There’s an App for That

We just received 4 iPads to use in the building. My initial thought is to put them in the library since that is one place that all students have easy access to, and would get them the most exposure. In order to maximize the potential for their use, we are going to start with a “study” where we get feedback from teachers and students on the best apps/uses for the iPads.

I’ll get the ball rolling by taking a few minutes to look back to the posts I did last year regarding the iPad:

Now that it a little over 6 months since I wrote those posts, what apps have I come to rely on the most on my iPad? Here are my top three:

  • Safari – No big surprise here that the main task I do is use the Internet. Many times while working at a website, I will learn that there is an app for the website (for example, The Buffalo News has a news app). I then download the app, and depending on its usefulness, may begin to use the app instead.
  • Mail – Managing and responding to email on the iPad is very easy.
  • Angry Birds – if you have not been bitten by the Angry Birds bug, be warned – it is a game that will suck you in quickly! If I ever happen to forget to bring my iPad home, my kids are very upset if they do not get their Angry Birds fix (we have even ordered the Angry Birds stuffed animals…we’re completely hooked).

Clearly the iPad has become my productivity/entertainment center – there are a whole host of apps that I use on a regular (but not every day) basis for a variety of things. In the hands of my kids, it is very interesting that they often choose some of the creativity apps and YouTube videos (that we watch with them) in addition to games.

Which brings me to the task at hand – what apps should we be installing on the iPads for school? Some of the general categories are:

  • eReaders (iBooks, Nook, etc.)
  • Content area apps
  • Voice recording apps (the iPad has a built in microphone)

I’ve put together a wiki page for staff and students to collect our thoughts on what apps to install on the iPads. I’m looking forward to how this rolls out.

Just a footnote that I want to bring out here – we have 4 iPads for 650 students. The iPad is a highly personal device (I can attest to that). As we share the device, I keep thinking about a comment Brian Smith from Monroe 1 BOCES made recently:

I still contend that these won’t be successful until they are made personal.¬† Meaning, give it to the kid to have for the entire year.¬† Let them take it home, play with it, read on it, correspond on it and make their learning personal.

I’m currently in a pilot with iPads and the students are lukewarm to the device because they know it will go away or that they won’t be able to make it work for them personally.

~Brian C. Smith (@briancsmith)

We are not at the point where everyone has one, but I think keeping in mind Brian’s comments make sense as we get going on getting the iPads out.

Looking forward to some awesome learning!

Creative Commons licensed image, iPad 3G and iPad Wi-Fi, by Yutaka Tustano on Flickr

How the iPad has Changed My Game

Since I purchased an iPad a couple of months ago, I have been really enjoying using it and seeing how it fits into my work and play flow. My kids really enjoy using it to see how it fits into their game playing flow. Students in school enjoy seeing how it fits into their before-school, working, hanging-out, doodling flow. I thought the iPad might be a popular item, but I had no idea what temporary rock-star status I would have simply by having one. I knew something was up when, while picking up food at a McDonald’s drive-thru, the nice young lady at the window looked in the back of the car where my son was playing on it and screamed, “Is that an iPad?!?!?! Cool!!!!

What has changed? I now have a small form-factor device that allows me to be in a meeting, workshop, or other group environment and be able to read documents, take notes, and research supporting information on the Internet, without having an intrusive laptop screen sticking up. I can easily pass the device to someone else to use as if it where a piece of paper, not a piece of equipment. This may seem like a small deal, but to me it really is a big deal. Now when I prepare for a meeting or conference, I do not print out copies of documents, I just make sure I have them loaded on the iPad.

A couple of things make this setup even better. The iPad relies on touch, obviously, but there are times when some type of pen would be handy. I found this out when I was trying to sketch a diagram at a conference a few weeks ago. Drawing with your finger is not comfortable when trying to handwrite. Enter the Pogo Sketch from Ten One Design – this handy stylus has a capacitive tip which allows you to use it on the iPad (and other touch screens) as if it were your finger. Another item that will help my workflow is an app that allows you to markup documents. Often in meetings you want to write notes on various pages – I have browsed the App store and there definitely are solutions for this – I just have to pick one and run with it.

I knew things had changed for me a couple of weeks ago when I was looking for a book. At the Summer School Conference for Administrators, a principal from Roscoe did a great workshop that related leadership to lessons from To Kill a Mockingbird. Having never read the book (amazing, huh?), I turned to the iPad to purchase/download¬† it. I wanted to be able to read it on the fly among the many other things I do on the device. Interestingly, I could not find an electronic version in the iBook store, Kindle store or anywhere else. I *gasp* resorted to going to our school library to checkout a *gasp* paper copy! Don’t worry – I’m not saying that I don’t want print books – it’s just that there is now an option that blends multiple media into one place, and I’m hooked.

Let me put in the disclaimer now that while the iPad has a ton of possibility, it is by no means perfect. Do some things drive me crazy? Sure – the whole Flash-non-support deal is frustrating since there is so much Flash on the web. The App store is huge, but that results in thousands of proprietary ways to get something done, on a device that is very proprietary. I am very excited that Google announced a tablet, and if the One-Laptop-Per-Child concpet tablet ever gets going, that will be awesome also. All I’m saying is that right now, the iPad’s positives definitely outweigh its negatives.

So now I wonder, if this has really changed my game, how might it change the game for a student who is able to go through the school day with it? One-to-one initiatives are popping up all over (finally), and the iPad may be one solution for students. An iPad is a consumption device more than a creation device (we still need laptops or desktops), but the types of input and resources available make it a real possibility for student use. I’m going to try an experiment this week with a couple of students and let them take it to all their classes for a day. I’m really interested in how they think an iPad might (or might not) make their learning better. Hopefully I’ll convicne them to share there thoughts here next week. Stay tuned…

Touch This – Tactile Learning and Technology

A few weeks back when the iPad became available for pre-order, I investigated and decided not to order since my current OS does not support it. Getting the iPad would send me into that unforgiving and expensive upgrade loop where I would have to get a new OS, and hence a new computer, etc. just to support the device. Not that I did not want an iPad – having an iPod Touch, I know how different a device it is, and the thought of the new form factor in the iPad hits home with me.

Fast forward to this weekend – watching the early reviews and wondering, I took an innocent trip to the local Apple Store “just to check it out,” and yes, I came home with an iPad. A brief conversation and help from an Apple Store employee allowed me to activate the iPad in the store, so I can use it to do whatever I want wirelessly with no immediate need to upgrade my home computer. The only thing I cannot do is sync to my computer to download pics, videos, etc. but I can access all important data via the web, and can download all the apps I need via my iTunes account.

So, what is the game changer in this device compared to any other? Simple – just as with the iPhone and iPod Touch – it’s the tactile interface. You use a third sense – touch – to interact with information, knowledge, and learning. We all know that media helps learning – audio and visual stimulus are key components. However, when you add the kinesthetic mode as well, that opens up a whole new layer of input to the mind. When I can spin the world with my finger in Google Earth, zoom into a video about the Haiti earthquake, and physically drag layers of seismic images, it is a very different learning experience.

My initial reaction to the iPad and the tactile input has made me reflect on why I have always felt the Smart Board brand interactive whiteboard is a key technology tool. You can argue until you are blue in the face about which brand of interactive whiteboard provides the best bang for the buck. There are also very valid arguments about how an interactive whiteboard used poorly is an expensive overhead in the front of the room. Despite this, at the end of the day, the Smart Board allows you to take your finger and literally interact with the world. That being said, the Smart brand suddenly has a huge challenge ahead as there are millions of people who now expect multi-touch surfaces, something the Smart Board has not been able to provide.

So what is it about the iPad that makes such a difference? The size and form factor. This may be just my personal preference, but it just feels right. It can be tucked in a sleeve and hidden, taken out for research, used to watch media, and a host of other uses that support learning and productivity. The iPad is certainly not the first tablet on the market. I’ve thought for many years that the tablet could really help the classroom, but nothing so far in this category has made any difference. I think that the iPad will, at the very least, push this category of learning tool very far ahead.

Whether or not it is the iPad, the Smart Board, or some other device, what I think is fundamental is tactile interaction with technology so learning is literally an extension of your hand. The more senses involved in learning, the better. It will be a while before the iPad will give off smell or taste, but we’re moving in the right direction :-).

If you’ll excuse me, I have to go buy a new computer…

Creative Commons image courtesy of Maddy Lou on Flickr.