iPads and Visually Impaired Students

ipads and visually impaired studentsThe iPad has a host of great accessibility features that are built-in to help make the device more accessible for disadvantaged learners. However, today I was asked to think a little bit outside the box. I had a request from one of our consultants that was working with a teacher who wanted to link their iPad with a student’s iPad in real time.

The teacher wanted to annotate documents on her iPad and project them to the class so that they could see them on a larger screen. The trouble was that this still wasn’t large enough for her visually impaired student. So, what she really wanted, was a way to project her iPad to two places at the same time. The first was the wall for the whole class to see, the second was the iPad of the student with the visual impairment. That way, the student could get a close up view of what the teacher was doing in real time, and/or use pinch to zoom to get a better view of what the rest of the class was seeing. Easy right? ūüôā

So, three of us sat down and put our heads together to try and figure this out. It didn’t sound easy, but surely, there must be some way of doing this. There was. Here’s how it works. The teacher links her computer with the student’s iPad via the free join.me service. This allows the student to view everything on the teacher’s computer, but not interact with it. We’ve done this in the past, and it works great with the join.me iPad app. However, this alone did not fix out problem. This does not get the image of the teacher’s iPad to the student’s iPad. To do that, we will use Reflection, or AirServer.¬†[Kudos to my superstar supervisor, Stacy Behmer (@sbehmer), for suggesting the AirPlay link].

So, the teacher’s computer is linked to the student’s iPad with join.me. The teacher then projects her iPad to her computer with Reflection or AirServer. Because the image of the teacher’s iPad is now on her computer, the visually impaired student also has the image of the teacher’s iPad! Then all that is left is for the teacher to plug their projector into their computer, and voila!

So, there you go. It is possible to link two iPads together for a real time mirrored image. There is not really any chance for direct collaboration, but for this purpose, it was ideal, and it is yet another example of how the iPad is helping to break down barriers and increase accessibility for students in the classroom.

iPad SpEd Apps for Reading and Writing

Yesterday, I co-presented a workshop with a well respected colleague of mine on special education iPad apps that can be used for reading and writing. It was a one-day workshop that was well attended by local educators who were looking to further integrate the iPad into special education classrooms to help further Language Arts goals for their students.

Special Education iPad Apps for Reading and Writing

We looked at text to speech apps, digital audio book apps, storytelling apps, test taking apps, note taking apps, handwriting apps, and more. There is a huge number of reading and writing apps for the iPad out there, so narrowing it down to a manageable number was quite the task! However, in my experience, being spoilt for choice is never a bad thing when it comes to good educational iPad apps. You can see the final list if you visit our workshop site.

I learned a lot from my research for this session, but if there was one thing I discovered a shortage of apps for, it was for apps that accurately and efficiently turn printed text into natural, spoken words. Students with reading difficulties need a reliable solution for this. VoiceOver and Speak Selection are great features in many circumstances, but they don’t work very well, if at all, with things like PDFs. (VoiceOver works but there is no way to pause or stop it once it starts, and it changes the touch interface controls on the device). Then there are the students who only have a printed textbook or novel. How can we make that text more accessible for those students with special needs?

There are apps we tried that claim to work in situations like this, but they only did so with mixed success. OCR apps are useful, but again not always as accurate as you might want, and they often involve extra steps or apps to complete the reading process. So, if there are any developers out there looking for a gap in the market, this might just be it. Educational publishers can help out too. What about HTML5¬†versions¬†of online textbooks with built-in audio voiceovers? Shouldn’t these be available for free with every printed textbook a school buys? Yes please!

Do you have favorite reading or writing apps for special education students in a K-12 learning environment? Which ones do you like best and why?

Happi Papi App Evaluation Program for Schools

Educators looking for a way to discover new iPad apps…for free…might want to take a look at the Happi Papi App Evaluation Program for Schools.

Teachers who sign up get to test drive Happi Papi’s and other developer’s apps for free, in return for filling out a short evaluation survey that takes your feedback as an educator to help revise or improve further app development.

Once enrolled, you will get an email about once a week, offering you the chance to try a specific app. If you like the look of it, you simply click the link in the email to register your interest. You will then be send another email that gives you a redemption code that you can use in the App Store to get a free copy of the app.

After about two weeks you will be sent a link to a survey for the app you received. Completing the survey is not mandatory, but I think it is a great way of informing developers about the kind of features that educators like or dislike in an iPad app, and I am all for improving apps that are designed for the classroom.

I have had several apps since I signed up for the program. Some I thought were great, others less so, but that I always enjoy seeing what new ideas developers are coming out with and how they are looking to market their apps for the classroom. So, if you are interested, and have not already signed up, head on over to the Happi Papi Evaluation Program and give them your email address to get started.

InfuseLearning.com: Free Online Assessment Tool

InfuseLearning.com is a free online assessment tool that is designed to let educators make fast and easy formative or summative assessments of their students. It is a relatively new service, but one that is gathering support quickly due to its versatility and ease of use.
online test taking tool

InfuseLearning is like a unique, virtual classroom that you and your students log in to. It lets you quiz your class on topics of your choice, and it records the students responses so that you can use the results to inform your teaching. Quizzes can be given in one of two ways. There are the quick fire questions that teachers can use for immediate feedback. (True/False, Multiple Choice, Sort and Order, Open Ended Text, Numeric or Likert Scale are all possible choices for this). The teacher would ask the question orally, or have it displayed at the front of the class, and students can respond on an internet enabled device. Responses are displayed in real-time on the teacher device.

The second option for teachers is to create a quiz ahead of time. Students can then complete it at their own pace, and all the questions and possible answers will be online and displayed on the device that the student is using to take the test. An added feature here, is the ability for the students to have the questions read aloud, or even translated into another language and then read aloud. This is a great feature for ELL students, but teachers can choose whether to enable or disable these features on a student by student basis when they create their own class. In this way, it can also be a very useful tool for MFL teachers.

However, my favorite feature of this free online assessment tool is the fact that it is a cross-platform site. This means that it is not device specific. It can be used on Macs, PCs, iPads, Andriod tablets, Chromebooks, or just about anything else with a modern web browser. So, InfuseLearning can be used in the classroom whether you are 1:1, BYOD, in a computer lab, or a classroom with a variety of devices, and that versatility is something that should not be dismissed quickly, particularly when you consider that this tool is free to anyone who wants to use.

Check out the video below for an overview of how InfuseLearning works in practice, and leave a comment below if you have successfully used InfuseLearning in your classroom.

Reward Student Achievement With ClassBadges.com

ClassBadges is a new way to help reward student achievement in the classroom. The idea is simple. Teachers sign up for a free account with ClassBadges.com, create a class and add their students. Whenever a student achieves a noteworthy landmark in their learning, the teacher can award that student a badge to recognize their success and help track their progress. Students have a unique class code that lets them log in to the site and view their latest badges. No more sticker charts on the wall!

Creating a badge is easy. Click on the Add Badge button and give your badge a title and a description. Then choose an image to associate with your badge from the wide variety of built-in icons. Once created, you can award it to the students you want to assign it to in your class, and even remove it at a later date if necessary.

As a concept, it certainly looks to have some similarities with other motivational tools like ClassDojo, but it¬†seems to focus less on behavior and more on academic milestones or achievements. It won’t replace a teacher’s gradebook, but it could be a nice way to keep track of what stage students are at on a project, or as a motivational tool for a book club or homework chart.

Right now, ClassBadges is so new that you have to sign up to request an invite, but because I am already a member, I can expedite your application if necessary. Simply sign up at ClassBadges.com and then leave your details in a comment below, or send me a message via my contact form, and I will email the site owners with your info. You you can get a better idea of what this site has to offer by watching the video below.

Source: Edudemic

$1 Wednesday iPad Apps

Mac readers may be familiar with the website twodollartues.com, a site that lets you sign up for notifications about apps from the Mac App Store that go on sale for just $2 every Tuesday. There are some good deals to be had, and savings of 50-90% are not uncommon on a wide range of apps.

Well, recently I got word that the same site is branching out to iPad apps. Starting November 7, the site will be offering a selection of iPad apps for just $1 every Wednesday. There is no word yet on the type of apps this will include, but if they include the same type of variety that I have seen for the Mac apps, there could well be some useful educational offerings in here for teachers and students. You can expect similar discounts of 50-90% off the normal price, and you can sign up for email notifications so that you know when they are available at the discounted rate.

While $1 is cheap and will likely yield a lot of great results, you still can’t beat free! So, remember that Apple has a free app of the week, with a new app announced every Thursday. Most of them have been games so far, but there have been a few useful photo apps too. Look for the App of the Week banner on the Featured section of your iOS App Store.

Chromebooks: A Worthwhile 1:1 Device for Education?

There are a growing number of 1:1 districts in Iowa, and a variety of devices are being deployed in these districts. The Macbook is very popular, as are PC laptops and iPads, but what about the Chromebook? Is it a viable device for schools? Google certainly seems to think so. In fact, it recently announced that it was currently being used in over 500 school districts in the USA and Europe.

Courtesy of Samsung.com

Here in Iowa, Council Bluffs has deployed 4,300 Chromebooks. In South Carolina, Richmond School District has 19,000 Chromebooks, while another 3,500 are found at Leyden High School in Illinois. It has a ways to go in order to come close to the inroads made by the iPad or even the Macbook, but as a portable, viable device, it is catching on quick. Chromebooks in education are a growing force.

Device management is a major plus. The Google Dashboard console is easy to navigate, intuitive to use, and has almost all the options that schools are looking for with mobile device management software. When you compare this to what you would have to do to manage a collection of iPads, there really is little comparison. Apple’s Configurator is a great start, but it is not without its faults and random bugs.

I’ve been using a Samsung Series 5 550 for about a week now, and I have to admit that I really enjoyed using it. It is quick to start up, and even quicker to resume from sleep. The battery life is decent, but maybe not quite as good as it could be for classroom use. The Chrome OS has evolved well over the last few months, and there is an increasing number of offline apps available so you can still check your mail, write notes, or browse your calendar and docs without a wi-fi connection.

Does it take time adjusting to the Chrome OS? Absolutely, but if you are a Google Apps school, the transition will not be as big as you might think. There are apps for almost anything you want to do now, so Chromebooks in education are becoming more relevant by the day, especially with the introduction of the new $249 Samsung Chromebook that weighs less than 2.5lbs and has a battery rated for 6.5 hours of continuous use.

So, are you considering Chromebooks in your school district? What are the pros and cons that you have come up against while weighing up the merits of this platform?

Digital Storytelling Apps for the iPad

The second of my two presentations at ITEC 2012 this year was Digital Storytelling Apps for the iPad. I love the potential that the iPad has as a multimedia device for creating and sharing digital stories, so I wanted to try and encapsulate some of the best ways to do that in this presentation.

The apps I chose will not necessarily be new to everyone, but I chose these apps because each is just that little bit different in their own way. Each one either pertains to a different strand of digital storytelling, or was built for a specific age level to help make digital storytelling relevant and meaningful to all ages of students.

So, if you are looking for a collection of digital storytelling apps to use in your classroom, take a look at the slides below. There are many more I would have added if I were not restricted to a 50-minute session, but these apps are a great start for K-12 educators who are looking to explore digital literacy with the iPad.

Are your favorites included in this slideshow? If not, leave a comment below with a list of your own favorite storytelling apps for the iPad.

iPad Workflow Solutions for Educators

Recently, I¬†attended¬†ITEC 2012 -Iowa’s premier technology conference for educators. David Pogue and Marco Torres were the keynote speakers, but there were dozens of other excellent breakout sessions over the course of this three-day event.

I myself had the opportunity to present twice, so I opted for a couple of iPad sessions that I had been wanting to talk about for some time now, and I have included the slides to the first of these two sessions below – iPad Workflow Solutions for Educators.

A digital workflow for the iPad, or the process of getting student work to and from the device, has long been a subject of some consternation among those who use iPads in the classroom. Why? The reason is simple. Apple did not build  the iPad for a school environment. It was designed for an individual. As such, it was designed to be managed by an individual, with little real thought about how that individual could interact with other users.

Thankfully, this is beginning to change. Apple is less restrictive that it once was. It has loosened the reins a little with iOS and it is now actively working to help develop mobile device management software like Apple Configurator. My presentation at ITEC was designed to reflect that, and it includes some of the latest changes and developments that have been made to the iOS ecosystem.

So, feel free to take a look at some of the options that are available to you if you use iPads in the classroom. A fully digital workflow is possible on the iPad, but it is not always as intuitive as it might be. The slides here do not always tell the whole story, because of the nature of a slideshow presentation, so if you want or need any further information on any of these methods, please do not hesitate to leave a comment below.

A (Welcome) Return to Blogging

So, here I am again. The first post of a new blog, and a new adventure starts right here, right now. It’s my (welcome) return to blogging.

I’ve blogged before on Weebly, WordPress and (briefly) Blogger, all under the banner of The Education Technology Blog, but now I have my own name at the top of the page, and it feels right. The kind of content I will post here will likely be similar to what I did before on previous blogs – technology tools for teachers that are designed to advance and enhance teaching and learning in the classroom.

What will that include? Well, iPad apps, Google Apps, Web 2.0, mobile learning tips, 1:1 deployment strategies, and more will no doubt quickly populate the posts on this blog, because these are the tools and ideas that the teachers I work with are desperate to hear more about, and these are the things that I am most passionate about as an educator.

Consequently, if you like what you see here, feel free to follow me on Twitter, or subscribe to this blog, and together we can work to make a difference for 21st century educators everywhere.