Friday, September 28, 2012

Ipads to accommodate disabilities

I instituted a new policy in my classes this semester--no laptops, cell phones, or etc. (accompanied by a policy that says please don't get up and leave unless you are in dire physical need--because apparently when they do that, it's often to send a text!).  I have mixed feelings about the technology ban.

On the one hand, I'm supposed to be bringing technology INTO the class--iPads in Education!--so why would I say that I get to do that and they don't?  They also have access to electronic readings for class and many are sensitive to the environmental impact of printing and bringing hard copies--so how to balance the desire for us all to have a copy of a text to which we can refer with the impact of killing so many trees?

I am trying this out anyway because their laptops and cell phones threaten our shared focus.  Now that I have the iPad and can take it to meetings or lectures, I know first hand how difficult it can be to resist the temptation to just check one thing, maybe even one thing that is directly related to the meeting or lecture.  Then, the next thing I know, I'm on to another thing and another thing and I'm no longer psychologically present at the meeting or lecture.  I have also had complaints from some students that they found it distracting to be sitting next to someone who was not taking notes as claimed but, instead, checking Facebook or playing video poker. So there's a principle behind the policy, and it's also consistent with one of the themes in one of my classes this semester (interpersonal media), about making intentional choices about the appropriate use of different media in different contexts.

One serious reservation I have about the policy, however, concerns what to do if students need a laptop or iPad or some other device to accommodate a learning difference.  Of course, this issue isn't unique to technological support accommodations--the student who takes exams in Student Support Services instead of in the class might also be noticeably absent, for example.  I can't think of a good work around for that accommodation, however, whereas I could relatively easily decide to tolerate technology so as not to draw a clear line between those who might simply prefer to use it and those who really have a compelling need to use it.

I did tell students when we discussed this policy that I was open to having a conversation about this with anyone who felt there was a good reason for them to have technology in class--either on a particular day or in general.  Two students came in right away and made the case that they take better notes and process information better if they aren't bogged down in the mechanics of their own bad handwriting.  They did not have a Notice of Disability, but they each made a good case from their experience and we had a conversation about their self-discipline in staying off the internet during class.  They've agreed not to do anything but take notes and that if I catch them or hear otherwise, we'll talk about installing and using a program to shut off their internet connection during the class.

This is an imperfect solution, however, in that it could still force a student with a disability to choose between using a technology that would help them learn and being "outed" as someone with a learning difference because they are allowed to use technology in a class that otherwise does not allow it.  I asked these two students this semester, "Will it make you feel conspicuous if you have it and no one else does?" They seemed genuinely not to be concerned.  So I got lucky.  But I can imagine others who might not feel comfortable and I'm still thinking about how to deal with that.

Today, I learned of a student with a visual disability that makes it difficult to view video display from a distance. The requested accommodation is to notify in advance if we will be watching a video and provide a link.  However, sometimes I find a good illustration on the fly and want to incorporate it at the last minute.  What then?  It occurred to me that I could have the student view it on my iPad AND if I have the apps to project to the class screen directly from the iPad, she could watch it simultaneously with the rest of the class.  Because the iPad is so much less obtrusive than a laptop, maybe that diminishes, if not fully resolves, the public identification of a student as someone needing technological support.

I'd be curious to know if others have found student technology in the classroom distracting (particularly on the heels of Kelly's announcement that there may be a program to provide students with iPads!) and how others have dealt with this.  I've heard that some institutions have simply shut off wifi in classroom buildings but that prevents us from using it, either.  Ideas?

Ebook Reader Review

This year I made an attempt at using ebooks for class preparation.  Last year I enjoyed reading journal articles and PDFs with goodreader and I was hoping to replicate the experience with entire books. Several of my textbooks were available as ebooks from the publisher, and I certainly liked the idea of not carrying heavy textbooks around anymore.  Unfortunately, so far the results of this experiment have been negative.  While I appreciate the ability have copies of my books anywhere I go, I would certainly not switch over to an e-book only system anytime soon.

There are 2 apps I have used to read ebooks, bluefire and bookshelf.  What I wanted out of my these apps was threefold: 1) ability to bookmark pages for quick access during class 2) ability to annotate (both notes and highlighted excerpts) and 3) ability to export annotations (again, both notes and highlighted excerpts).  Unfortunately, unlike the goodreader, all three of the ebook reader have fallen short on these criteria.  The complete inability to meet the third criteria in particular  is a crucial defect since I want to be able to print out annotations so that they are at the ready when I'm discussing passages in class.

The bluefire app is the native app for many ebooks downloaded through Waztek.  The downloading process is very easy. The particular book I was using for class was available from ebrary (one of two ebook providers that the library uses).  All I had to do was surf the library catalog like usual on the ipad's web browser, click the ebook link, plug in my lewis and clark authentication, and download.  Unfortunately, you are only able to check out ebooks for a 7 day period but since it is pretty easy to download I didn't mind checking out the book multiple times.  The biggest problem, however, was with bluefire's text-capturing tool.  Whenever I tried to capture text the resulting passage would appear without any spacemarks!  This was true whether I copied and pasted the text or used their highlighting tool to "bookmark" a passage.  This is obviously a huge deficiency.   I also didn't like how it was difficult to follow footnotes.  You had to flip through to the end of the chapter page by page in order to read them-- it would be much better to just be able to click on them directly and be taken automatically to the footnote.

Bookshelf is the app used by my primary textbook publisher, CQ Press.  This was a pretty negative experience overall.  There was no functionality to bookmark excerpts for easy retrieval.  Furthermore, the highlighting tool was infuriating for its lack of precision.  Any time I would try to capture text, it would be unresponsive to my gestures and would generally not work.  I pretty quickly gave up using this ebook for my own class preparation and would definitely not recommend it for students (despite the fact that it is significantly cheaper than the hard copy version).

Overall I don't think the ebook reader apps have developed to the point where they are very useful right now for teaching.  I know that ibooks (the native ebook app) does not have many of the problems addressed above, but I also know that you cannot export your annotations, which I think is really key.  Hopefully this technology will develop more in the future.

UPDATE:  I did find a way to export my annotations in bluefire... though unfortunately there were still not space marks!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

SAS Flash Card App: A New Favorite!

One of the things I wanted to use my iPad for was developing a way to learn my students names better.  In the past I have made flash cards on 3x5 index cards.  On one side I pasted (literally – think “glue stick”) a student’s picture and on the other I wrote the student’s name.  I then would quiz myself at the beginning of the term until I knew everyone’s name.  When you have 80 or so new names to learn you have to find a way to do that!
The SAS Flash Card App lets me take that system digital.  And, I love it!  I am able to take images from my iPad and create digital flash cards.  The SAS Flash Card App was super easy to use (be sure to start by reviewing the tutorial “deck” of cards that comes installed with the App).  The App lets you create four different types of cards: Multiple Choice, Fill-in The Blank, True / False, and Plain.  You can “practice” with any deck or take a “quiz” with any deck – and either of those can be done in a randomized order or a set order.  In the “quiz” mode you can set the number of cards you want to be quizzed on.  For example in a deck of 80, maybe you only want to do 10 at a time.  The “plain” cards can only be used in the “practice” mode (I learned that limitation the hard way).

While I used SAS Flash Card App to create picture flash cards, it could be used to create all different types of flash cards and study aids.  The decks can be shared or kept private.  I haven’t investigated the sharing options, but I could see creating a deck one a particular unit of a course and then “sharing” that deck with my students.  If anybody tries that, I would love to read about it.

More nitty gritty details on how I created these image-based cards: 

First, you have to have the set of images you are going to use on your iPad.  Getting images of each student in my class, thankfully, was pretty easy.  Every student has an ID picture taken.  At the law school those images are stored, each as a separate file and each with the name of the student as the file name.  The master folder that has all of those pictures in it is accessible to our “TIPS” (Text and Image Production) staff.  I asked them to create separate folders on a shared network drive that had all of my students for each of my classes in that class’ folder.  I then moved that folder to dropbox and pulled those images onto my iPad.  Of course you could just take each student’s picture with your iPad.  Or if you were making flash cards of other images (birds to identify, constellations, art history images, etc.) you just need to copy those images onto you iPad.

I made one set of cards with the “plain” deck option and one set with a “fill in the blank” option.  I did the second class with the “fill in the blank” when I realized I couldn’t use the quiz function with the “plain” decks.

Some downsides:  I would like to temporarily remove cards from a deck once I’ve master those cards (in my case, the name of that student).  But, that doesn’t seem to be an option.  Also, you can randomly “shuffle” the cards and use this App to call on students, but that works well only one class session at a time.  So, if you want to call on each student once before a repeat call, and it is going to take you more than one class session to call on each student once, this App is not good for that.  If you could temporarily remove cards, you could use this App that way (i.e. temporarily remove the card for each student as you call on them until you have no more cards left in the deck), but, again, that’s not an option.

But, even with these downsides, overall, the SAS Flash Card App is my new favorite “iPads in Education” App!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Ipad has been great for College Outdoors field trips, though I'm learning the limitations.  Usually, anywhere I want to use it while on a trip, there is no WiFi, so I can't depend on any applications that need WiFi to operate.

On the plus side, the size is great.  It is much lighter in weight than a laptop computer, and fits into a daypack easily.  It has been really useful for videotaping student leader presentations on a trip, so the student leaders can review how they presented a talk to the rest of the participants.

I managed to get a waterproof case for the Ipad, and have gingerly used it on one flatwater kayaking trip so far.  This waterproof case isn't particularly solid-  if it's not handled with care, it could spring a leak or get torn-  but it has keep the Ipad dry to this point.  I just haven't found any case that is waterproof and is really solidly made, for Ipads, yet.

The Ipad has been really useful for taking field notes and writing post trip reports while riding in a vehicle, coming back from a trip.   I'm getting used to the on-screen keyboard and making fewer and fewer typos, even on bumpy roads.  This has been a real time-saver, compared to typing notes up once I'm back on campus.

The Ipad has allowed me to put together a collection of photos of common rocks and minerals, and common plants and trees, that I'd like our student leaders to know as part of their baseline knowledge as an outdoor guide.  As fall progresses, I'm hoping we can develop an in-house guide to the local fungi and lichens commonly encountered on College Outdoors trips.

The on-line field guides for plants and trees that I've seen are (so far) somewhat disappointing-  the paper versions are superior at this point-  but I expect as these apps develop, they'll become more useful. 

I was hoping by now the Ipad could just be pointed at a plant, and using pattern recognition software, the Ipad would be able to identify the plant for me.  Well, no luck with that-  this ability is probably going to be years in the future.

I will have to say the Ornithology app (IBirdPro) and astronomy app (Star Walk) have been very impressive, and useful to have on field trips, especially for as little as they cost.  It has also been a very dry fall, which makes taking the Ipad out in the field all the easier!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Can my iPad replace my laptop when I'm teaching abroad?

While it has been a while since I last posted to this blog, I haven't been idle.  In anticipation of an upcoming three-week trip to Tanzania (I'm on sabbatical leave this semester), I spent the summer exploring what apps might allow me to travel and teach while overseas using just the iPad. Put another way, was there sufficient software support and computing power available with an 16GB iPad to make it reasonable to leave my heavier (and somewhat recalcitrant) 5 yr old Macbook pro behind?

I began by considering my teaching needs... they aren't too different than on campus and basically involve either the Microsoft Office Suite of programs (Powerpoint, Excel, and Word) or the Apple equivalent (iWorks). The ability to project lecture outlines and images to a larger screen using something like PowerPoint or Keynote was particularly important, as I have a number of prepared lectures in these formats. I also needed the ability to input and process data that could then be used to generate figures. Word processing was less of a concern with regards to teaching needs, but would probably be needed for handling correspondence and, possibly, gaining access to student assignments.

In the end, I decided to try two different apps.  The first, Quickoffice Pro HD, cost $19.99 and provided slimmed down versions of the traditional Microsoft Office programs. I had no trouble opening previously created files, and after a bit of fiddling, learned how to transfer from Dropbox or Google Drive to the internal storage of the iPad.  This is important, since I won't have access to WiFi when I'm teaching in remote areas.  I enjoyed more or less equal success with using iWorks equivalent apps for iOS.  Unlike the bundled Office app, hoever, each of the three apps (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote) was purchased separately at $9.99 each.

After a variety of activities, in which I opened, edited, projected, and saved different files, I've decided that in terms of handling files, either set of apps should work fine.  My biggest concern, however, relates to internal storage.  Both of these apps rely heavily on connectivity to the web, allowing files to be stored away from the iPad but available for retrieval when needed.  This seems to work great when I'm at work or at home in the midst of a WiFi network, but it is basically useless when you aren't connected.  And I haven't found a decent external storage device for the iPad that would get around the storage limitations of the iPad.  Anyone have any suggestions in that regard?

Anyway, I'm off to Tanzania on Sunday and will be back with a report on how things all worked when I get back.  I've stored as many files as I think I'll need on the iPad and we will just have to see whether I planned well enough. As a back up, I think I will probably end up taking my Macbook Pro along as well.  More weight and hassle, but also more comfort in having a backup.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Data analysis in the classroom/lab

This semester I am focusing on how to best use the Ipad in the lab associated with my upper division Cell Biology course.  As the lab/classrooms in the Biology dept are not "smart", to project any digital images I have to set up portable projectors/find a desktop or laptop and bring it into the lab/ put it all together and hope I have all the correct passwords to make it work.  I do not have a laptop, so I have been happily using the Ipad for the introductory presentations that I have been giving in the lab.  I have found it quite easy to convert a powerpoint made on my desktop to a pdf, putting it in my dropbox account, and then accessing and presenting it through GoodReader.  Obviously I'd like the Ipad to do more.  So I am planning on setting up a public folder in my DropBox account where students will deposit copies of digital images they generate with the microscopes they are using in lab.  I plan on working with these images "live" in class, by projecting them to the class, and having conversations about the quality of the data, the specifics of what is being imaged, and what conclusions can be drawn from the results.  In the past this has happened at the level of individual groups of students in front of a computer monitor near the microscope.  By doing this with the whole class I hope that they begin to see trends, anticipate issues with their own data, and work together in problem solving.  My next post will describe how this went.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Evernote for student field research projects

One of the interesting things I note as I read others’ blogs is a feeling of frustration with the imperfect nature of the technology at hand.  Indeed at times I had the feeling this summer as I played around with Evernote as a paper-writing tool, that it was far more trouble than it was worth.  My sense is that some of these apps, particularly ones that are trying to be more comprehensive, work well on a laptop or desktop, but have yet to have their full functionality manifest in the iPad version.  This has been my experience with Evernote.  I have downloaded pdfs, made notes in attached files and linked relevant web pages, among other activities.  However, I find the iPad as a device to write a paper on not conducive to the way I work and think and whenever I was using Evernote on the iPad, I also had my laptop open (and attached to a second monitor) so that I could write more fluidly, flip through pages and have multiple documents in my line of vision.  Thus, I’ve pretty much given up trying to use Evernote as a comprehensive paper-writing device and I will not be modeling it in my thesis class as  per the original plan.  Given my distaste for actually writing on the iPad, I can’t really see how any app is going to be workable for that aspect.  However, I have found that Evernote is a great ethnographic research tool for students and I am modeling it in my qualitative methods class this fall.  Evernote’s multiple “pages” (Mac’s file equivalent) offer great places to store interviews and transcripts (99 cent apps to record interviews); it links easily with webpages that are relevant to their research; allows for pdf management and notetaking for their supplementary readings; has an easy “notes” section for random musings on the project, etc.  Each student task for the larger project can be easily categorized and organized, making Evernote a much more valuable tool for on-site research than as a paper-writing device.  I will continue to explore other paper-writing/organization apps that can perhaps be enhanced by iPad connectivity rather than being the sole source for writing productivity.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Back in the iPad 'saddle' . . .

First, let me declare myself - finally - savvy to a vision for how this great iPad tool can also be my 'friend'.  In spite of my reluctance/distrust/frustration - and all the other scary self-admissions I've made to myself over the summer - I now have gotten a glimpse (read 'a clue') about negotiating a truce with my fears and suspicions.  Here, simply, is my breakthrough revelation: for me, the iPad will be less a creator of content and more of a delivery device.

You'd think I could have gotten there a lot sooner.  I keep thinking that too.  However, a grand coincidence occurred this summer: my classroom got 'smart'.  With the support and technical expertise of Instruction Media Services (shouts out to Patrick, Robbie & Justin), I now enjoy other "delivery tools" - a 52" monitor, the necessary HDMI cabling for my laptop AND an all-important Apple TV.  Now, with this toolbox installed, my iPad is at last a communication tool!  I can still draw on paper (and I'm learning SLOWLY how to do some of this digitally as well, thanks to a handful of apps I have already named in an earlier post) and scan that content; I can find plenty of images via the internet and get them up on the monitor; and, I can make choices between my laptop and iPad about which "tool" will provide the smoothest (read: easiest) delivery of stuff that I can now offer my classes.  (As a novice, I am also learning how some content can only be delivered via a laptop.)

In that collection of "stuff," one application is also my new best friend: the Prezi Viewer (a shout out to the FTI '12 team who made this little FREE app known to us attendees back in May), which is a collaborator with Prezi Desktop: "a cloud-based presentation software that opens up a new world between whiteboards and slides.  Prezi Desktop allows Prezi Pro or Edu Pro subscribers to create and save zooming presentations on their own PC or Mac systems" (from their website).  The IT team made it possible to get me an Edu Pro subscription at no cost and off I went: on the Prezi 'zooming canvas', I have been able to create presentations on my laptop that make Powerpoints (only completely deliverable by laptop) look a bit stale...AND my iPad, connected to my new classroom monitor through the Apple TV, now can 'view' these presentations (stored online by Prezi) and allows me to interactively control their delivery.  Here began my happy conversion . . .

I also want to thank all of you who, through your testimony, have given me some 'it's-going-to-be-okay' confidence as I broke through my wall of fear/distrust/etc.  I've read and re-read postings whenever I needed reassurance, and - although the slow learning-curve of my Spring '12 semester kept me a bit disoriented - I am also happy to admit that those of you praising Good Reader and the Presentation Clock got me to think outside of my frustrations.  (I may even get around to trying Gradebook Pro next semester!)  I'm now on my way to understanding - again FINALLY! - how a tool doesn't have to reinvent the work...just help it along.  Thanks to all your articulate testimony; I look forward to contributing a little of that myself in the months to come.