Tag Archives: apps

Software agreements for NZ schools and mobile devices

Had a good discussion recently with my old principal at Russell Street School. We were talking about where to next for the school in regards to elearning and supporting infrastructure.

Like many schools, Russell St is exploring the potential of iPod Touches and iPads to support learning. An interesting question was raised in relation to the current and future software agreements. For those of you who are not sure what the agreements are all about, the Ministry of Education negotiates on behalf of schools in NZ, licenses with software vendors, to provide schools with computer operating systems, office suites, anti-virus and web filtering software at no cost to the school.

Before the question is posed, let’s take a moment to look at the anticipated changes to the tools that students and teachers will learn with, moving away from desktops and laptops to smaller mobile devices and increasingly BYOD.

The Horizon Report:

Immensely portable, tablets serve as e-readers, video repositories, and web-browsing devices with instant access to thousands of apps…

CORE’s Ten Trends:

The available choices for staying connected while on the go are many — smart phones, netbooks, laptops, and a wide range of other devices

UNESCO:

…it is likely that mobile devices with internet access and computing capabilities will soon overtake personal computers as the information appliance of choice in the classroom.

So the question is…

When the next software agreements are negotiated, will the increased use of mobile apps be recognised and included in the deal?

Why? Let’s put that question in a context:

A school has trialled the use of iPads and iPods in their school, has realised the potential, seen the impact on teaching and learning, and has aligned their strategic plan and infrastructure purchasing around this. The purchasing over the next 3-5 years will take the school to a position where these devices out number the desktops and laptops in the school. They would like students to be using iMovie, GarageBand, Pages, Numbers & Keynote on these devices (totalling NZ$54.95) i.e. the mobile app equivalents for the same applications the school receives now for no cost  under the current software agreements.

What do you think? The solution of course is complex and is simply not a case negotiating with the Apple reseller here in NZ. Issues already surround  licensing of any apps for NZ schools with a lack of volume licensing among other things, ably outlined in this blog post by CORE colleague @warrenhall.

I know that plenty of you out there will be saying things like AndroidGoogleopen source… and fair enough to in a number of respects.

The point is, new software agreements should reflect current and planned usage and recognise what is clearly an increased use of mobile devices in NZ schools, especially the iPad and iPod Touch.

iPod Touching

So far so good with the trial of integrating iPod Touches into the classroom and the student’s learning. The students are really eager to use these devices and while there is a large number of things we would like to do on them and can’t, they have certainly been well used.

This post is just a quick rundown on some of the key apps we are using so far. I am very open to using a huge variety of different apps for a whole range of purposes. That is one of the great things about the app store concept, you can just go and search for an app to fulfill any particular purpose and there is almost always exactly what you need. Unfortunately some do cost but there some really good free apps that are worth looking at. At this point in time I am not looking at purchasing any apps for classroom use. So here is to the top four freebies we are using.

Firstly, the WordPress app. Great app providing the ability for students to create and write new posts in their eportfolios. Works really well once the students blog log-in details are set-up. Easy to add images that are stored in the image library either synced from iPhoto or saved from the web including our Flickr account. My only gripe with this app is that the latest version, which offers some great new features, is not compatible with the WordPress blog service we use so we are still running the old version (1.1).

iTalk is a great voice recording app that works really well. The sound quality is excellent and the big start/stop record button makes it really easy and intuitive to use. The app requires a syncing application on your computer which allows you to download your recording through your wireless network. The app requires that you purchase a headset that allows you to record onto your Touch any while this expense may put you off recording, it is well worth the money especially with Skype for the iPhone/Touch being released last week.

Safari for the Touch works extremely well but it is an app called Bookmarks that we use which really adds a lot more functionality and focus to our web browsing. It is a Delicious bookmarking app allowing your to stay logged in to your Delicious account and access your links. It does just what it claims to do. You can set it up so that you can save bookmarks to your Delicious account but I haven’t had a need or the time to investigate that yet.

Briefcase Lite is an app that allows us to connect to any computer on our network including our server. This is great for transferring or retrieving files and viewing them on the Touch. Most file are able to be viewed including Pages, Keynote, PDF, movies, images etc. The real potential of this is for those families in the class who do not have broadband at home to view the multimedia content in the eportfolios. A simple process will enable the content to be transfered to the Touch and then taken home for sharing. While we have not used it for this prupose yet, I know a couple of parents I have mentioned this to are keen to give it a go.

So all is well. Some of the potential is being realised but not all of it. Hopefully the upcoming holiday will give me some time to play and explore some more apps.

Look no further than Google Apps for eportfolios?

Helen Barrett in her latest blog entry has made a big claim regarding Google Apps, formative assessment and eportfolios.

I am now convinced that in GoogleApps (Sites, Docs, etc.) I have found the best free Web 2.0 tool for maintaining an online personal learning environment that can be used for formative assessment in education.

I have a lot of respect for Helen Barrett and have used and referenced her work and research many times. However on this occasion, I do not fully agree.

Google Apps are fantastic. They continue to offer new apps and improve on existing ones all for free. I would be lost without my gmail, docs, calendar and reader. If you were to take a snapshot of my personal learning environment (PLE) and time spent in various web 2.0 tools, GoogleApps would far and away take up the largest slice of the pie.

However, my experiences with Google Sites as a means for pulling together all the strands of an eportfolio for the students at our school, were not entirely successful. I base these thoughts on the set of criteria we developed in order to select the eportfolio tool that best fit what we required to support teaching and learning.

If I take one of the criteria, based on the concept that viewers should not have to click links and download files, it should just be there, embedded waiting for the play button to be clicked…

Ability to demonstrate learning: The ePortfolio solution needs to be able to display (show within the portfolio not provide a link to file) all the possible media that the students will generate or want to share. This includes but is not limited to: podcasts and movies (m4v, m4a, mov), documents (pdf), images (jpg, png, gif) and embedding Web 2.0 content.

In my experiences with Google Sites, this is not possible. Embedding Web 2.0 content just doesn’t seem to work, apart from Google related products. This has caused me many frustrating moments as the embed code is stripped for other content. Again, Google Sites is a great product but are we trying to fit an eportfolio in a package that doesn’t really work?

Regarding the statement of GoogleApps and formative assessment, any tool that supports feedback, reflection and commenting can theoretically support formative practice. However, when one looks at Barrett’s process for developing eportfolios using Google Sites, what I believe is one of the most important aspects of a formative eportfolio, the student acting on feedback and their own assessments to improve their learning, only gets a passing comment at the very end.

The portfolio developer should be given the option of updating the work, based on the feedback and the rubric.

I see formative assessment as being cyclic in nature with the student action as I described above central to the process. After all, self-direction and self-regulation by the student are two very important outcomes. The following diagram (click for larger version) was developed to reinforce this point as part of the big picture of developing eportfolios for learning.

So what do you think? Is the student action component as important as I believe? Are the GoogleApps really the best solution despite my reservations? Let me know!