Sunday, November 20, 2011

If only (part 2)..

Having lamented the decline of ICT in UK schools, I spent the rest of the afternoon bugging Mrs RNG who was preparing for an interview tomorrow. One of her tasks is to teach crumple zones and she wanted to have a nice, simple way to demonstrate this effect (yes, I know there is loads of stuff like this on the interwebs but time and resources where somewhat limited). After much head scratching, it was decided to drop an egg onto (a) a plastic tray and then (b) the same tray covered in cling film (to simulate a deforming crumple zone) and so it was. We headed into the grounds of Chateau RNG armed with a clue of eggs, a tray and some cling film.

The iOS bit

Yesterday I finally upgraded my beloved, reliable and well abused iPhone 3G to a spanking new iPhone 4S. My main justification for this was the ability to film and edit high quality video on the go so this seemed like a good time to prove if this was a good enough reason. Armed with said iPhone and a copy of iMovie, I set about filming and editing our little experiment and ten minutes later, the results where loaded to my You Tube channel. Sweet, you can see the results below:

Now, this got me thinking (oh oh, here we go)

What if

What if we allowed the students to use there own ICT in class? What if we actually encouraged them to use the same communication methods they use to arrange a mob to smash up a phone box* and then post the results up to You Tube? What if, rather than write up an experiment, they filmed it, recorded there spoken conclusion rather than wrote it down? They could post it up to You Tube/Soundcloud etc and then share the link with you, kind of like modern ICT usage, the so of stuff we adults do.

This reminded me of one of my lesson last week, we where doing a worksheet about volcanoes and I saw an iPod Touch out on a desk. I approached the student and had a look to see which lame social networking site they where on. Up on the screen was a Wikipedia page about igneous rock!

If only...

*phone box, a kind of kiosk that may or may not contain a working telephone. Originally designed as a way for people without home telephones to communicate with others on the phone network. Now mostly used as toilets.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

If only...

I'm back teaching Science this term and it's quite an eye opener having spent three years teaching Project Based Learning (PBL). PBL was very ICT intensive, all students in year 7 where given their own netbook and where expected to use it most session. Now obviously a lot of time could be wasted with games etc. but a well managed lesson was a joy to behold. How different it is in Science. Our idea of ICT is to show a PowerPoint presentation or the odd video and getting the data loggers out. Lessons have structure and timings and generally, the teacher is in control. I teach a couple of groups I had last year and It is interesting to watch how the students behave. Generally, there is less time for being off task and students like the structure and knowing what they have to do but they lose out on some of the skills they where using in PBL. This is most obvious when it comes to report writing time. At my school, we use Attitude's to Learning (AtL's) as part of the report. We have 4 R's, Resilience, Resourcefulness, Reflectiveness and Reciprocity (based on Guy Claxton's Building Learning Power). When teaching PBL it was fairly easy to assign grades for these as they where built into the projects with plenty of scope to demonstrate them. In Science, we set the work so Resourcefulness is less easy to grade as little opportunity is given for students to be resourceful. Ditto with Reflectiveness so my task this year is to work on how to integrate more student guided learning into Science thus giving students opportunity to demonstrate Resourcefulness and Reflectiveness.

Off course, this would be an easy task if we weren't subject to quite large budget cuts in education here in the UK. We no longer have the money to supply all students with their own netbook. All that work on our Learning Platform and uploading resources, setting projects that require ICT etc. all for nothing. It's even worse when I think of how well my year 8 groups can integrate the use of their laptops into Science lessons. They will happily sit with a worksheet in front of them and use the netbook to look up words or complex processes like the Rock Cycle to help them answer questions. They will research uses of rocks for a mini project (we are doing rocks and weathering and I set the question " why are rocks so special" to run alongside the work in class) and share their research with me on Google docs as if it's second nature.

So what a shame then that the UK government have decided that a good way to cut the deficit is to slash education spending and cut ICT from the core curriculum. What happened to education being important for not only the individual but also the country?

Education, if only...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Virgin Superfast Broadband!

Apologies, I haven't been able to post for a while due to my moving house. For non-UK readers, this is a lengthy ordeal that involves many months of paying people to sit around and do nothing whilst you tear your hair out and wonder why a solicitor will charge you £75 for two phone calls you had to make.

Anyway, I have moved, 5 miles outside of the 5th largest city in the UK. This is relevant as for the last 8 years, I have enjoyed high speed Internet access via fibre optic cable. Well, those days have now ended. Even though I can see Bristol city centre from my house, I am stuck on Virgin Superfast Broadband (VSB) no cable out here in the sticks.

So, I moved and as requested, my VSB kit was waiting for me in my new house. I followed the instructions (basically, plug in a splitter on your phone line, plug half of the line into a combined ASDL modem/wireless access point and away you go. Indeed, away we did, it all worked swimmingly well for the first day or two. Two iPads, a MacBook Pro and an iMac sat nicely on the network, two Linux Netbooks where added and all was well, speed was down a little but this was to be expected. The fun started when I wanted to update a couple, of apps on on the iPad, I kept getting an error message saying the server timed out, strange. Then I ran software update on the iMac and got a similar error, hmmm. Then I started getting signal drop outs on all the machines, my network also had the speed and reliability of a message in a bottle, time for action, time to phone Virgin

Virgin where very accommodating and informed me, quite nicely but with a firm tone, that the problem lay with British Telecom (actual owners of the line). This was quite perceptive of Virgin given I hadn't yet told them what the problem was! Anyway, they where quite insistent so I phoned British Telecom (BT). They informed me that the line was state of the art (although they didn't say for which decade) and that the problem was most definitely with Virgin and not with them! A pattern now developed with each side playing one another off until I finally got fed up and decided there was only one way to solve the problem-Internet forums!

They long and short is:

1. To solve ASDL problems, find the socket that comes into your home,
2. Unscrew the faceplate and take it off to reveal a hidden phone socket.
3. Plug your equipment into this socket (it is the engineers test socket).
4. Wait a couple of days, it won't solve your problems but will p**s off your telecoms company who will send an engineer round and sort your line.
5. Take the supplied equipment (usually a combined Netgear job) and throw it in the bin.
6. Buy a proper ASDL modem and a proper Wireless Access Point.
7. Buy a proper splitter and cable.
8. Under no circumstances must you mention any operating system other than Windows* as doing so will severely delay any proper response to your problem.
9. Do not move to the country.

So, I bought a Netgear ASDL router (big up to PC World Cribbs Causeway who actually knew what they where talking about and gave me sale or return on the kit), plugged it into a new splitter and wire and connected it all up to my Airport Extreme and we now have a stable (ie. no dropping out) network and the line is a little faster too.

Anyway, I'm back up and running inn cyberspace and will post more soon, off to grab iOS 5 and have a play.

*when asked what computer I had, I stupidly said "an iPad". This was met with "ah, well there's your problem.." Regardless of the fact that my Win XP machine wouldn't play either (in fact worse really as its a Netbook with a rubbish wireless card), the official diagnosis was now "it's a Mac problem".

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A poll

using the fantastic polleverywhere:

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Another day, another video!

OK, got the bit between my teeth now, so another video is produced! As I explained yesterday, I purchased a new point and shoot camera last week (the superb Fuji AV 180, plug it again as I'm really impressed by this camera) now obviously, as I had a new toy, so Mrs RNG must have a new toy also (she bought a Canon SX220, substantially more expensive than my Fuji) to complement her SLR and digital SLR. So, this afternoon, armed with new cameras, we set of for the local beauty spot known as Chew Valley Lake. It really was a gorgeous afternoon here in the South West of England and nature was in full swing making the most of what will probably turn out to be The summer.

Photos and videos where taken, on return to Chateaux RNG, the Fuji AV 180 was plugged straight into the iPad via the camera connection kit, photos and videos downloaded to iPad ready for viewing. One neat trick the Fuji has is the ability to take a 3 shot panorama, it's a bit of a novelty but quite nice and I used this feature to take the opening photo on the first frame in the slideshow (the panorama of the lake).

I made the opening title in iDraw (using the aforementioned panorama) and saved this to photos, them loaded it into PhotoPad to crop it to size and then saved it back to photos.

Once everything was ready, I opened up ReelDirector and began loading in my photos and videos to make the slideshow below. A few pan and zoom effects, altered timings (the default is 4s), closing credits and a soundtrack (apologies for the music, don't have a large selection on the iPad) and we are ready to go. OK, ReelDirector crashed (a sort of half crash, it closes but is still in the app switcher and when you tap it and open up your project, it is saved to the point it crashed. Weird) a few times along the way but no big deal. Video rendered whilst I cooked tea (it does take long time) and then uploaded to YouTube before being embedded into this post.

As I said in a previous post, I'm not the most creative person but I am loving the way the iPad encourages you to do things you wouldn't normally do. It doesn't do anything you couldn't do on a "proper" computer but it does it such a way that it feels way easier. I use Movie Maker a lot at school but it's no where near as nice to use as ReelDirector on the iPad (crashing and all). Throw in the Camera Connection kit/cheap Fuji camera combo with no stupid wizards trying to help and the whole experience is a pleasure. One that can be enjoyed whilst semi-reclining on the sofa watching antiques roadshow (sorry, I'm not even going to try to explain that one to non-UK residents. Just chalk it up as an "English thing").

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, April 16, 2011

iPad does video

I've always fancied producing videos, in fact, the only thing that has really held me back is the lack of ability in creating said media. Now, at school we use Windows Movie Maker a lot for producing videos, or more accurately, slideshows with music, and to be honest, it doesn't do a bad job. However, I have always thought that the iPad would be an ideal tool for making videos, the interface lends itself well to moving things around on screen (like moving clips along a timeline) and the screen is ideal for viewing finished videos. Alas, I have an iPad 1 and it doesn't have any cameras. Also, as we all know, iPad is only good for consumption of media, not for creation.

I had a meeting with a colleague last week who is also looking to use iPads in an educational setting and was a little concerned that all the advice they had been given indicated that iPads where only of use for consumption and that they couldn't be used for any kind of productivity. Luckily, they had read my blog and weren't convinced that the iPad was totally useless. This got me thinking, I wonder if I could create a video on an iPad?

Earlier in the week I bought a new digital camera and a camera connection kit. I had been meaning to do this for a while, I wanted a cheap, point and shot camera that I could carry in my pocket, just in case. Handily, Jessops (a UK camera shop) had a rather nice Fuji AV 180 for sale for £49 so one was purchased. All I needed now was something to photograph/film and an app. The subject was easy enough, Saturday was the day of the Italian Car Show in the centre of Bristol. A little reading around on the Internet saw me purchase Reel Director (£1.49) and we where ready to go.

Photo's where taken, video shot, camera connection kit plugged in, media uploaded and video production commenced. I won't bore you with the details but the finished article was uploaded to YouTube (direct from the app) and the results can be seen below:

OK, not the greatest video but it does give you an idea of what you can produce. Reel Director certainly gives Movie Maker a good run for the money. It might not be as fully featured (although it's not far off) but what it lacks in features, it makes up for in ease of use. It is a little flaky and prone to crashing (just like MM!) but unlike Movie Maker, if it does crash, you don't lose all your work. Rendering can take a while but it will render in the background.

Most of this is academic as if you have an iPad 2, you can purchase iMovie however it is useful to know that the camera connection kit works well and that movies for digital camera's can be loaded onto the iPad (into the Photo's app) and accessed by other apps such as Reel Director. Reel Director is easy to use, allows for titles, transitions, text, and pan and zoom effects as well as trimming and cropping video. It will export to the camera roll or upload straight up to YouTube.

All in all, iPad and Reel Director make a very usable combination and prove once again that iPad is so much more than just a media consumption device. If only Apple had fitted a Floppy Disc Drive!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, April 15, 2011

Testing animoto

Just been checking out the Animoto app, it's free and it makes slide shows.
Gospel Pass Audax (Edited)

Edit: apologies if you've been to this post looking for information on the Animoto app, I threw this post together on Friday and never got around to finishing it off so a few words about Animoto:

Firstly, it's a free app for iPhone/iPod Touch.

It allows you to select up to 16 photos and a piece of music (provided by the app, you can't use your own music) and it will make a slideshow for you.

You can then share your Animoto shows online (via a URL as above, Animoto e-mail you the link when you upload), via Twitter, FaceBook or e-mail.

There is a free web service Animoto that allows you to do similar, but more featured, shows online.

The app doesn't load up your shows to your online account, which is a shame as it does download shows from your online account.

It's free and it's quite a nice app and the online service is really good.

You are limited to 30 second shows in the free app/account

The photo's where taken on my iPhone on this years Gospel Pass 150 km Audax.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, April 11, 2011

iPad Handwriting Recognition

Not quite sure how the idea popped into my head but it did. One minute I'm watching one of those dreadful video game to film adaptations, the next I'm searching for handwriting recognition for iOS on Google. Anyway, I'm glad I did as I came across a superb little app called WritePad.

On the face of it, the app is very simple, you write on the screen and it converts your handwriting into typed text, simple.

However, delve a little deeper and you find a much more useful app than that of a simple writing to text convertor. Tap and hold and you can either select text (you tap select, then tap and drag to actually select the text you want) or tap select all to, well, select all. You can then copy and past the text into another app such as Pages. Nice, but it gets better. Tap the share button and you can print, save to PDF, share on Twitter, Facebook or by WiFi or send your converted handwriting text to an e-mail

Sending to and Email will open up an Email window with your text in the body

Brilliant if your taking notes in a meeting and want to say Email out minutes.

Now, at £5.99, this app may seem a little expensive but if you, like myself, spend a lot of time in meetings, it will soon pay for itself in time saved.

There are a lot of negative reviews on the app store but please ignore them, the reviewers either have dreadful handwriting (and it must be as it easily recognised my scrawl) or are frustrated Windows 7 tablet users! It is a good app, it does take a second or so to convert your writing but it is accurate and reasonably quick. Those of you who owned a Palm may well find some of the gestures familiar as they are the old graffiti gestures.

All in all, a great app that complements the iPad Touch interface really well, especially if you use a stylus (another big plug for the Boxwave stylus here).

Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention, it saves/syncs directly to DropBox, what more could you want?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Control your Mac from an iPad

Oh, very interesting, a screenshot of a Word Document running on Mac OS X. Except of course, it isn't, this is an iOS blog and a boring old Word Document wouldn't cut it with my high production standards! What you see here is a Word Document, running on iOS, being edited on an iPad. If that looks interesting, then read on.

Sometimes, I just want to do a quick bit of editing on a document that lives on my iMac, or I want to edit a document but don't want to mess around transferring files and losing formatting (as sometimes happens with Word to Pages and back again) or I what to view a site that uses Flash or Silverlight or some other web "standard" not supported by iOS.

I looked around at various Virtual Network Clients (VNC,s) such as Log Me In Ignition, Back to My PC and NTR Connect but wasn't too impressed. They seemed slow and a bit unpredictable. A chance miss-typing into YouTube brought me into contact with iTap, a superb VNC for iOS devices. It allows you to connect over the same network or, possibly (with a bit of network magic and port forwarding) over a remote network to yourMac (or PC using the Windows version) and control the machine straight from your iOS device. Obviously, the the iPad is the device of choice here due to the larger screen.

The makers of iTap have thought long and hard about using a touch screen device, there is no mouse cursor, instead, you tap and zoom to where you wish to go on screen, then double tap to execute the command.

A swipe left brings up the keyboard which is a full keyboard, including useful additions like the arrow navigation keys.

Pinch to zoom, portrait or landscape via rotating the device, right swipe to bring up the log-in screen.

A great little app, it costs £6.99 but is well worth it if you regularly want to connect to a desktop machine without leaving the comfort of your sofa. More information can be found at iTap mobile! They also do Android apps as well.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, March 13, 2011

GarageBand Rocks!

It's Been a good week for all things iPad this week, iPad 2 released, iOS 4.3 released, my Boxwave stylus arrived and Apple finally released GarageBand for the iPad.

The Boxwave stylus lived up to expectations, it make using Notes + and my various drawing program even better. It is way more accurate than my previous, generic PC World stylus (and that was pretty good) and really shows of the quality drawing software available for iPad (especially Sketchbook Pro).

iOS 4.3 update seemed to go quite smoothly, Safari seems a bit quicker otherwise I can't really tell much difference to be honest.

Still haven't had my hands on an iPad 2 but I did buy GarageBand on Thursday night.

I haven't really played with it that much a I had a gig Thursday, then a day in London on Saturday that ended up with me buying a new guitar (a rather nice Tokai Rickenbacker 4003 copy if your interested, lovely guitar plays and sounds superb) so that kind of took up most of my time this weekend. However, I can report that initial thoughts are that GarageBand rocks big style. The smart instruments are brilliant, sounds are well though out and pretty authentic and a song can be put together really quickly. A nice touch is that you can record a part using a smart instrument, then record over the top to build up complex parts (like drum tracks) bit by bit. The track editor doesn't allow MIDI editing which is a bit of a pain but otherwise, especially given the £2.99 price tag, it really is good and shows of Apple software it's best.

If you work in a school and want to teach music, or have an iPad yourself and want to make music or just want to see why iPad is so good, buy GarageBand. Yu won't be disappointed.

Will try to post a couple of songs for you to laugh at later in the week.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

2Screens-Peace and Harmony in the Universe Restored!

One of the most infuriating aspects of using an iPad in the classroom has been it's resolute refusal to mirror out to a projector anything other than Keynote. I bought the Apple VGA connector a while back and use it a lot as it saves waiting several minutes (or more depending on the room I am in) for the school computers to log me in and get up and running. Two minutes might not seem a long time but we have short (50 min) sessions and getting kids settled is best done at the start of a lesson. iPad allows me to get straight in and show any slides etc. Lately, the network has been painfully slow and by the time the dreaded Internet Explorer has spluttered into life, most of us have given up. Shame iPad can't mirror out what Safari is showing.

Today I was running a session on Web 2.0 for ICT subject leaders at our local CLC
and then going on to talk about and let loose a range of iOS devices, pity I couldn't use my iPad for the quick (honest) presentation and then use it to show Google Docs (was looking at how to do APP in the classroom using a Google Form-will post later on this) but of course, iPad can't mirror out anything other than video and Safari.

Well, to cut a long story short, I did a bit of research and found an app called 2screens. It allows you to mirror not only presentations (which it imports as a sort of PDF rather than a proper Keynote or PowerPoint, so no animations or the like) but it also has a built-in browser that will mirrror out to a projector, brilliant! It also has an annotation tool built in and it links to Dropbox so you can import files straight into 2screens (it stores your presentations etc locally in the app, even if they've come from Dropbox), just what I was looking for.

To be honest, it was £2.99 so I wasn't expecting much but wow! Used it today and I was really impressed. OK, you don't get animations or transitions in your slides (probably not a bad thing really, come on, be honest) but it allows you to quickly swap between presentation and web using a tab metaphor and is really slick. Below are some screen shots I took as was using it:

Here is the first slide of my presentation

Now I switch to the web

Finally, I'm using the built in browser to edit a Google Doc

The moral here is this, people will bemoan the fact that iPad lacks certain hardware (SD card slot, USB, camera's, a 51/2 inch floppy drive and a parallel port so you connect up your daisy wheel printer) or that the software is gimped so you cant do stuff but hear this. Most folk don't want to mirror out Safari to a projector, cutting that function drops the price, if you want to do it, pay £2.99 and add the function. It's not about specs, speed, widgets or the like, the Motorola Xoom may have every port know to mankind, be fully customizable, have widgets and more cameras than the M4 (for non UK viewers, thats a motorway in the UK infamous for the number of speed cameras along its length) but if Android cannot deliver price (which it currently can't (Hint-lose the ports, say a few pounds, drop the price), usability (still not convinced its as good as iOS but limited experience) or apps, then it wont topple the iPad as the number one tablet. Same reasoning goes for Win 7/Win8/Win phone 7 tablets and Web OS tablets.

Anyway, I am very happy and peace and harmony are restored once more!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The School of the Future!

Back to ranting I'm afraid, had a bit of a bad week ICT wise and need to let off some steam. As I mentioned in an earlier post, my school (in fact, my Federation of schools) is looking to replace its ICT system. Now, with the rise of the cloud, the cheapness and availability of mobile devices, the steady decline of MicroSoft and the inevitable rise of Apple and Open Source (read Linux) via Android, you would think this would be a no-brainer and indeed it is. We are going for a Windows 7 network! What? Apparently, core ICT (that which is taught in the classroom) need certain programs (MS Office) otherwise they cannot do their job properly (please insert your own snarky comment here). Also, ICT support think that this is the best solution (ie they are too lazy/stupid to learn another system or fear they may lose their jobs when we get a modern system that people understand and just works). So, here in 2011, in a school originally built under the Building Schools for the Future program (BSF,more on that later), we are about to install a 25 year old, intrusive, limiting ICT system just so we can teach typing and keep a few know-nothing MSCE qualified dorks in a job. Way to go. As a result of this, our highly successful 1:1 Netbook program in year 7 and 8 is likely to come to a halt (money being spent on 25 year old operating system and equipment) which also means that our Project Based Learning curriculum in year 7 and 8 will also come to a halt. Brilliant, a decision by a team of people who don't understand real ICT, swayed by a company desperately trying to get rid of old technology ruins 5 years of hard work.

Now, my school was completely rebuilt a few years ago under the BSF program. It really was impressive when it opened and seeing the kids faces as they entered for the first time is a vision that will stay with me for a long time. Almost as long as the look they had when they saw the ICT provision. Huge monolithic Dell computers with 20 or so wires hanging out the back and trailing along the ground to floor boxes in the middle of the room.
No cameras, no video cameras, no music recording software, just MS Office and some crappy old "educational" programs. So much for the future. There was some light shining on a gloomy reality though, we had Exchange e-mail. No more logging onto a clunky client to check e-mail, we could do it online or via push notifications. We could sync our calendars, and send invitations to meetings and find people in the address book (especially if you had iPhone/iPod Touch or later, Android devices), I was never more organised. This week I learned we are losing our e-mail system and will more than likely go with a system designed for schools (ie. They couldn't sell it to industry as it is rubbish) that will likely require a client (Windows only?) and won't do push notifications.

Towards the end of the week I was in another school working with a colleague who is successfully using Google Docs to deliver screen casts and worksheets to pupils. We where sitting in a shared office and I mentioned saving worksheets as PDF's so that students could view them on their phones (certain Google domains being blocked by the school due to their unsuitability) and was greeted with a chorus of "we don't allow phones in school". OK, fair enough, except that I had counted at least 20 kids lined up outside with phones (this is an inner city school, kids don't leave home without at least 1phone). I was also informed, when tried to show a webpage on my iPad, that the school wireless network was turned off (in case the kids worked out how to get onto it!) and another colleague chimed in that PDF was inappropriate as kids wouldn't know what they where and I/We should stick to using PowerPoint.

Building Schools for the Future, please excuse me whilst I step outside and shoot myself.

Edit I am not a Windows hater, to be honest, would be just as upset if they where introducing a Mac or Linux network. Why? Because I think ICT is much more than document creation and storage. Mobile devices are the future, sure qe still need a few desktop or laptop machines but these shouldn't form the backbone of our system and neither should some sort of fixed, serve based network. Kids need to learn now to access information, assess its accuracy and reliability and communicate their own thoughts to others. This can be done via mobile devices and the cloud.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, February 18, 2011

iOS and photo's

Yesterday, my special year 7 group where making t-shirts with QR Codes printed on them. This was the cumulation of a project where they had been looking at what makes them unique and the idea was to generate a QR Code with a piece or pieces of their personality they would take to a new planet (slightly more exciting than the PowerPoint presentation they had to make last year). We started by reading a précis of Stephen Baxters novel Ark (well worth a read if you like Sci-Fi and global warming/disaster/interplanetary space travel), decided what qualities ann astronaut/coloniser would need, then decided which qualities we had that would be useful (it was pointed out that myself, as a geek, might be useful as I'm good with computers and "stuff"), wrote them down on the MiniBooks, checked the spelling, then copied and pasted into the QR Codes website and generated a code. This was sent to Technology who then printed iron-on transfers so by period 6, we could go and make our t-shirts.
As you can imagine, excitement was high. The only problem was, how to get photo's?
As you are probably aware, there are strict rules governing the purchase and use of ICT in schools. Microsoft don't make camera's as far as I know so rule 2b comes into force; any ICT procured for use must hinder teaching as much as possible. It must be hard to use, out of date and intrusive. We do actually have some illegal cameras (nice Cannon A70’s or some such) but of course, no card readers, leads or functioning USB ports means it is difficult to get the pictures somewhere useful (the shared drive? Accessible by only the chosen few and only in school? Fronter (which periodically loses stuff)? flickr (blocked-category:useful or educational)?

I ended up using my iPhone. Not ideal as it is a 3G model, the quality of the camera is poor (so ideal for use in schools!), to be honest, I could have drawn a better picture however it was all I had. So, got pictures, now what to do? A while back I bought an app called iPicasso that allows you to load photo's straight of the iPhone to picassa which handily, is a Google service that isn't blocked in school. So, five minutes later, an album was made, uploaded and shared with the kids. Brilliant.

This kind of leads me into another thread about iOS devices (this is probably true of other mobile platforms too, I don't know as I haven't got an Android device yet) and their general handiness. Having got back tonight, I decided I wanted to crop some of the pictures and generally tart them up a bit, bought an app called Pic Transfer (59p), sent the pictures via Bluetooth to my iPad, used PhotoPad to crop etc, used iPicasso to upload to Picassa and voila! Used the iPad to get the embed code for the album and embedded it into this blog:
Base Camp t-shirts

Now I know I could have done all of this on a desktop PC/Mac/Linux box or laptop but the sheer portability of the devices meant I could have everything up and running by the time the class got back to our usual room. Ignore the fact that this blog is about iOS devices, if mobile devices can do this sort of thing, the power they have is huge, whatever the OS they run. The desktop/laptop dominance of ICT really is over.

As an aside, we had about 10 minutes of the lesson left and excitement was still high but contained as the class watched the slide show on the projector screen whilst we cleared up the room.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, February 13, 2011

More iOS WebDAV-Using iPads with RM Easylink

As I have probably mentioned, part of my teaching role involves working with the Local Education Authority (LEA) one day per week. This usually takes the form of me working with teachers or departments on the implementation of ICT systems such as our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), Fronter. However, recently I have been working with one of our local City Learning Centres (CLC) looking at how we could use iOS devices in education. One of the more challenging aspects of using said devices is getting files off them and onto then school network. I have posted a couple of solutions previously, mostly using Dropbox and WebDAV and a colleague of mine at then CLC has been experimenting and I thought I would post his results.

As a way of introduction (especially for non UK readers), RM are a company that provide ICT solutions to a number of UK schools. Part of the package is a system called Easylink that allows users to access ann area on the network for storing and retrieving files (a file share I suppose). Anyway, I have it on good authority that RM Easylink suppose WebDAV and my colleague has managed to work out a simple way of setting up RM Easylink with iPads/iPod Touches. The document he created is below:

As I said, it is not my work, all credit goes to Andy Menzies at the CLC, if you have any questions or queries, please post a comment and I will relay them on and get back to you.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The iPad sucks!

Ask an expert and they will tell you, the iPad sucks. They a only any good for media consumption, You can only do what Apple allow and it doesn't do Flash. All in all, it is a severely gimped toy, an expensive one to boot. So, I've had my iPad now for about 8 months now and with the release of iPad 2 imminent, I thought I would have a go at tackling some of the more ridiculous criticisms of the device.

1. IOS is no good for production of content

Well, if this blog doesn't count as production of content, or indeed any of the files embedded in it, then yes, IOS is no good for content production. There are no decent productivity apps for IOS, Pages, Keynote, Numbers, Blogpress, iDraw, Notes +, Sketchbook Pro, iThoughts and a multitude of music apps are all figments of a deranged fanboy imagination!

The iPad is a superb productivity device, it is my personal choice for production of documents. Pages is possibly the greatest app ever, the touch screen, multi touch gestures and slick programming make Word processing a joy. Honestly, I love using the iWork apps, I also love all the other apps I have used both in the production of this blog and other work I have done for school and home. I will admit, the iPad cannot do everything (complex spreadsheets instantly spring to mind) but what it cannot do is minor compared to what it can do. I am gutted if I cannot use the iPad and have to resort to a "proper" computer.

Edit: just put together a flyer for our next gig using PhotoPad and iDraw on the iPad. Sent straight to Dropbox via the Dropbox app and also as a PDF via Pages and dropdav. Took me about half an hour, started with a colour photo, converted it to greyscale and adjusted levels in PhotoPad, exported to Photos, imported into iDraw, added text. Converted text to paths, adjusted lime and fill, lined everything up and voila!

2. It's an expensive content consumption device

And so is a television, only the iPad can do more than a television, is portable and costs less (ok, last one is a bit tenuous as TV,s range in price and are getting cheaper all the time but you get the idea). Also, as pointed out above, you can produce content on an iPad, just look at the 1000’s of apps, a great deal are for production of documents, music, artwork etc. About 90% of this blog content is produced on an iPad. Also, the iPad isn't expensive, other computers may be cheaper but that doesn't make the iPad expensive! Try driving an Italian car, then you know what expensive is.

3. There is no file structure

Yes there is, it's called Dropbox, it's free and it absolutely rocks. Get a Dropbox account, get the free app, read my how-to's for setting up WebDAV (or read other peoples how to's) and you have files wherever you have an Internet connection. The nice thing about this is the average user needs to know nothing about file structure or saving files. If there was a file structure, users would lose files, period. I know this because I teach school children who just press the save icon (even though I have told them and showed them a million times how to correctly save files, use folders etc). IOS is fine the way it is, it is designed for average (not computer literate) users but has the ability (thanks to the developer community, a superb SDK and a way to seamlessly deliver apps) to be customised to work the way you want it.

4. iPad will get completely owned by Android

Bring it on, I am a huge fan of Linux, I regularly use (and highly recommend) Ubuntu Linux. I have used Mandriva, SUSE and Fedora on Netbooks and even wrote an Ubuntu based distro for use on our Netbooks at school (but we decided they would run too quickly and might be useful so we went with Windows XP!) so if Android (which is based on Ubuntu) can offer the same slick user experience, range of apps and reliability of IOS, then that is a good thing. I'm not sure Android is quite there yet but then I haven't tried Honeycomb so really can't comment. Just remember, IOS is not about specs, it's not necessarily about features either. It is about a slick, easy to use interface and Apps. This is what Android has to compete against.

5. It will only do what Apple allows

Well, yes. But is this such a bad thing? You can only get Apps from the App store and only ones that Apple has approved but then you get quality (iFart apps aside!), code is checked and you generally don't get the dodgy code, malware, and general misbehaviour of stuff downloaded straight from the Internet. Because you need to use iTunes, you always have a backup of your IOS device (come on, be honest. How many of you have lost a hard drive and never bothered to back up your files, let alone the entire operating system?). This is vital to non ICT savvy users, the experience is slick, loading Apps is seamless and, as long as you have synced, you always have a restore point. Apple also provide an easy to use developer kit so writing Apps is pretty straightforward, anyone can develop Apps and the channel for distribution is also there. As a result, there are some really superb Apps available for IOS, it is Apps that have driven the platform. Want do something Apple doesn't provide (like printing or wireless file transfer)? There's an App for that. Apps are cheap, plentiful, safe to use and allow you to customise your use of the device whilst Apple maintain quality control and a good user experience. Personally, I would rather work like this than have a device I am constantly having to maintain due to broken permissions, orphaned files and the like. Anyway, you can always Jailbreak the device, it's not like Apple put a lot of energy into stopping you.

6. Windows 7 tablets are coming

Shut up! We've had Windows XP tablets for 10 years, hardly anyone bought them, they where an awful device, slow, buggy and not really touch screen devices. They where also expensive. I use an ASUS Eee Touch desktop every Friday and the first thing I do is plug in a mouse and keyboard. It creaks along on an Atom processor and the touch screen is appalling. I hate the device, it is a bad Windows machine (slow processor) and a really bad touch screen device. If Microsoft really want to get into the Tablet market, they need a proper touch interface (Windows Phone 7?) and proper touch enabled Apps. Word etc where designed for a mouse and keyboard, Apple might restrict the device but what it does it does very well.

7. I can't connect it to my work network

Actually, you probably can, its just some clown in the basement doesn't want you to connect it to the network, lest you see how easy it actually is and then we realise they have been telling porkies* about how difficult stuff is. IOS does Exchange out of the box, it does it really well so if you use Exchange as your e-mail server, you should be OK, go online and find put how to do it. As for Wireless, you will probably find that that too can be done but they just don't want to do it. Also, you may well find (especially in schools) that any sites you want to visit are blocked for "security" reasons. In my local authority, most Google services are blocked as are any sites that mention games, so when we want to look at games reviews in Product Design...

8. It doesn't have a camera

And neither did most computers until a few years ago, back then we had to buy a decent camera, use it to take photos and then load them up to a computer to edit. Funnily enough, you can do this with an iPad. I don't know about you but I don't want a rubbish, fixed focus lens camera thrown in to the device just to add another feature. Also, the iPad is completely the wrong size and shape to take photographs or shoot video (we use the webcams on our Netbooks to shoot video and they suck big style!). No thanks, i'll continue to use my decent camera and load up the photos using the camera connection kit or, i'll shoot photos/video with my iPhone and then use the said camera connection kit or one of the many Apps that allow iPhone to iPad photo/video transfer.

9. It doesn't do Flash

True. This may be a deal breaker and it may not. I spent a large part of my life trying to get people to use Flash to produce interactive content and I hate it. Flash has had its day. It can be a pain as a lot of online content production such as Prezi, Zoho Office, Voki etc are all Flash based. There are ways around this, Skyfire allows you to watch Flash videos and Always on PC gives you a full desktop OS (Fedora) online. The App costs £14.99 and I haven't tried it out yet but as well as giving you full Open Office and GIMP online, it also gives you Firefox so you can view Flash content if you desire. I assume other thin clients like Citrix do a similar job.

I have probably missed off a couple of excuses but I think this gives a reasonable response to some of the criticisms of the iPad and IOS. As I have said elsewhere in this blog (see reasons why the iPad rocks #3-it annoys IT departments), the iPad isn't fully understood by some ICT types. Those stuck in the world of desktop OS's and registry problems often don't understand the need for simplicity, a bit like a teacher doesn't understand when a child cannot get how to solve equations. More worrying, some ICT types feel threatened by devices like the iPad. They give power to the users and they feel threatened hence all the FUD about iPads etc.

To those new to this blog, I say this. Try an iPad, think carefully what you want to do with it and read around to see if you accomplish your tasks. It might not be for you but please, take advice, especially criticism, and treat with caution. A lot of people don't understand the device but a lot more cannot stand to be wrong!

Rant over.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Send files from an iPad to Dropbox

One of the most common requests/questions on internet forums seems to be "How do I send files directly to Dropbox from my iPad?" to which the answer is either (a) you can't or (b) only if the app directly supports uploading to Dropbox. For iWork users such as myself, this is a real pain, you either have to tether the iPad to a Mac/PC and use iTunes sharing or use one of the work arounds like I have previously mentioned (see my post on setting up Dropbox as WebDAV or how to get files onto my Mac for more information). Now in the last update of IOS/iWork, Apple very kindly added support for WebDAV. Unfortunately, Dropbox doesn't directly give you WebDAV access so until now, if we wanted to send files directly to Dropbox using this protocol, we had to set up a share and where really restricted to being on the same network (unless you are happy to implement port forwarding). I say up until now as last night I discover dropdav. This is a website that offers to work as a WebDAV server for you and route files straight through to Dropbox and, because it's web based, you can use it from anywhere (of course, I work in a school so I have no doubt this site will be blocked for "security" reasons!

Below is a PDF that shows you step by step how to connect and send a file straight to Dropbox.

This really is a neat service, I shall be testing it out over the next few weeks and let you know how reliable it is.

Also, a colleague of mine has managed to get WebDAV/Dropbox connection working using RM Easy Link (a system provided by a large UK school ICT provider) so hopefully I shall be able to post a how to on that quite soon as well.

Needless to say, another argument about closed systems, walled garden and Apple being the evil empire who strictly control what you can do and how you do it is dashed thanks to Apple implementing Open Standards. Now, if only they would allow music apps to save properly to the iPod app rather than just iTunes sharing!

Hope you find this useful.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, January 30, 2011

How can I get files onto my Mac?

I was having a conversation with a colleague on Friday who is keen to use iPads and or iPod Touches in class and has some excellent ideas for creating content but was concerned over the process for getting files off the IOS devices and onto a Computer. Of course, they could just sync the IOS devices with iTunes on a Mac or PC in the classroom but there are a couple of problems with this:

1. Each IOS device needs to set up to sync with the computer and you then can't change the computer you sync to (not easily anyway) without wiping the IOS device.

2. It may take some time to sync 15 or so devices and children get impatient.

The upshot of this is that I said I would look into this problem. Now I posted a while back about setting up Dropbox as a WebDAV folder on a Mac and this is one option. However, whilst I was setting up a new Mac with shared printing, I came across a feature in the Mac application Printopiathat I haven't noticed before (see post on printing from an iPad for details of Printopia). Printopia lets you print directly to either Dropbox (Printopia puts a folder into Dropbox) or to a Printopia folder on the Mac (if your not using Dropbox), the tutorial below shows you how to print a document to the Printopia folder within Dropbox. This folder can/could be made public so students and or teachers can access it and download files saved to it. I have only looked at doing this on a Mac so far, obviously you will need a Mac in your classroom/project box but if you like IOS devices, you probably like Macs as well and so have an excuse...

Using Printopia to send files to Dropbox:

Anyway, hope this is of use to someone.  why not leave a comment and let me know what you think of the site?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Handwritten notes, another reason to purchase an iPad?

As I mentioned in the last two posts, I purchased a cheap stylus at the weekend, mainly so I could explore the potential of drawing apps on the iPad. Whilst I was researching which stylus to buy, I happened across another blog post about an app called Notes Plus which was reduced in price for the day to 59p. Week, nothing ventured, nothing gained so I proceeded to purchase said app and had a quick play. I was reasonably impressed and though I would give it a proper work-out during the week as i has a couple of meeting coming up.

Notes Plus, the best handwritten notes app?

I'm not sure whether its the best hand-written note app or not as its the only one
I've used but I have to say, after a couple of days of using it, it really is a fantastic app. You can write using your finger or as I do, a stylus. The app doesn't convert your writing to text, it just saves your handwriting on screen. You can hold to zoom to bring up an enlarged writing surface and can then navigate right or down within the area. You can draw around text to highlight and then move or delete, you can draw shapes, lines. You can even record audio notes within a document. When you have finished, you get a choice to export to Photos (as a JPEG or PNG, not sure which) or iTunes as a PDF. The app also proclaims to have upload support for Google Docs, although I never got it to work and claims Dropbox support is coming soon.

An example of a note taken in a briefing on the new (UK) govt White Paper on education.

If you make lots of handwritten notes (like I do) and you don't want them converted to text but you also don't want to lose them, then Notes Plus is a superb app to add to your collection. I was sceptical at first, I had a couple of Palms and a Windows Mobile phone and loved the handwriting recognition but didn't think I would like writing on the iPad (too big) and didn't think I would want a load of handwritten notes clogging up to storage but I was wrong. I have used in a all my meeting this week and I think I would be lost without it now. This app is very versatile and turns the iPad into a very capable note pad and is really useful for jotting down ideas, planning and general note taking. It is also very slick and is a great example of what an IOS app should be like and why IOS still leads the way in user experience.

Bottom line? Buy it, you will not be disappointed.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, January 10, 2011

More about drawing on an iPad

So, after my last post, I was inspired to have a go at a bit more drawing on the iPad. A couple of years ago Mrs RNG bought a load of those "how to draw....." books from the ALDI (cheap supermarket found all over Europe) to take on holiday. If you have seen such books, you will know they start off with a grid, then add simple shapes such as squares or circles, then you add detail and then colour and shading. Anyway, I thought they might make a good starting point for an exemplar on how to draw using an iPad.

Another fine RNG drawing courtesy of iPad and SketchBook Pro!

I used iDraw to make a grid (iDraw has a graph paper background and you can specify to 1mm size and position of objects) and then saved this to the Photo's app. I then opened up SketchBook Pro and made a new layer from Photo and used the grid I had just made.
Next, I created a new layer and followed the example in the book and drew my starting shapes. Then I made another layer, drew the next shapes and then merged the layers and carried on following the instructions in then book. About 40 minutes later, I had produced the fine drawing you can see above.

Anyway, this got me thinking, what if we had iPads in school (or, what if I used the iPads that our local CLC has just bought) and produced some iPad specific drawing tutorials based on the "how to draw cars" book that I used to copy the above drawing? We/I could make the grids and possibly a basic outline as the bottom layer to get students started (or for differentiation) and then give them a printed worksheet with instruction on how to draw whatever. Brilliant idea, so that is what I did. As I drew the lorry above, I took screen shots and produced a worksheet/how to sheet/tutorial thingy which you see below.
Let me know what you think.

Oh, and for those of you who still here the old "you cannot produce documents on an iPad", or words to that effect.  The worksheet/tutorial document was made in Pages on an iPad!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Reasons why the iPad rocks- #5 Drawing

When I first purchased my iPad, I kind of had half an eye on using it for drawing/simple graphics work (it is worth mentioning at this point that I am not a graphic designer, my talent for design is even less than my talent for music!) and so I purchased a few drawing programs (both vector and bitmap programs) and I have spoken in previous posts about iDraw and what a fantastic program I think it is. However, I never really got the hang of freehand drawing on the iPad, maybe it's just me but there is something unnatural about using your finger to draw with.

Anyway, I initially purchased an app called SketchBook Pro but never really got around to doing much with it. Now, at the weekend, I purchased an app called Notes + which allows you to take hand written notes on the iPad (and it really is a fantastic app) however, writing with you finger is also a little unnatural so whilst in PC World on Saturday, I purchased a cheap stylus. What a revelation! Now I know Steve Jobs said something about if we include a stylus, we got it wrong but honestly, for drawing and handwriting you cant beat it.

Ok, so this post is supposed to be about drawing on an iPad so I will explain what I did. Firstly, I decided to try out the stylus on SketchBook Pro so I opened up the app and had a quick play. Then I decided it was time to actually draw something so that is what I did. As it happened, I came across a site that shows you how to draw various cartoon characters so I had a go at Sonic. The results you can see below:

As I said, I am no graphic artist but even so, I am quite pleased with the results, especially as I can't have spent longer than about an hour in total on the drawing.

SketchBook Pro has most of the tools you would expect in a bitmap freehand drawing program. It uses layers and you can merge these together to build up complex drawings and you can export finished work to the Photo's app. All in all I would really recommend iPad as a drawing tool, especially when combined with iDraw, SketchBook Pro and a capacitive screen stylus. What more can I say, for the price of a copy of Adobe CS3, you get a computer and all the apps you need! Another reason why the iPad is not an iToy!

PS: My recommendation for a stylus is the Boxwave stylus for iPad, these seem to be the ones that most people rate. I couldn't get one in the UK so bought a cheap (£10) one from PC World that works reasonably well. I pictured the Boxwave stylus but it isn't the one that I use! Hope that makes sense.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad