ll have to see about that when I actually get Lion (hoping Santa will bring it….). So a bit more info but still not a definitive answer.