Let the Tweeting begin….

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Not entirely related to the iPad 1:1 but also not entirely unrelated. We of course have a course management system, ItsLearning, which I like (for the most part). I love having a secure area where students can submit assignments, both big and small, and that checks for plagiarism violations (with enough reliability that I only have to double check on occasion). On the other hand, I find many of ItsLearning’s simpler features a bit too cumbersome to use. For instance, to post a bulletin on my course page, I have to log in (usually it will have logged me out by then), navigate to my course, click on new bulletin, type, save, and there it is. I find this quite simply to be too many steps for too little return.

Over the holiday break on the drive down to Philly (where I’m from and where we frequently visit) I was mulling this over, trying to come up with a solution. Of course I want a quick, easy, painless way to communicate to my students / classes, but I don’t want one that requires the kind of momentum that ItsLearning does. I alighted upon Twitter as a potential solution. Here’s the rationale: it’s instantaneous, it’s short, it’s to the point, and it finds them (my students have to go to ItsLearning to see a bulleting that I’ve posted). An added bonus that I discovered after setting up the account is that Twitter almost never logs me out, so even that step is removed.

So here’s the deal. I have an account (@dehlatinteach) to which students subscribe (I have 26 followers on Twitter). If students don’t want to create a Twitter account, they can follow on their cell phones by texting to 40404 ‘follow @dehlatinteach’ (of course no quotes in the text); I’d say about an equal number use this option (though Twitter doesn’t track that). The Twitter feed is strictly business. My students jokingly hoped that they would receive mini-doses of my caustic humor when they least expected it but, alas, not the case (nor do I have a personal Twitter account with which to assail the world with mini versions of my rants).

I tweet the daily homework assignments (and with my computer hooked up to the projector, I can type the tweet into the screen, counting as both writing it on the board and sending it out to them), I tweet reminders about things (tonight I tweeted reminders about the on-line review sessions later tonight), or any notifications.

I do not have separate accounts for each class. Rather, I precede each Tweet with a hashtag (#) specifying which class it’s about. Everyone gets the tweets, but it’s easy to see whether or not they should ignore it because of the hashtag.

So far I’ve gotten good reviews. The kids seem to like it (however weird it was at the beginning for them to sign on) and I’ve found it the perfect combination of contact and lack of contact, i.e. my class is within reach when I want them to be but that is mostly a one way street.

Here is a selection of my Tweets so far (can you find the one mistake I made? I used an @ instead of a # and it never went through). So don’t be afraid. Let Twitter simply your classroom communication life (if it needs it).

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eClicker Update II

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So I finally corrected all of my mistakes to get eClicker to work. It was during one of our review days, so a bit of an afterthought, but we tried it out. Here are some thoughts.

Once you figure out the basic interface (i.e. just figuring out how the student iPads talk to the teacher iPad, which is very easy), the integration of student, teacher, and quiz is easy. Students find the teacher iPad on their iPad, click on it, and the question appears. Students then have a time limit (set when making the question) within which to answer the question. Once they do, the results appear in the form of a vertical bar graph. Students have a fixed amount of time with the results (about 10 seconds, if I remember correctly, and I’m not sure I have control over that, though I’ve not poked around enough to know), and then it’s on to the next question.

Here are some suggestions / questions / concerns:

The timing was a bit of a surprise. I assumed that once students answered a question they would be moved on to the next question. This did not seem to be the case, i.e. once students answered they remained on the question page until the time had expired. This seemed unnecessarily cumbersome and there did not seem to be a way either to change the timing on each question during the quiz or to change the timing across all questions at once (i.e. I would have to go in and change the timing on each). Also, from using the Promethean ActivVote and ActivExpression system, I can say with certainty that the one thing that students don’t like about SRSs is being timed, i.e. as little pressure they feel using SRSs without time (and they do tell me that they feel less pressured using SRSs than if the same assessment were administered on paper), they would feel as much additional pressure if the SRS questions were timed, because of the inability to go back / the finality of the answers (I suspect, in fact, that this is exactly why eClicker uses the fixed time, to allow students time to reconsider their answers, which something like ActivVote / Expression does not allow).

The results graphic also seems a bit counterintuitive. Each bar of the graph is a different color, I would assume for aesthetics’ sake, but, especially where the color red is concerned, you (read a student) might assume that red is wrong. This is not the case. The right answer’s bar is outlined in turquoise, whatever color the bar might be. Not a huge deal, of course, but again a bit counterintuitive, perhaps.

Finally, I’m unclear how or if such an assessment can be used effectively as a graded assessmnet. I can see quite clearly how this would be used as a check-in or the end of an in-class activity, but each question is listed as a separate ‘session’; I would think that each quiz or taking of a quiz would count as a session, but rather each answering of each question is counted as a ‘session’. Not only does this become cumbersome (my ‘quiz’ was only eight questions and I had to scroll and tap to see the results for each question; imagine if I were giving a 25 question quiz) but it makes unclear how I would figure a total score for the quiz (short of doing the math myself).

I have a lot more of eClicker to explore, but here’s my summary so far:

Pros:
– ease of use, both writing and taking quizzes
– flexibility: question formats, including images, etc.
– instant feedback (not unique to eClicker, of course, but always a plus)

Cons:
– lack of flexibility with question timing
– not being able to merge individual questions into a total result
– arbitrary assignment of colors to results graphs

Finally, I’ve included some pictures here.

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Flash: the Fatal Flaw?

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This ground has been trod(den?) many times of course, but the lack of Flash on the iPad could indeed torpedo its efficacy in the classroom. It is difficult to have any device that can’t access a fundamental part of the web. And, while most mainstream sites have created their own iOS apps with compatible video to work around the lack-of-Flash issue, more minor or less mainstream sites that don’t or can’t do this then get left out in the cold.

In English today, to review for our impending mid-term, I had a number of grammar practice websites lined up. Realizing that they might utilize Flash, I piloted them on the iPad before class, and indeed Safari couldn’t run it. This meant that I had to sign out the laptops, drag them into class, unlock the cabinet, have everyone get one, log in, and get moving. But more important is that the lack of Flash essentially nullified the iPad for that particular day. Some colleagues whose textbooks have on-line editions have similar concerns because so much of the interactive / multi-media content of those on-line editions is Flash-based, and does not play on the iPad. I realize / hope that textbook publishers will catch up, or find a suitable work around (and Apple’s recent announcement of the textbook end of the iBookStore and the release of iBooks Author should kick start this process), but it will be difficult to adapt the iPad wholesale without at least these concerns being addressed.

The most common retort of course will be that this happens so infrequently that it doesn’t (or shouldn’t) matter or that there are alternative websites available that are compatible, neither of which I can refute. But it is a bit of a momentum-killer to have something in place that can’t be utilized. I did too search for some apps (admittedly not for too long). The ones I primarily found were ESL apps and there were virtually no free ones of any substance: another dead end. Finally, there is the Flash-compatible browser Skyfire, which bills itself as the work around to the iPad’s lack of Flash. I have had limited success with Skyfire and videos, though the videos tend to show, at least the ones that I’ve seen, in thumbnail form / size, but, as expected, Skyfire is designed for videos rather than Flash-based websites. It returned the same error message about needing Flash as Safari did when I tried to open the Flash-based grammar site.

So, while I’m not willing to identify the lack of Flash as the iPad’s fatal flaw, it is a significant tick against it for classroom use.

Wired / CNN Article about iPads in Education

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Wired / CNN ran this piece about the efficacy of iPads in the classroom, using a study that focused on a middle school math class that used iPads and increased their test scores by 20%.

http://www.cnn.com/2012/01/23/tech/innovation/ipad-solid-education-tool/index.html?iref=allsearch

iPad Demise Redux

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The class did projects on Title IX, one of the choices of which was to interview an adult about their experience with Title IX. Predictably, many of the iPad class students used their iPad to record the interview. This has yielded a few inconveniences, namely the transfer of the file from the iPad to me. Syncing it with iTunes of course would free up the file; it can be burned or put onto a flash drive. But as the iPad moves farther and farther from the computer, it is synced less and less (I know I sync mine much less frequently because of iCloud, Dropbox, etc.). Also, some students used 3rd party apps whose files aren’t as easy to deal with. The easy solution is for me to listen to the interview directly from the iPad but an easier form of sharing would be nice. Any thoughts?

Also, the iPad that was run over. If the project had been completeed there, it would have been completely lost with no way of recovering. I’m guessing that as iCloud moves forward, this will be more easily rectified, but still a bit of a (potential) incovenience.

iPad Demise

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Ever wonder what happens to an iPad when it gets run over by a car?

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eClicker Update I

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So the eClicker experiment did not quite go as planned. Twice. That Tuesday, the first day in the new school, I proceeded as planned. About six of my students had iPhones, and downloaded the eClicker app. The first one to do so, when they tried to sign on, reported that the app said that they needed to be on the same network as the host. That wasn’t going to happen. I certainly don’t have the wireless network password, and I’m not sure anyone on campus does. So that was that.

Failure number two occurred the next day. I figured since the iPhones couldn’t sign on because they weren’t on the same network, I’d use the iPads to try it out; I was meeting the iPad class the next day. They come in the next day, and I tell them to download the eClicker app. Done. Now for the questions. Which aren’t on my iPad. I then remeber that I wrote the question on my iPod, and had never made an account that would then sync my questions with my other devices. And my iPod, because it’s a personal device rather than a school device, isn’t on the school’s network, so I couldn’t sign on then and sync. Failure number two.

So I just made an account, signed in all the devices, and synced the accounts, so maybe, just maybe, on Monday we’ll be able to finally try this out. Stay tuned for eClicker Update II.