iCreate: How the iPad facilitates content-creation in the classroom?

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iCreate

Andrew Douch wrote “the iPad is a swiss army knife of content-creation tools”. I read that sentence in his blogpost ‘How an iPad is a More Powerful Content-Creation Device Than a Laptop‘ and realised that he managed to say what I have been trying so hard to say for months, but just couldn’t find the words or gather the courage. I constantly come across teachers who argue that the iPad is very limiting and restricting, and that a laptop is far more superior. I personally disagree, but found it hard to argue my case. Andrew Douch wrote that ‘if professional production quality is your imperative, then the iPad is not your best tool’ and that it may be best to find a more ‘technologically capable’ device. However, he did argue that it is more ‘pedagogically productive’. The paragraph that sums it all up reads as such:

‘But producing comparable creative content on an iPad is relatively quick, simple, yields impressive results with minimal fuss, and the learning curve is … well, there almost isn’t one! There is no need to connect an external microphone (the built-in one is better than that in any laptop), no need to adjust recording levels, no need to use a pop-filter. No need to import media from a recording device to the editing device (becasue they are one and the same), and it’s unnecessary to allow 10 minutes at the end of a class, to save, unplug devices, shut down and stow the laptops. Instead, when the bell sounds, students simply flip their iPad cases closed and walk to the next class!’

And that is the truth, ladies and gentlemen. The iPad combines so many content-creation tools in one device, that it truly is a ‘swiss army knife’. Right there from the same device (without any external supplementary tools, and with a few cheap apps), students have the opportunity to create podcasts, screencasts, movies, blogs, microblogs, websites, eBooks, wikis, electronic portfolios, animated cartoons, comics, annotated PDFs, annotated pictures, photos, paintings, drawings etc… Andrew Douch also wrote that:

We’ve had computers in schools for years, but in reality many (most?) classroom teachers don’t and never did have their students making podcasts, movies, eBooks and websites. Doing so seems too time consuming and for many non-technical teachers the learning curve appears disproportionate to the benefits realised.

Using the iPad will not produce the highest professional quality, but it will make all of these creations much quicker, and easier, and that’s what teachers need to tap into. I wrote this post with the intention of informing my school’s teaching staff of all the possible content-creation apps that I have come across. The apps I mention here are definitely not the only ones that can do what they are designed to, but they are the ones that I am aware of and have previously used. I will divide the list according to its potential for content creation. So, here goes my attempt:

  1. Blogs/websites: I use the WordPress iPad app, as well as the Blogger app for blogging. Generally, I set up the accounts for the students using a class gmail account (due to age restrictions and safety reasons). On a blog, you can have pages, and sub-pages, and you can embed videos, screencasts, photos, files (through Google Drive, for example) and much more, which essentially means it can be both a blog and a website.
  2. Screencasts: My favourites are definitely ShowMe and Explain Everything. ShowMe has the advantage of being an online learning community, and screencasts can be uploaded on a ShowMe profile and then later on embedded on a blog or website. Explain Everything has the advantage of being able to import media such as PDFs or PowerPoints/Keynotes, and annotate over them while recording voice. However, Explain Everything screencasts may need to be uploaded on YouTube or Vimeo first in order to embed them on a blog/website.
  3. Movies/videos: I believe iMovie is by far the easiest to use (though many others disagree). My students use iMovie to create trailers, edited videos, short movies, and photo presentations with music and text. I think all that is quite enough for a classroom activity or task in any subject. Again, uploading these videos/movies on a class YouTube or Vimeo channel can allow embedding them on a blog/website/wiki.
  4. Podcasts: My favourite is Audioboo (but there are many others out there like using Audio Memos along with a Posterous account). My students record their Audioboos and then embed them on their blog/website. Some students also prefer using GarageBand to record audio files, and then import them into iMovie, where they add a picture or some sort of visual element. The students would then upload the podcast onto the class YouTube channel and embed it into their blog/website.
  5. eBooks: I prefer to use Book Creator because it is easy and relatively efficient. You can also embed all sorts of media into your eBook, which a lot of students like to do. eBooks can then be uploaded onto the students’ e-portfolios, or even embedded/hyperlinked onto their blogs/websites.
  6. ePortfolios: A blog, wiki or website can definitely be used as an ePortfolio. But for teachers who may be quite wary about age restrictions or the safety of their students, Google Drive offers huge potential for creating ePortfolios. Just by setting up folders and sharing them with the teacher/s, along with the Google Drive iPad app’s ability to upload all sorts of media (using ‘Open in another app’ functionality from most apps), the student can easily create and share an ePortfolio with the teacher. I have also used Evernote in many of my drama classes and I am a big fan of using Evernote for creating ePortfolios. However, I needed to set up an Evernote premium account and many teachers may refuse to do so.
  7. Animated cartoons: I have three favourites here: Puppet Pals, Sock Puppets, and Toontastic. However, the best in teaching narrative structure is Toontastic, as there are different scenes: set up, conflict, climax, ending, and you can also add music to create different moods/emotions etc… I love using it with my four-year-old nephew just to get him to think about how to structure a story. Toontastic also allows uploading directly on ‘ToonTube‘, and then embedding on a blog/website.
  8. Annotated PDFs/Photos/Pictures: I use Notability for annotating PDFs and Skitch for annotating pictures/photos. Both can produce content that can easily be integrated with Google Drive/Evernote and thus added to the student’s ePortfolio. Worksheets and handouts can now be shared with students as PDF files and then annotated using text, highlighters, markers, pencils, images or shapes, and that is a useful function for all subjects.
  9. Microblogs: I am a big fan of Edmodo, and I am a passionate user of this learning platform. Edmodo can now also make iPad workflow much easier after a recent app update, where files can easily be uploaded through the ‘Open in another app’ functionality. Teachers can also use Twitter and Facebook for micro-blogging in the classroom, but most social-networking policies in schools place many restrictions and challenges when it comes to these tools.
  10. Comics: I often use Strip Designer or Zoodle Comics to encourage students who wish to create comics. Both apps also allow sharing in PDF formats or into the Photo Library/Camera Roll, which can then easily be uploaded on Google Drive or embedded in blogs/websites.
  11. Drawings/Paintings: I have not used many drawing/painting apps, but I generally encourage my students to use Art Set or Penultimate. There are many more, with more specialised features as well. Again, all output can be exported, shared and embedded on blogs/websites.

To conclude, I would like to restate: I am not arguing that only the iPad can allow such content-creation in the classroom, but I do believe these creations are much easier to produce on an iPad than on a laptop or desktop computer (where additional accessories are often required, along with expensive specialised software). The iPad truly is ‘a swiss army knife of content-creation tools‘ as Andrew Douch wrote, and with these words I encourage you all to go forth and iCreate.

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The Blipped Classroom… Or Flended Learning?

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Last year, I had major voice problems. A combination of poor breathing habits and too much coffee resulted in a very strained voice. I couldn’t be more thankful for those voice problems. They really pushed me to reconsider the way I teach. Around the same time, I bought an iPad. I also couldn’t be more thankful for my iPad, because that too helped me find alternative methods of teaching. I stumbled across ShowMe, an iPad screen-casting app. That was the beginning. To avoid delivering content to my students in the lecturing style of teaching, which strained my voice the most, I recorded all of them at home, in a quiet environment that did not require raising my voice. I would them post them to my ShowMe profile, give the students the URL and they would watch it at home. I later came to learn that this was the concept of the ‘flipped classroom’, which is becoming a huge trend now in education. It was funny that I was only driven to that way of teaching to preserve my voice and help it heal!

I also started using blogging with my students around the same time, as it was a ‘quieter’ discussion platform. I relied on the school’s intranet LMS for that. I did not have to conduct the same discussions in class, where I would have to use my voice often to facilitate the discussion. Basically, class-time was used to solve worksheets, for revision and for group projects, where my talking would be limited to one-on-one or to a small group (a much more manageable task when you have voice problems). I also set up a wiki on the school’s intranet LMS for creating revision notes. The students did not really make use of electronic devices in the class, partly because I was still learning about which apps to use and how, and partly because there was no clear policy at the school for BYOD device. Here are some screenshots of what we did in class through the intranet LMS system.

 

 

This changed with the beginning of this academic year in January. Year 7 students were all required to purchase iPads and I was one of the eLearning leaders (because I literally begged my principal to assign me that role). The school had drafted a BYOD policy and I had to help create a framework for using iPads and eLearning/mLearning in the school, and to train teachers through PD sessions so that they too can become more comfortable with the use of such devices. Of course, in my role as an eLearning leader, I was sent out to a lot of conferences and inservice sessions, and my learning was exponential.

I was only teaching drama for the first half of the academic year (as I was employed part-time to allow me to finish my masters). But during the second half of the year, I was asked to step in for two teachers that went on long-service leave, one after the other. I created a blog for my year 9 humanities class, which I primarily used as my teaching notes and a revision resource for them, should they need it. I tried to encourage them to blog more but I only had the class for four weeks and creating that culture of blogging takes much longer. Then I stepped in for a year 8 English class. I used the school’s intranet LMS to create a blog for discussions in the class. I also used the blog to teach them about effective ‘digital citizenship’ and how to create a positive ‘digital footprint’. Now, I am back to only teaching drama again, and I am using my drama subject blog more to document the student learning and to show what we are doing in the class.

Through this journey, I have learnt a lot, and I believe I have found the right mixture of Web 2.0 tools, a mixture that works for me. This is not to say that these tools are the best out there, but they work for me, and this is the main lesson I have learnt: it is all about what works for you and your students, there is no one-size-fits-all formula for using ICT in the class. ‘Flipped classrooms‘ and ‘blended learning‘ sound like very fancy terms, but at the end of the day, the teacher is the main driver behind student learning and student success. I do believe in the importance of blended learning, as we need to prepare students to become effective digital citizens and to possess the necessary ICT-literacies that are in very high demand in the modern workplace. I also believe that flipping the classroom has its merits: most of the lecturing can be done at home where students work at their own pace, and this frees up class time for doing the nitty-gritty learning stuff!

So, here is my Web 2.0 and ICT classroom framework, which I believe combines the two concepts (others are definitely allowed to disagree, in fact I would appreciate all feedback and suggestions for improvement):

  1. A class Edmodo page: this is the central LMS system. This is where I would post content: worksheets, videos, quizzes, polls, hyperlinks etc… This is also where I would make announcements, and maybe start discussions about class-related material. I love Edmodo because of its quizzing, polling and library tools, and because I love social networking!
  2. A class blog: possibly using the school’s intranet LMS as the class’ central portal for blogging. The advantage is that it is all internal, however our intranet LMS can be quite limiting. Additionally, students can not really author their own blogs on our school’s intranet LMS, but rather only respond to posts from the teacher. This class blog will be used to facilitate discussions and to coach students in the practices of effective digital citizens.
  3. Student blogs: Additionally, I might set up one blog per group of students (4-5 students in each group) using a school-provided google account. The students would alternate posting and commenting roles throughout the semester (maybe inform them that you expect them to post TWICE during the term and comment on at least FIVE different posts, for example).
  4. A class wiki: this could be set up using the intranet LMS and could be used to create revision notes or a class textbook, or a collection of resources about the topics studied in class. The students can create and embed material using VoiceThreads and screen-casting tools, so that the wiki consists of a variety of multimedia tools to cater for their different learning styles.
  5. Combining Google Forms with screen-casting: this can be used for formative assessment of student understanding. I could create a screencast every week for the theoretical material that needs to be covered, and embed it in the class blog, along with an embedded/hyperlinked Google Form to measure student learning. I rely mostly on my iPad to create screencasts, using apps such as ShowMe or ExplainEverything. I have used Google Forms more than once already, and I love this tool. I have used it to collect feedback on a unit of work from students, I have used it to facilitate peer evaluations in my drama classes and I have used it as a worksheet to help in defining slapstick comedy. I can see many more ways of using it and there are lots of ideas out there.
  6. Using Google Docs: in the event of having to submit an essay or a powerpoint presentation (which is required in a lot of Common Assessment Tasks at school), I prefer requesting that the students use Google Docs. The advantage of doing so is that I can be granted access to the document while it is being created and can be involved in the whole process, which can then be assessed, as opposed to assessing only the final product (a submitted essay or powerpoint presentation). Students can also share their documents with a classmate while they are working on it, and this is to make use of peer feedback. Google Docs also encourages collaborative learning, which I am a very big fan of.

To conclude, I believe this framework doesn’t really fully flip the classroom, and it also makes use of blended learning. So I am going to combine the two concepts in one term, which should it be: FLENDED LEARNING or BLIPPED CLASSROOM?