Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Using Fronter on an iPad

My school uses Fronter as our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) and whilst IOS devices have always been able to display content held in Fronter, they have never been able to download files (such as PowerPoints, Word documents etc). That is until today! OK, you might have been able to do this for a while but I just discovered it today.

We have been having a few "issues" regarding our Managed Learning Environment (MLE)/VLE integration and today, our Director of E-Learning sent me a link to a way of accessing Fronter without having to go through the MLE part first. I was asked to try it with some students and though I would give it a go with the iPad (logging in through the MLE was always a torturous affair, always slow and often unsuccessful) so anything would probably be an improvement. So, I logged in. Whilst in Fronter, I thought I would look up a document and one thing led to another and a minute or too later, I had a spreadsheet downloaded and open in Numbers. Result!

So how do we download from Fronter?

1. Log into Fronter and go to the room the file is in.

2. Click and hold on the link to the file you want to download.

3. A dialogue box opens up, select Open in a New Page.

4. The document will open and you can click open in.... In the right hand corner.

5. Your document will open in the appropriate app.

And that is that, now all we need to be able to do is send files to Fronter.

I'm not sure whether this is a new feature in Fronter 10, OS4.2 or I just missed it previously but it does mean one less excuse not to consider iPads for use in the classroom.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, November 26, 2010

Mind Mapping on an iPad

I am a big fan of Mind Mapping as a planning and organisational tool and I am always trying to get my Year 7 students to create a Mind Map before they begin to produce a piece of written work such as a presentation or leaflet so it is vital that I have a decent Mind Mapping app on my iPad. I have always used Mind42 as it free, available online, supports importing and exporting in a variety of formats and allows collaboration on Mind Maps. However, it is a bit slow and cumbersome on the iPad and I was really looking for a decent app that would work on the iPad, allow me to export to other Mind Mapping programs, export to PDF or JPEG/PNG and work with an online storage system. Having looked at a couple of apps, I finally settled on iThoughtsHD.
This app is amazing, the way it works with the touch screen interface is brilliant and so quick, making your Mind Map is a speedy process.
I have always used a mouse and keyboard to draw a Mind Map but using the iPad is a real revelation, it almost makes me want to create new Mind Maps just for the fun of using the app, I kid you not!

An example Mind Map from iThoughtsHD:

This app is very elegant, it is very intuitive to use but is also incredibly powerful. Most of the tools you will want are in the app so it shouldn't leave you wanting and it offers a wide range of export options should you want to either share your Mind Map with others or work on it inn another application. Best of all though, iThoughtsHD can save and export direct to Dropbox so there is no messing around with e-mailing to yourself (although direct E-mail is supported) or other messy systems for getting your Mind Maps on nor off the iPad.

All in all, a brilliant app and the best bit is the price, £5.99 form the app store. This is probably the best app I have bought to date and certainly one of the most useful.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Using Google forms for data collection

As I previously mentioned, I am a user of Google Docs (hence this blog being hosted on blogspot) and I am a massive fan of Google Forms and use them all the time to gather data. For those who haven't used this feature, I strongly suggest you give it a try. It is similar to Survey Monkey etc. in that you set up a form with a series of questions (these can be text, drop down and choose, ratings and many more) and then send a link to the URL the form can be accessed from. As the form is filled in, a spreadsheet is automatically generated with the responses from anyone who has filled in your form. Brilliant. You can download the spreadsheet as an MS Excel file for further analysis or use Google Docs to do this and because it is already in your Google account, you don't have to download it or move it if you don't want to. I recently used one with year 7 to do a Student assessment of how well they thought they where doing in ICT. The results where very illuminating to say the least, most year 7's have no idea what the various levels in ICT actually look like (no idea what the level descriptors are or what they mean) and wrote stuff like "I am working at level 5 because I do all my work in ICT. Hmmm, methinks I need to do some work on what level we are at and what we need to do to move on a level. Anyway, my form that I created is here if you want to have a look:

Student Assessment Form

Doing this got me thinking, wouldn't an IOS device be a great way of collecting data "in the field"? Teachers could set up a Google form that asks a series of questions that the students answer as they walk around. For example, a series of Maths challenges or problems could be set up around the school (measuring, answering questions, solving problems) and the answers could be recorded in a google form that can then be submitted. By the time the students arrive back at the classroom, the teacher can have all the students answers in the spreadsheet displayed on a whiteboard ready for discussion or for downloading (see previous posts for solutions) and further analysis. Students doing questionnaires for Product Design, Business or Food Tech could set up their own forms, then take an IOS device with them as they gather the data. Much better than the usual paper versions they do at the moment and no need to write up the results as this is already done by Google. Sorted!

You could then use your spreadsheet to generate a Bento Database and sync to Bento on your IOS device but that is for another post.

Edit: Just discovered you can actually set up forms on an IOS device, just log onto Google Docs as normal:

Scroll to the bottom of the page and click on Desktop:

Click on Continue to desktop version:

Then select create new and choose form, just like you would using a normal browser:

Brilliant, now you can set up forms on your IOS device, then take it out into the field to gather your data. Sweet! You can even view and edit your spreadsheet when you have finished.

If you want to get the sheet from Google docs to your iPad, click on download, select Excel and it will open in a new window. In the top left hand corner you get the option to open in Numbers. Now, who said you cant do any real work on an iPad?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Presentations without PowerPoint-QR Codes

As I mentioned previously, all we ever seem to do in ICT is teach Windows and Office and PowerPoint features rather heavily in our curriculum. Last week our year 7’s had to do yet another presentation, this time on a festival or celebration so time to fire up PowerPoint right?

One of my groups is a special group, a mixture of behaviour and confidence problems, so I thought I would try something new. I decided that we would research our festival/celebration but instead of making a PowerPoint document, we would generate some QR codes and display these. Students could then either download a reader to their mobile phone (most have some sort of smartphone, can't afford pens and pencils but all have a decent phone) and scan them or use my iPhone (it's a small group).

Students researched the festival/celebration and found out what, when and why and found a website that explained more. They then went to www.qrstuff.com and generated the qr codes, downloaded them, put them in a document, made it look nice and then E-mailed it to me to print (students don't have access to printers on their Netbooks). These where then displayed, scanned and judged. An example is shown below (click on it to make it bigger if you want to scan):

One student didn't have his laptop (broken screen) so used my iPad to produce his document (the one shown above).

Much fun was had, students learnt about a bit of technology used in the real world and we didn't have to use PowerPoint. I call that a win.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thoughts on IOS 4.2 (and a solution for printing!)

IOS 4.2 officially became available from iTunes last night so I duly set about downloading the update. To be honest, it might have been quicker for me to code up my own OS, talk about slow, I suppose a good percentage of IOS users are in the USA and 7.00pm UK time is probably not a great time to access an update on a server in the USA! Ah well, we live and learn.

Still, up with the larks this morning (Mrs RNG gets up really early) and behold, 10 minutes or so later, we have IOS 4.2 installed and ready to go.

My initial thoughts where, well at least nothing is broken (there where reports on Macrumors and ZDnet last night about empty iPod folders) and it runs as quick as before (unlike IOS 4.0 that reduced my iPhone 3g to a crawl and nearly prompted me to get an Android phone) but it all looks familiar. Mail now has a unified inbox, just like the iPhone, which is excellent news, it has folders which is nice but the lack of these was never a deal breaker for me and it has multi tasking. Now, I was never that bothered about this not being a feature as (a) my iPhone hasn't got it (b) IOS apps quit and start pretty quickly anyway (c) most ICT experts make such a big play about lack of multi tasking and how superior platform have it that I decided to be awkward and say it didn't matter! Now, lack of multi tasking was never a big issue but now I have it, well, Apple have got a nice solution (I am reliably informed that is is in fact fast app switching), it is easy, work fast and speeds up workflow no end so to all the Android, Blackberry, Windows Mobile/Windows Phone 7 users who I previously argued the toss with, I truly apologise!
Safari now can search for text in a Webpage, which might be useful and it seems to render pages a little quicker and doesn't have to reload if you use the app switcher. I haven't got an Apple TV or an Airport express so can't comment on AirPlay.

So there we have it, IOS 4.2 is a useful upgrade, it is well executed and makes life nicer. It isn't earth shattering and it doesn't introduce any radical new features but it does improve the user experience. Most of my apps that I have tested work well and all support app switching/multitasking.

Oh, did I forget something? Oh yes, AirPrint. This allows you to print, over WiFi, to AirPrint enabled printers. Brilliant, I never really missed printing myself but in a school! Unfortunately, only certain printers work and of course, I don't have one. Enter Printopia, a $7.99 application from ecamm.com for the Mac that allows AirPrint enabled apps to see any shared printer on your network. It also allows printing to Dropbox as well so if my previous now to on WebDAV didn't work.....

Printing from pages using Printopia:

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find a similar solution for Windows. The nearest I can get is e-print I will continue to search but let me know if you find anything yourselves.

So there we are, a review of IOS 4.2 and print solution for Macs.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Use WebDAV with Dropbox (or other shares)

One of the things that really frustrated me at first was the clunky way you had to use iTunes to get files (such as Pages documents) on and off the iPad, having to put files into iTunes file sharing or drag them out was a very un-Apple like way of doing things. I don't use Mobile Me or iDisk so I had no easy way of sending files from my iPad to my computer or to the cloud.

This didn't last too long as I came across the brilliant Dropbox app for IOS devices. This lets you download files stored on Dropbox to supported apps on the IOS device (either from the app or using the website) as well as syncing Dropbox folders on multiple machines, and it's free! However, Dropbox doesn't support apps uploading to it. Then I discovered Habilis, this is a service that gives you an E-mail address linked to your Dropbox folder that allows you to e-mail files tomDropbox from apps that support E-mail sharing. This is good but still clunky and it can take a while for files to appear. Also, they go into a folder called From Habilis and you then have to move them to an appropriate folder using a "proper computer".

With the last update of iWork for iPad, Apple allowed these apps to send and receive from WebDAV. Brilliant, except that Dropbox doesn't support webDAV! Step forward years of playing with (and breaking) Linux and the wonders of the Internet. Behold, a way to set up your Dropbox folder on you Mac, PC or Linux box as webDAV share that can be accessed over your local WiFi network (or remotely if you are into port forwarding and DNS) by your IOS iWork apps. I shan't go into huge detail about how to set this up here as I have produced a PDF that you can view online that shows how to do this.

How to set up Dropbox with WebDAV

The basics are, you switch on websharing (Apache, included with Mac OS X), turn on the WebDAV modules in a config file, set up an alias to a folder you want to share (I used Dropbox but you should be able to set any folder you like), use terminal to create a password file, create a directory for the alias, set permissions and then set Apache to work with WebDAV.

It works really well and gives a level of usefulness to the iPad that Apple really should provide with Mobile Me or their huge data centre they are building. Below are some screen shots of it working on my iPad.

So there you have it, an elegant way of transferring documents between your iPad and your computer. The advantage of Dropbox being that you can access said files anywhere you have Internet access via the Web or the Dropbox app.

Many thanks to the two sites below which I used to gain information to write this how to:

The Cheep Geek

Manas Tungare

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, November 22, 2010

Producing a Podcast on an iPad

Today's task was to produce a podcast using apps on the iPad. This was partly inspired by our year 7's who have been using their Netbooks and Audacity to record podcasts on e-safety.

A couple of years ago we took a decision to give all our new year 7 students Windows Netbooks. These are used by students to produce a variety of Office documents, search the Internet, and occasionally produce an audio recording or a movie. The scheme has been reasonably successful and certainly negates a lot of the problems associated with booking ICT suites and not having the necessary software or equipment to hand. However, the quality of the hardware leaves a lot to be desired ( I suppose it's what you expect for £250) and audio recording can be awful so I decided to see if I could achieve a similar task on the iPad.

My first task was to produce a piece of music to play over the top of the voice recording. This is partly to hide any background noise picked up by the microphone, partly to make it sound a bit more professional and "interesting" and mainly to disguise my awful Midlands accent! Anyway, the music bit was fun. I used an app called a Rebirth from Propellerhead software (makers of the superb Reason), this is a reconstruction of a couple of Roland TRB 303 synths and a 909 rhythm box and an 808 drum machine.

Half an hour of knob twiddling later and I had my backing track!

Now I had to get the track out of Rebirth (easy: you can export it and share it to a web site set up for Rebirth users and e-mail it to yourself) and get it into my multi track recorder (not so easy, I had to download the mp3 from the Rebirth site, then import it via a website into my next app!).

Once the backing track was sorted, it was time to open my next app, MultiTrack DAW.

This is another awesome app, it lets you do multi track recording using either an instrument adapter (like the iRig, which I will talk about in another post) or using the iPad's built in mic. I was using the built in mic on the iPad.

A quick read of my script (OK, 3 shaky takes as I ad-lib my podcast) and I'm ready. MultiTrack doesn't allow you to fade audio in or out so I played around with the volume of my backing track, then recorded my voice over the top on the track below. Did a quick bit of cropping and hey presto! A Podcast.
MultiTrack connects straight to Soundcloud (an offshoot of Dropbox), a site that allows you to upload and share music tracks so this is where my podcast was sent. I will see if I can work out a link later.

Ah ha, here we go! (Edit, had to cheat and do this on a Mac) oh, and it doesn't seem to work on an iPad! so try this link
Podcast.wav by Randomnoisegenerator
On reflection, its probably just as easy (hard?) to do this on a regular computer. The problem is, non of the audio apps link to the ipod app so music cannot be easily transferred between apps. Having said that, the iPad isn't really designed for tis sort of work so I suppose the fact you can do it at all is pretty good. As a tool for getting quick ideas jotted down (a quick riff in Rebirth, a quick recording in MultiTrack), the iPad is brilliant and ideas can always be finished off later on a "proper" computer.

-Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Blogging on an iPad

As I mentioned in my previous post, I intend to use my iPad to do as much of my work as possible and that includes setting up and producing this blog. I am using Blogspot for the blog as (a) its free and (b) I use Google Docs a lot so it made sense to stick with a Google service so I needed to find an app that would work with Blogspot. Step forward Blogpress, £1.79 from the app store, 2 minutes to set up and we're off!

Having set up a Blogspot account, chosen my blog name and layout (all done on the iPad), it was now time to make a graphic for my header. Firstly, I searched the Internet for the images I wanted to use in my header, these where saved to my Photos folder. Then I used the superb iDraw app to draw my text and combine it with the IOS device pictures to make my header graphic. This was then sent to my Photos.

Next, I used Photopad to crop the header to the size I wanted and again it was saved to photos. Next, I went into photos and e-mailed the header graphic to my Dropbox account using Habilis.

Now I cheated and used my Mac to access the header graphic from Dropbox and upload it to Blogspot to set as my header.

This particular post was created entirely on an iPad including the graphic showing the apps I used. I used a similar process to setting up the header except I didn't have to send the graphic to Dropbox as Blogpress can pick up pictures straight from the photos folder on the iPad.

So there we go, my first piece of blogging done completely on an iPad. Oh, didn't I tell you, you can't do any serious work on those things.....

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

What do I think of the iPad?

So, what do you think of the the iPad? Seems to be the most popular question at the moment, whenever I pull out the iPad, I get a that question, usually followed by "yeah, but you can't actually do anything with them can you?"

Anyway, let me introduced myself, I am a teacher in a large secondary school in Bristol, UK. I am trained as a Science teacher but now teach mainly ICT and I am fed up! I am fed up teaching students how to use Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office. There is nothing wrong with either of these two programs per say but it's all we ever teach. Look up information (using MS Explorer) and then produce a PowerPoint presentation or Word document. There has got to be more to ICT than this, surely? So I decided to buy an iPad and set up a blog to talk about all things iPad, education and IOS. It's probably fair to say now that if you don't like IOS devices, this blog is not for you.

So what do I think of the iPad? Well, actually, I am very impressed. I really do think Apple have created a new category of device here.
A lot of people criticise the device stating it can't do this or it can't do that but I think they are missing the point. This is not a PC (or Mac) but a new type of device and a new way of doing things. The iPad is designed for people who don't like technology, they just want it to work. They aren't bothered about file structure or changing the way the OS looks, they just want to access information, check e-mails and type up the odd document. To this end, the iPad works exceedingly well and is probably all most people need, these people are not power users, just people who need to use a computer for real life tasks.

Of course, the iPad is capable of much more and I shall be looking at how it can be used in an education environment in subsequent posts.

Oh, by the way, this blog is being produced almost entirely using an iPad.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad