iPad

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Almost every tech blogger I run across publishes some sort of Top Ten list of iOS apps at some point in their blog. Not to be outdone, I present my own list here, but whether it has ten apps and whether it manages to sell stuff to anyone remains to be seen. With any luck this post will let you see how we’re using iPads as creative devices, not as content delivery devices.

If you’ve been following this blog, you may remember that at the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year I managed to get around 40 iPad 2′s for my students to use. These were given out primarily to my Anatomy students but some found their way into Physics students’ hands as well. If you’re interested in some notes on the deployment check here.

The deployment this year was similar, but was aided greatly by the addition of a Mac Mini as a sync station that students can use to update the apps on their iPads (Last year I had a dedicated local user account on my own Mac laptop to manage the iPads and, well, that sucked).

On to the apps! Here are some apps that we use and some sample learning artifacts from students that should give you a sense of how we are actually using the iPads:

Explain Everything: The iPad is great for drawing on with your fingers and it has a microphone, so why not talk and draw at the same time! That’s the premise behind Explain Everything. Here are some examples from Tiffany and Bethany in my Anatomy class.

WordPress and BlogPress: Since I run a paperless classroom based on student blogs, these apps see a lot of heavy use. Besides the obvious benefits of being able to create and edit blogs on the iPad (I’m using the WordPress app to write this), a secondary benefit is that students without Internet access at home can work on drafts that can be saved on the iPad at home and published once they’re back on the school’s WiFi.

Evernote: If you are familiar with Evernote at all, you know that it can do a lot. It should be no surprise, then, that different students use Evernote in many different ways. Several AP Biology students (including Steven and Mandi) are using it to keep track of some of their long-term experiments, taking both notes and pictures that they then use later in blog posts. Another student and I use a shared Notebook in Evernote to make sure he doesn’t lose his work, which for most of the first quarter seemed to never make it onto his blog. Using Evernote on both of our iPads lets me see his writing, even if it never makes it to his public blog.

Camera: No App Store link is necessary for this one, as long as you’ve got an iPad 2 or later model. The camera allows students to capture both still pictures and video. Some of the uses of pictures taken with the iPad can be seen on Evan’s Chemistry blog where he captures a periodic table scavenger hunt sheet he did and at Ashley’s Anatomy blog where she captures drawings from a histology lab. An example video is this one that Henry shot on his iPad in AP Biology to introduce the class to his viewers.

Skitch: Once students have pictures on the iPad, Skitch can be used to draw and annotate on top of those pictures for artistic and academic purposes. Some examples can be found on Leeanne’s blog and Stephen’s blog.

AirPlay and screen sharing: While not technically an App, one of the built-in features of the newer iPads is the ability to share the iPad screen over an AirPlay connection. In my room we use AirServer on my Mac to project student iPads onto the screen for the whole class to see. This has come in handy several times when those “google moments” happen in the middle of a discussion when a student wants to contribute something they just pulled up on their iPad. Much more about the technical side of AirPlay sharing can be found here.

Vernier Video Physics: I’ve mentioned this app before, but its awesomeness begs for it to be mentioned again. Students take videos of anything in motion and can create motion maps and graphs simply by marking where the object of interest is over time. Here’s an example from a constant velocity buggy lab.

Prezi: If you’ve been a Prezi user as long as I have, you’ll know that it has come a long way from its early days as a spinning, sometimes nausea-inducing replacement for powerpoint. These days there’s a Prezi app, and, while it can’t do everything that the web version can do, it does have some editing capabilities. I have several students currently working on Prezis, and some even prefer working on them on the iPad.

That’s the wrap up of the apps we use most. Sure, there are several science apps on the iPads, too, like our Inkling Hole’s Anatomy textbook, Visible Body, Frog Dissection, and Molecules, but these apps and books are content-specific tools that get used for a special purpose only every now and then. The real workhorse apps seem to be the ones that allow for manipulation of text, images, and video into new forms. These kinds of tools can be applied regardless of the content being discussed and give students creative new ways to show what they know.

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In which an Apple fan chooses a cheaper alternative for sharing iPad screens.

Simply put, there are times that I need to show content-related stuff to my class so we can engage material as a group. Call it lecture, call it discussion, call it whatever you like. When I first started teaching, that consisted of a chalkboard and my lame drawing skills. These days I’m much more of a tech geek, but even tech geeks have to experiment with what works for sharing material with the class.

For a long time I ran my classroom primarily with a standard setup of a laptop and an LCD projector that could project to a pull-down screen in the front of the class. A good setup, of course, but it requires the teacher to either be at the computer or use some sort of wireless mouse or controller to take over the computer if they want to walk around the room during discussions.

Enter the smartboard. I got one even though I didn’t request one. I learned to use it well enough but never fell in love with the software that came with it. What the smartboard does do reasonably well, though, is allow students and teachers to poke and prod the screen to make things happen. On the whole, I’ll overlook the software aspects of that particular tech fiasco and say that yes, the smartboard added some capability to the projection system.

Enter the iPad. Unlike the smartboard, I actually requested one of these, an iPad2. I also heard about teachers using AppleTV to mirror the iPad to their projector screen/smartboard so I requested and got one of those, too, the 2nd gen model that allows AirPlay streaming. At only $100, it seemed a cheap way to go to get some more functionality out of the iPad during class discussions. It works for that purpose, if you have an adapter for your old LCD projector to change the HDMI output of the AppleTV into something the projector can use. At first I used a HDMI to video converter box that worked through composite video. I was not too happy with the poor image quality, as might be visible in these pics:

AppleTV menu, composite videoiPad mirrored to AppleTV and composite video

I then upgraded to an HDMI to VGA converter box (with audio) that worked pretty well. Color reproduction was closer to the iPad and images and text were sharper:

HDMI to VGA adapter AppleTV menu with VGA adapteriPad mirrored to AppleTV with VGA adapter

My major beef with this setup was the shrinking of the screen. Why does the AppleTV menu take up the whole screen while the mirrored iPad, even in landscape mode, fills up only half of the screen? Text is just too small to see, both in the main menu and in several presentation apps. Sure you can pinch and zoom, but being crippled with a tiny screen area annoyed me. Plus, with this setup, the single VGA cable to the projector is occupied by the AppleTV, so the only way to share a laptop screen with the class (for the occasional flash site that doesn’t work with Puffin Browser, or some animations I use from a Windows XP virtual machine) is to use an iPad app like Splashtop that streams the laptop screen to the iPad and from there to the AppleTV. It works, but the small screen area was still a problem. Also, though I hate to admit it, I sometimes missed the smartboard functionality of tapping on the projected image. Since the laptop was mostly out of the loop, so was the connection to the smartboard, except in some amazingly convoluted smartboard-laptop-splashtop-ipad-appletv-projector chain of events.

Enter Airserver. Airserver software for the Mac has been around for a while, but apparently has only recently acquired AirPlay functionality and the ability to mirror an Airplay device (latest iPads or iPhone) to the screen of the laptop. There’s another Mac app, Reflection, that does something similar but in my hands it had some glitches with video playback and I never made it past the 10 minute trial period. Airserver on the other hand, has been a gem. Its only $12 for education types, a good start. It installs and fires up easily and my iPad quickly found my Mac on our school’s network. Basically, you connect the iPad to your laptop just as you would to mirror to the AppleTV. I set my Mac to not mirror displays and set the AirServer preferences so that it would stream to the second display (my LCD projector). This way I can have a set of resources open on the Mac screen that only I see (attendance, grades, email), a set of student resources on the projected display from the Mac, and, when I connect the iPad, a set of shared resources that are controlled from the iPad, all without switching any cables. The audio, video, and smartboard all run through the laptop, but I can take over the projection screen with an iPad at any time, including projecting student iPads when needed.

With Airserver, not only do I have the option to poke and prod my smartboard since the Mac is back in charge, but now the streamed iPad image fills the entire screen of the smartboard:

AirServer fixes the size issue in my iPad mirroring setup

In case you are wondering, the streaming performance of this Airserver setup seems pretty comparable to what I saw with the AppleTV in terms of framerate on streamed video and mirrored apps. I experienced a little audio lag every now and then with Coaster Physics, but haven’t noticed it with other apps. AirPlay-enhanced apps like Zombie Gunship work fine, too (after students have gone home, of course).

In summary, I traded a $100 piece of hardware for a $12 bit of software that allows streaming of iPad screens to my smartboard in a format large enough to read from the back of the classroom. This software-based solution, Airserver, seems to be superior in video quality to the AppleTV, particularly when used with an older projector without an HDMI input. Also, smartboard functionality is maintained by a setup that keeps a laptop as the primary driver of the projected image.

Edit: Another use for AirServer – If you are presenting iPad content, apps, etc. in a location with no network connectivity, connect the iPad to the Mac via Bluetooth to still allow the iPad screen to be projected to a large audience.

Edit 1/7/13: Your network infrastructure may need to be tweaked to get the best performance with either AirServer or AppleTV over WiFi. Both operate using AirPlay which relies on Bonjour technology to find devices on local networks. On our network the two devices (iPad and Mac or iPad and AppleTV) had to be on the same subnet, as Bonjour works best on the local subnet only. This means that if you have a big network with several subnets, as most larger organizations will, you will occasionally have the two devices pull addresses from different subnets, in which case AirPlay will not work. We got around this at my school by creating a separate subnet that is just for student iPads, a few AppleTV’s, and laptops that they connect to. This also solved a problem we were having with teachers using Doceri on the iPad where they could not connect to their laptop due to being on different subnets. If your network administrator doesn’t want to juggle WiFi subnets for you, a Bluetooth connection is your best bet.

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iPads as sketchpads

Group drawing of a neuron using iPads

I’m going to return to my roots as an edtech blogger for a moment and recap this past semester’s iPad deployment project, so those of you used to reading my notes about SBG will have to wait for the next post.

Let me begin by saying that this project would not have been possible without Erik, my district’s technology guru and grant writer. He was open to the purchase of iPads, found the money to do so, and has provided advice along the way. An additional word of thanks goes to our student tech interns Kiel and Michael for the initial unboxing and setup of the iPads this past summer. It really has been a group effort to get to the point we are at now.

Begin with the laptop
I’ve been lucky enough to run my classroom with 1:1 laptops for the last couple of years through the use of a dedicated cart of MacBooks. While students normally don’t take the laptops home, every student has an assigned MacBook so that they always logged into the same one every time and so were able to customize their tech setup to their liking. This is a huge point that I’ll be coming back to: students (and teachers too) love to customize their devices. This allows for local and cloud saved files, bookmarks, passwords, and user interface tweaks that collectively define a student’s workflow using the laptops in my class.

Enter the iPad
I had been an iPod Touch user for a while and knew the ins and outs of Apple’s iOS but really hadn’t played with an iPad much outside of an Apple store. Several students had their own iPod or iPhone in class and we managed to do some productive things with them such as web access, calculations, and the occasional reference app like wikipanion. So when Erik mentioned that he might have some funds available to buy a small number of iPads, I was of course interested in trying them out to see what students would be able to do with them. We ended up purchasing several iPad2′s over the summer and I managed to snag one for myself to play with.

Preparing for 1:1 deployment
After tinkering with the iPad for a while over the summer, I saw that the best use of the iPad in a pilot trial would be as a vehicle for sharing resources for my anatomy and physiology class. In particular, I wanted to replace our old mangled anatomy textbooks with an iPad-based text such as that offered through the Inkling app. There were a number of anatomy apps such as Visible Body and VueMe that I wanted to use with students as well, so I pitched the idea to Erik of a pilot iPad trial with my anatomy class, since that seemed the best audience for a limited number of iPads. That’s indeed what we agreed on and later we added a few more iPads to the project by also distributing them to my physics class, for a total of 42 students with iPads, since there was a lot of overlap with students taking both classes.

Setting up the iPads
As I mentioned above, our awesome student interns did the unboxing and initial prep of the iPads, which consisted only of loading a profile that allowed access to the school’s wifi. The rest was up to me. I set up my school MacBookPro as the sync station by creating an iTunes library in a different user account than my normal login with a unique Apple ID. I bombarded Erik with requests for apps from Apple’s Volume Licensing Program and got those installed. I begged our principal to allow the purchase of the anatomy textbook on Inkling and, after some discussion about whether this was a technology or a textbook purchase, he was able to find the money in the budget to buy the texts. The folks at Inkling were really helpful and got me set up with a class set (30) of anatomy texts, each tied to an Inkling account that I manage so that I can reissue the textbooks even after I wipe the iPads at the end of this year.

Distributing the iPads
My philosophy from the beginning of this pilot project was that students should have their own iPad to use at school and at home and that they should be able to take full advantage of the iPad’s capabilities by having full control over their own device. So after preloading the iPads with a set of apps that I thought they might find handy, I had students sign the required paperwork, did a brief orientation session, then turned them loose with their new iPads to see what they could do with them. Most students immediately set up their own Apple accounts on the devices and added new apps and music to their iPads. This started the process of having the students customize the device for their own use, a process that is still ongoing.

iPads as cell nuclei
iPads as cell nuclei in human models of tissue types

What do students do with the iPads?

We’ve been using the iPads for a semester now, and they are just there, quietly a part of what we do, now that the rush of a new toy has faded. Sometimes they replace the MacBook. Sometimes they get replaced by the MacBook.  I wanted to get a better sense of what the iPads were being used for, so I gave students a survey last week about their use of the iPads and here’s what I found:

    1. With few exceptions, students claim that they use their iPad a lot, both at school and at home.
    2. Students claim to spend about equal time on school and non-school related activities on the iPads.
    3. Students’ most used app varies widely among survey participants. Top apps listed were Safari, Pandora, Facebook, Pages, Calculator, Mail, and FaceTime.
    4. Similarly, students favorite app varied widely among survey participants. Some of the favorite apps listed were Safari, Camera, Shakespeare, GarageBand, SimplePhysics, GoodReader, YouTube, The Elements, Angry Birds, Opera Mini, Osmos, and Evernote.
    5. The most interesting responses were to the question of whether the iPad was worth it and would they use one again next year:

I would because I can continually do my school work and do multiple assignments without finding a laptop.

YES IT IS. They’re fun and useful.

yes greatly for the fact of accessibility and learning about tech.

Yes I would because it helps with more than one subject and it is much more convenient  than carrying around a lap top.

yes i would, Sometimes when assignments are due that need to be done the next day, the iPad come in handy to get those done.

DEFINITELY. The iPad has been extremely useful in completing various types of schoolwork.

Yes I would. I would use it because it works fast and is easy to take everywhere.

Yes! i use it all the time! Even though i do mess around on my iPad its still get a lot of work done.

Yes I would use it for school-related work next year. When I do use it for school-related work such as notes and projects it is extremely helpful. Also if I ever have a question that needs to be answered, I can easily get on the iPad and find the answer.

I think the iPad is worth it however a laptop may be more convenient because it allows more programs to be used. For example I don’t have a computer at home at the moment and Most of my school work requires some sort of technology and thats when the iPad comes in handy however I can’t do everything on the iPad.

I am not a technology based person although I was born in the tech-boom era. I appreciate technology to an extent with its resources, but I believe that some things should not be “turned into an app”. For me, I would stick to using the laptops. iPads are higher quality, and more notorious, but I find their powers to be limited. They are difficult to keep clean as well. It is a great idea though, for saving space. That’s coming from a traditionalist. I’d say keep the iPads for future use, just not for me.

Not any more than I do now.  I don’t like Apple products, they’re overpriced and overhyped.  Not to mention the nonsensical programs you have to download just to use an Apple product.  They aren’t worth the trouble.

YES!  I use Pages all the time to take notes for all of my classes and to type up reports.  I also use it to connect to things like Edmodo and GoogleDocs whenever i need. The IPads come in handy many times during the day!

Some takeaways from the survey

Given their own personal iPad and the freedom to modify it, high school students use the iPad in a variety of different ways and for multiple courses throughout the school day. Nearly every student had their own beliefs as to which apps were the best or the ones they used most. Games are on the iPads, but so are a variety of tools for school-related tasks and the students who took this survey believe that they can find a balance between the two. The overwhelming majority of students would use them in coursework again next year if given the chance, which was an interesting result given that most students taking the survey were seniors who are unlikely to get an iPad from me next year since they’ll have graduated.

In conclusion, after a semester with 1:1 iPads, the reviews from students are very positive on the whole, although not every student chooses the iPad as their primary learning tool. iPads seem to allow students to personalize the technology that they use to navigate the requirements of their different courses. Furthermore, by allowing students to take the iPads home, both students and their families have been able to use the devices for a variety of tasks that they might not otherwise have been able to accomplish. Efforts are underway at our school to integrate the iPad into other disciplines besides science and to increase the number of iPads that we can put into the hands of students.

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