Beth Holland

Food for thought…

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iPad or Chromebook: 4 Questions To Ask Before Choosing – Reblogged from EdTechTeacher & Edudemic

For the past few days, I’ve been playing with a Chromebook. Though I have been an advocate of Google’s myriad web products since the beta-test Gmail account that I was invited to open over 10 years ago, I had not previously put my hands on one of these devices. I may be in love.

This may come as a shock since I have spent the past two years completely immersed in iPads. I love my iPad too, and my iPhone, and my mostly retired iPod Touch. However, as mobile devices go, I don’t see the need for a monogamous relationship.

With schools and districts across the country, there seems to be this preconception that a single relationship exists with regard to technology, and in particular, with regard to making a decision about mobile devices.

However, my colleagues at EdTechTeacher and I think that rather than asking which device should my school use, the more poignant question may be what do I want my students to do? or which tool will best support my students learning needs? In this push to pick a platform and enter into a committed relationship, teachers, administrators, and even school boards have focused on the single device instead of why do you want a mobile device in the first place?



More often than not, the answer is access. Students need access to the Internet for research, access to writing tools, access to digital creation tools. Maybe teachers need better assessment tools and want to integrate forms, student response systems, or electronic portfolios. A school could be making a fundamental curriculum shift towards the Flipped Classroom or more student centric learning. The district could embrace the 4Cs – communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity – of 21st Century Learning or the Common Core. All of these are great reasons for why, but they do not answer which one.

For right now, let’s focus on iPads and Chrome Books as they seem to be the leading contenders in the device debate. If I was still the Director of Academic Technology in a school, before making a decision, I would also ask…

What will best support my students learning?

ipads in classrooms

What do my students need in order to succeed at their own level? Would they benefit from text to speech or speech to text? Do they need accessibility features such as optical character recognition (OCR), voice over navigation, or the ability to use an adaptive device? Are my students early elementary and just learning to read, write, and type? Or advanced high school students who write lengthy essays and run math simulations?

iPads are completely accessible devices, natively supporting text-to-speech, voice-over navigation, speech-to-text (new iPad as well as some apps), and a host of other features. They can accept input from Braille keyboards, and the touch screen responds to a number of external devices for those who have challenges with fine motor skills. While there are a number of Chrome extensions to support diverse learners, the entire environment is not quite as customizable.

For early elementary students, iPad lets non readers instantly create – listen, watch, draw, record audio, take pictures, shoot video – all without needing to read. At the higher grades, when students are reading, writing, and collaborating in addition to creating, the device choice becomes more closely aligned to the learning needs of the individual student as well as the curriculum of the faculty. Will a trackpad and keyboard better support those learners rather than a touch screen? Maybe.

What do I want my students to do?


When we first started asking Why iPad, we lauded the ability to create, edit, and publish from a single device. We looked at how iPad empowered students as creators of their own learning through screencasting, digital storytelling, and eBook creation. However, iPads are not computers. They require a significant shift in thinking and approach in order to be leveraged successfully.

Chromebooks incorporate the best of the web and integrate seamlessly with Google Apps – a major advantage for Google Apps Schools. Students have complete access to their Drive accounts, a full browser, the ability to install additional apps such as Evernote or Skitch, and a standard keyboard. Much like iPad, Chromebook has the charm of “easy on/ easy off” and total mobility. Though it lacks the touch screen and dual camera functionality, the overall similarities to a traditional laptop can make for a smooth transition especially when the curriculum still relies heavily on traditional assessments such as papers, presentations, and spreadsheets.

Both devices offer tremendous capabilities, so my next question might be…

Where does my school/district want to go?

document learning in school

This is really the big picture question. Identify a strategic vision, and then choose the best device to help get there. Chris Dede, Timothy Wirth Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, uses vignettes when describing his vision of classrooms in the future. By telling a story, he creates a tangible image what he hopes to achieve.

Start with a pedagogical framework, create clear measures for assessment, identify specific learning objectives, and paint a clear picture such that the teachers – and consequently the students – can start to innovate in order to get there. In many ways, we can follow the principles of Understanding by Design (Wiggins & McTighe). Start with the outcome and then plan how to achieve it.

iPad or Chrome Book?

I started writing this article on my iPad in a Google Doc – how iPad has changed my writing process sits at the heart of another post. When I felt ready to start editing, I opened the Chromebook and signed in with my Google Account. Instantly, I accessed my Drive and continued to edit with the facility of the keyboard, trackpad, and keyboard shortcuts. From the Chrome browser, I logged into WordPress, uploaded images, and published this post.

What if we didn’t have to choose? What if we could have a polygamous relationship with mobile devices? I understand the realities of budgets, networks, and replacement cycles. But for a moment, imagine this: what if we could give every student an iPad – which is intended to be a single user device – and place carts of Chromebooks – which work seamlessly with multiple users – in strategic locations?

I wonder what the learning environment might resemble if students could consume and annotate custom content, create with an unlimited set of options, curate their work into a variety of portfolio formats, and then connect to other learners as well as to the work that they created….

I’ll be talking more about my love of iPads at the April 10-12 EdTechTeacher iPad Summit USA as well as during numerous iPad Workshops this summer in Atlanta, Boston, and Chicago. To address my new affair with Chrome Books, I’ll also be leading All Things Google as well as Building an Interactive or BYOD Classroom with Multiple Devices at Harvard in July.

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Don’t Be a Beta Max – re-blogged from Edudemic & EdTechTeacher

I wrote this post with my colleague, Shawn McCusker (@ShawnMcCusker), from Chicago. It first appeared on Edudemic and then was re-blogged at EdTechTeacher. So, here it is again – just in case you missed it there…

Are you a Beta-Max?

Now that we are all excited about integrating iPads into the classroom, what’s next? What are we all going to do in 18.. 24.. 36.. months when the next great device comes along? Are we all going to just start over? How do we, as educators, avoid being the next Beta-Max: that flash in the pan that couldn’t scale up and adjust to a rapidly changing market?

While Beta-Max may be gone, the idea behind it  – that people wanted to easily access videos and then store them to watch later –  lives on in every DVD player, and mobile device, that exists today. If you were someone who looked and saw the big picture idea of Beta as the sharing and storing of videos (or of information, images, video,  and data), you may not have been upset by its demise and would probably not be surprised by the popularity of today’s technologies that perform the same functions. Similarly, you would neither be shocked by the popularity of the Blue Ray format that delivers an ever higher quality product, nor by web sites such as YouTube or Vimeo.

However, the person who found comfort in the familiarity of the small cassettes and argued against VHS on principle, as well as out of loyalty, would have seen the demise of Beta-Max as a tragedy and their investment in it as a useless waste of time.

So how does this apply to education? If your 1:1 or technology program is simply the endorsement of a platform, then you might find yourself with the next Beta-Max. What real learning gains have been made with the chosen device? Would this learning be valuable if the chosen tool was retired and replaced by a new one tomorrow? Could you, your colleagues, and your students apply your big picture idea regardless of the technology platform? These question may guide you towards  getting to what is truly important.

“Don’t pilot a device… pilot a pedagogy!” – Anthony Salcito @AnthonySalcit0

Teaching with technology is about being able to clearly articulate well-defined learning objectives and to encourage students to leverage the best possible tools in order to communicate their thoughts, ideas, and understanding in complex and modern ways…..

At first glance, this statement may not sound like anything more than good solid pedagogy – and that’s the point. Too often, we talk about implementing a device, or piloting a program, rather than leveraging a new quiver of tools to create more dynamic, creative, exciting, and resource-rich learning environments for our students. The creativity with which students can now demonstrate their understanding as they strive to meet these objectives is what makes modern-day technology so exciting for education.

In fact, it is pretty safe to say that from the time that this was written, to the moment when it is read, several new creative outlets to demonstrate learning will appear. What will not change, however, is this need to direct students towards acquiring understanding as well as effectively expressing their comprehension. Without that endpoint in mind, no app, no program, no website and no device will improve learning. Without that learning objective in mind, and a clearly defined challenge before them, students will see technology as nothing more than the games that it offers them, rather than the learning opportunities that could present themselves through its use.

Beta-Max Prevention Strategies

Now what? As educators, how do we continue to stay on the cutting edge? How do we ensure that with all of the tools, and talk, we don’t lose sight of our big idea? Here are five strategies for preventing obsolete-ism.

  1. Embrace the fact that we are all life-long learners. Too often, adults forget to keep learning. Read books. Watch the news. Follow a few blogs. Do whatever it takes to continually discover new ideas. Edudemic, Edutopia, EdTechTeacher, Education Week, and Free Technology for Teachers are great starting points. From there, branch out and read the blogs of individual teachers: Kevin Jarrett, Suzy Brooks, Chris Harrow, Katrina Kennett, Keith Rispin, and Charity Preston to name a few.  The number of teachers problem solving and experimenting with technology is staggering.  Sharing in their experience can help you to grow.
  2. Expand your Personal Learning Community. Teachers get stuck in their classrooms, but there is an entire world of people online willing to collaborate. You may excel at problem solving, but the world of technology, and the corresponding shift to technology in the classroom, will present you with an overload of problems to solve.  You could probably accomplish this yourself if given enough time, but through collaboration, your class, your school, and your students can grow faster. After all, one of our greatest concerns as teachers is time – and how to manage it. A strong Personal Learning Community can weather the minor problems, share successes, and offer support to everyone.
  3. Failure is not an option… It’s a requirement! Embrace and share both your successes and your failures. While it is good to have a high standard at your school, adopting a new technology will also require you to share what does not work. If classroom teachers are afraid to share what goes wrong, the whole community could be repeating failures that may be avoided. In your discussions, in addition to talking about what goes well, and what you are proud of, make sure to also discuss what goes wrong. There are usually more lessons learned from failures than from successes.
  4. Don’t be afraid to play! According to Dan Callahan, Instructional Technology Specialist at Pine Glen Elementary, “The most innovative educators are the ones who aren’t afraid to play.” Push all of the buttons. Challenge yourself to try out new tools. See what you and your students can create. You won’t know what’s possible if you don’t try to figure it out.
  5. Ask WHY questions. WHY follow a particular scope and sequence? WHY assess student understanding with the same essay topic? WHY integrate a new tool? The answer should always take you back to HOW this new tool, technique, subject, etc. helps students achieve desired learning objectives and addresses their learning needs. If you have an answer to WHY, then you have not lost sight of the big picture.

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Multi-Article, Double Re-blog – where I’ve really been writing…

It’s been crazy few weeks. Since my last post, 10 Ideas for Creating Literacy Centers with iPads,  but that does’t mean I haven’t been writing. The posts below were all originally published on Edudemic and then re-blogged on the EdTechTeacher blog.

Whatever Happened to iBooks

In our workshops, we begin by discussing how Apple initially marketed the iPad as a device for consumption – watch a movie, read a book, browse the web…. With the iPad2, thanks in part to the integration of the camera as well as the rapid development of apps, it started to become more of a creation tool – make a movie, share a photo, create a song…. We’ve applied that same thought process to iBooks, and explored it across the spectrum from consumption to creation.

With regard to consuming books, I wrote about teaching active reading skills, supporting students’ active reading, and supporting diverse learners. On the creation side, teachers and students can use tools such as dotEPUB to generate custom course content for consumption via iBooks as well as apps like Book Creator ($3.99), Creative Book Builder ($3.99), and Composer (free) for building multi-media iBooks.

Educators may or may not be using iBooks as a typical eReader, or in the way that Apple initially assumed, and with the rise of textbook apps like Inkling as well as collaborative readers like SubText, one reading app of choice may not emerge. Additionally, as more classrooms and schools move towards a BYOD/BYOT environment, iBooks as an app may play a less centralized role. However, the concept of creating and curating digital content as ePubs certainly works across devices – a variety of eReader apps and extensions exist for Kindle, Nook, Android, FireFox and Chrome. While, the mechanics for collecting and annotating course content may change depending on the platform, the concepts apply.

>>>> You can read the full post on the EdTechTeacher blog

The Invisible Apps

As a follow-up to that first post, I wrote…

Two of the most powerful apps on the iPad may be completely invisible: iBooks and the Camera Roll. However, when used together, they have the potential to create powerful learning experiences and dynamic projects.

From Dynamic Math Portfolios to Science Lab Book Collections to Books of Books, combining apps via the Camera Roll and then curating student-generated content with iBooks opens up a a world of possibility for students.

Imagine the end of the school year for students whose teachers fully leveraged the potential of iBooks and the Camera. Perusing through their iBooks collections, they could have documentation of their learning for each of their courses as well as their research materials and reading assignments. As these students prepare for final exams, they could share eBooks for virtual study groups using Subtext. Imagine a review conversation occurring directly inside of student-generated content….

>>>> You can read the full post on the EdTechTeacher blog

What can you actually DO with an iPad

This week, to wrap up these thoughts, as well as to reflect on presentations that I gave at  the New England Reading Association Conference and the NYSCATE Mobile Learning Summit, I wrote…

Online, in workshops, and even with friends, I frequently get asked What can the iPad actually do? as a sort of challenge to the worth of the device. I would rather that they ask, What can you actually do with an iPad?

So last week, in preparing for the New England Reading Association Conference and the NYSCATE Mobile Learning Summit, I decided to change my approach. Rather than structure my presentations by tool, or by app, or even by project, I organized myself around desired student outcomes – aka. what students can actually do.

However, before addressing that question, I asked not only WHY iPads but WHY Technology? Because….

  • I want my students to communicate in complex and modern ways.
  • I want my students to make their thinking visible as an alternative assessment.
  • I want my students to document their thinking as they work through a process.
  • I want my students to have multiple ways through which to interact with learning objects.

What does this tangibly look like in the classroom? One English teachers asked where to even begin, so we started with a set of content-specific learning objectives.

Like the others, you can read this full post on the EdTechTeacher blog or all of these on Edudemic.


iPads, ePubs, and Windows – stuffing a square peg in a round hole

Last week, I taught iPads, ePubs, & iBooks Author: Creating Your Own Digital Course Content with EdTechTeacher colleague, Greg Kulowiec. When we wrote the description for the course, we included language to ensure that we wouldn’t exclude people with Windows computers. However, in the weeks leading up to the workshop, we honed in on iBooks Author and assumed that no one would come without a Mac. This proved to be a false assumption…

Challenge #1 – Converting a Word file into an ePub

During the first afternoon, as Greg lead the group through the process of creating ePubs with Pages, I created the Windows Working Group and tackled the concept of converting from Word to ePub. While there is not an ePub extension available from Microsoft to easily convert Word docs into ePubs, we found a few solutions.

  1. If you have the bandwidth and connectivity, it’s possible to upload a Word doc to either 2EPUB or Online-Convert, though they don’t always load, and then download the converted ePub file.
  2. Save your Word file as HTML. Open the HTML version in a browser, and then use the dotEPUB bookmarklet to convert it to an ePub file.
  3. Connect Wappwolf to a Dropbox account. Wappwolf is a third party site that lets you write actions for specified folders in your Dropbox account. We created a folder called PDF to ePub and gave it the action that when a file is uploaded to that folder as a PDF, then Wappwolf would convert it to an ePub file. This lets you save a Word file as a PDF on a Windows computer and upload it to the Dropbox folder with the action.

We tried a few Windows based converter programs such as Calibre and ePub Maker, but found the first three options to be more effective. Wappwolf actually held the formatting the best of all and created an ePub format that allowed for full annotation when opened in iBooks on an iPad.

Challenge #2 – Creating Custom ePubs on Windows Computers

iBooks Author only runs on Mac OSX 10.7+, so our Windows Working Group spent a chunk of time exploring other ePub creation options. While Adobe CS6 claims to be able to create media rich ePubs, none of us were looking to spend $300+ to find out. There are also fantastic iPad apps for creating ePubs, but it is often easier to create content on a computer that already has a library of files and images. After much trial and error, we came up with some solutions in addition to simply converting content a Word file into an ePub format via one of the above options.

  1. eCub is a sort of ePub compiler. Mutiple text files can be brought together as a project and then compiled into a single ePub. However, images did not carry over well, and it was a bit cumbersome to use.
  2. Jutoh has more of a WYSIWYG editor for creating ePubs. Once the project has been created, it’s possible to export it out. However, you have to buy the full version ($39) in order to lose their watermark in your publications.
  3. Sigil, an open-source option, proved to be our favorite solution. It was possible to create ePubs with text, images, and basic formatting. It was also nice that Sigil created raw ePub files that didn’t need to be converted to any other file format, and included features such as chapter markers and the ability to create custom cover images as well as a Table of Contents.

Regardless of which program we chose, workflow posed an additional challenge. Gathering all text and image files before beginning to compile definitely improved the process, as much of the decision making then fell into place more easily – especially with regard to inserting headers in order to generate a table of contents and knowing how to locate all relevant files quickly and efficiently.

With collaborative projects, we determined that it would be easier to create a shared Google Document that could then be compiled into an ePub. Similarly, if working on a network, multiple files could be placed in a shared folder for easy access.

Challenge #3 – Creating Media Rich eBooks

The lure of iBooks Author is the ability to incorporate audio, video, and text. This was not a possibility from a PC given the programs at our disposal; however, it is possible to create dynamic ePubs from the iPad. While we found Book Creator to be valuable for having students create their own eBooks; as educators, Creative Book Builder opened up a world of possibility.

Creative Book Builder can import an ePub file from either Dropbox or Google Drive. This means that Windows folks can create the majority of their book on a Computer with either Sigil or Word,  upload it into cloud storage, and then import it into Creative Book Builder in order to add audio, video, additional images, or even links to Google Presentations. Once completed in Creative Book Builder, final ePubs can be sent to iBooks or back to Dropbox for dissemination to students.

Square Peg/ Round Hole

Even when using iBooks Author, educators face a host of challenges with regard to creating digital course content: storage, workflow, and compiling resources onto a single device. When working with Windows, because a single program for creating media rich ePubs does not seem to affordably exist, the process becomes even more complex – sort of feeling like cramming a square peg in a round hole. After much trial and error, we came up with two solutions to the challenge:

  1. Create a Word doc. Save it as a PDF. Upload it to a Dropbox folder with a Wappwolf action. Import it into Creative Book Builder, and add additional media.
    Word, Wappwolf, Dropbox workflow
  2. Create an ePub with Sigil. Upload the ePub file to either a Dropbox or Google Docs/Drive. Open it in Creative Book Builder and add additional medial.
    Sigil to Cloud Storage to Creative Book Builder

Regardless of the workflow solution, a set of essential questions emerged to help guide the process of creating custom content.

  • Who is the creator of this content? Is the teacher doing the creating or the student?
  • Why digitize the content? Is the intention to provide a multi-modal representation of the information or just to reduce paper?
  • What do you want students to do with the content? Is the goal for them to actively read or just experience a different representation?

For schools combining Windows and iPads into a single learning environment, there are certainly challenges with regard to the creation of custom curriculum content. However, by combining the facility of using a computer and the features of certain iPad apps, it is possible without the assistance of iBooks Author.

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iAccess – Leveraging the iPad to Create Custom Learning Experiences

When I started with EdTechTeacher last summer, one of the requests that Tom Daccord made was for me to present at 5-7 regional conferences in the next 10 months. Back in November, I presented virtually at the Global Education Conference. This past March, I co-presented with elementary teacher extraordinaire, Suzy Brooks, at the EdTechTeacher winter conference – Leading Change in Changing Times. On Wednesday (May 2nd), I took the plunge and presented solo at the Easter Seals/MASSMATCH Assistive Tech Expo.

In the past few months, as I have worked with more and more elementary school teachers looking to integrate the iPad in their classrooms, my focus has increasingly turned to reading. Through the Universal Access features, text-to-speech and speech-to-text capabilities, the built-in microphone and camera, as well as the multiple modalities presented to interact with text, the iPad really has the potential to redefine reading and reading instruction. That’s the background on how I came up with the concept of iAccess – Leveraging the iPad to Create Custom Learning Experiences. If you’re interested, you can download a PDF version of my slides or check out the Google Presentation below. At some point, I may try to podcast it.

I’ve written before about how I didn’t initially buy into the whole iPad concept. However, I’m now a complete believer. For even more proof, come join Tracy Sockalosky and I next week for our webinar (May 10th at 4:00 pm EST):

Leveraging iPads, laptops, and other technologies to differentiate learning & teaching.

Better yet, come spend 2 days with us this summer at Harvard!

July 19-20: Integrating iPads, Laptops, and Digital Tools to Create Differentiated Learning Environments

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iCoach – Physical Education in the iPad Era

It’s happened to me a few times now. A participant has walked into one of my EdTechTeacher workshops, clearly miffed at the idea of spending a given period of time learning something that they feel clearly has no significance to their curriculum. However, unlike others who may hide in the back of the room and try to grade papers or check email, these educators sit in the front, attentive, but completely unconvinced. See, these are the PE teachers.

When I worked at St. Michael’s, the PE teacher dutifully worked with me once I convinced him that I could save hours in the planning of field day by using mail merge. A few weeks ago, a PE teacher announced upon entering the room that she was here, but there was nothing for her to learn. I asked if she would give me a chance and promised to provide her with one idea that she could use in her curriculum. Turns out that Class Dojo was just what she was looking for to track skills progression and participation.

Though I work full-time for EdTechTeacher, I still coach a high school sailing team, and as I think about it, I think I’ve been integrating technology for as long as I can remember. Whether it was responding to emails, writing up documents and presentations, or the Beth’s school of boat handling blog, there has always been something. For years, we have used headsets for talking to crews during team racing practice. In 2008, we used Kattack – a GPS based program that creates virtual models of practice races such that we could analyze the data to look at tactics and speed diffential. We’ve gone through a variety of video cameras – all the way back to large VHS based units – and now use video editing as well as modeling software to address rules nuances.

Recently, as our head coach used magnetic boats on a whiteboard to illustrate a point that we had just watched on video, I used my phone to capture his explanation, annotated it, and then posted it with notes to a shared Google Docs folder for the kids. During a meet, the visiting coach used his iPad to record races, and it has become common practice for us to use digital video to help sailors further develop their physical technique in the boat.

When we cancelled practice due to weather the other day, rather than just lecture the team about rules issues (sailing has a fairly complex rules system that is self-policing, so the students have to really understand them), I used a Socrative space race quiz so that they could work in groups to solve problems. The directions for the day looked like this: bring with you a notebook, something to write with, a rule book – or digital copy, and an Internet enabled device. During the “chalk talk”, I projected the Socrative quiz and used the SMART Board to capture notes that I then emailed back to the kids.

Given these thoughts, what could Physical Education look like in the “iPad era”?

  • Video could be used to model new skills. In addition to being able to use controls such as fast forward and the ability to pause an action, video could show technique in slow motion. Imagine using this to teach shooting form in basketball or throwing for baseball. Gymnasts could better perfect their form if they saw the discrepancies. Swimmers could improve their stroke. Elementary students could see that they release a ball too soon when trying to throw to a partner. Tennis players could work on stroke. The list goes on….
  • A classroom management tool such as Class Dojo can be used on any Internet enabled device such as a smart phone or iPad. PE teachers could track behavior, participation, or skill demonstrations in real time.
  • Polling tools such as Poll Everywhere or Mentimeter could let students anonymously input their times, offer feedback, or answer follow up questions about the day’s events.
  • A blog or wiki could be a great way to pre-screen new games or rules for those students who need additional lead time or struggle with the oral directions typically used to introduce concepts. This site could also be a great tool for parents looking to repeat games and activities at home. I have seen some incredibly imaginative physical education activities used to introduce concepts that range from teamwork to balance to aim. Personally, I remember playing Star Wars in elementary school, a game that involved running, throwing nerf balls, and hoola hoops.
  • For older students, Google Docs or Evernote could allow them to track their own progress, make notes about their skills progression, and monitor fitness levels.

While coaches have used technology for years – think about the hundreds of hours that have been spent on game videos and scouting films, Physical Education teachers have not always enjoyed the same benefits. With digital cameras, smart phones, iPads, tablets, and laptops becoming more commonplace, opportunities exist for more than just a mail merge for field day.

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“Get Out Your Notebook” – reposted from the EdTechTeacher Blog

I recently published this post on the EdTechTeacher blogas a follow up to my previous article, Go Get a Notebook! No, Wait, Go Get a Means for Aggregating Information.

In addition to working for EdTechTeacher, Beth Holland also coaches a high school sailing team. Recently, on her blog, when describing a situation with some of her sailors, she wrote:

“About half-way through our lesson, I looked at my group’s slightly glassed over expressions and said, Go get a notebook and write all of this down! As the words came out of my mouth, I stopped in my tracks, turned to them and then said, “No, wait, go get something to keep track of this information. I don’t care if it’s a notebook, a Google Collection, Evernote, or some random app on your phone.”

What does it mean to take notes in the digital age? When most of us were in school, we had a 3-ring binders for major subjects, spiral bound notebooks for labs, vocabulary, and math problems in addition to a few of those hard cover journals covered in black squiggles.

However, last week, when Beth asked another student what he had done with his notebook, he said, “I forgot it, but can just use my phone.”

If notebooks can now synch between devices, is there a role for paper in this most essential academic proess? In his most recent blog post, Co-Director, Tom Daccord, questioned the realities of moving beyond the textbook. Meanwhile, Greg Kulowiec has been documenting a paperless research process. All the while, we have been working with a group of educators preparing for a 1:1 iPad environment and discussing the implications of moving to either a paperless or hybrid learning environment.

This concept of going paperless also presented itself at the recent EdCamp Social Studies conference this past weekend at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA. Much of the conversation about going paperless has revolved around tools, programs, apps, and logistics. However, if you have ever tried to decipher middle school student scrawl, or spent an afternoon excavating lockers and backpacks in search of worksheets and notes, you may be ready for a change. While there is certainly a valid argument that at an elementary, and even middle or high school level, there are some students who need the tactile experience of putting pencil to paper in order to brainstorm or problem solve as well as the times when large pieces of paper and markers or crayons can be the perfect brainstorming tool.

In The Paperless Classroom…What, How & Why, Greg raises a critical point.

“Too often in an attempt to integrate technology into our classrooms, we start with the “What”, proceed to the “How” and rarely get to the “Why”. Here is “what” we are going to do today, this is “how” we are going to do it…and oh yeah, this is “why” it matters…if we are lucky we get to the why.”

So why paperless? Why digital note taking? Can paper….

  • Create a backup of itself and make itself available both at home and at school?
  • Incorporate pictures of the white board, or of a worksheet, or of a digital artifact in order to support the note taking process?
  • Include audio of class discussion, verbal directions from a teacher, or oral questions from another student?
  • Link directly to web content?
  • Include video to provide an alternative version of the material?
  • Check spelling and grammar?
  • Quickly reference a dictionary, encyclopedia, or thesaurus?
  • Read a student’s notes back to them?
  • Connect with another student’s notebook in order to increase collaboration and share resources?

As Beth titled her post, the future may have teachers shouting, “Go Get a Notebook! No, Wait, Go Get a Means for Aggregating Information!”

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Go Get a Notebook! No, Wait, Go Get a Means for Aggregating Information

It’s sailing season. We started back on the 28th of February, which can only mean one thing: I’m on the run. I’ve also become sucked into Twitter, Diigo, Facebook, my Google Reader, Pinterest, and a host of other online tools thanks to my colleagues at EdTechTeacher. So, while I’ve been writing frantically on a myriad of other tools, this blog has been lacking any articles for the past few weeks.

Back to my post…. On Tuesday, I worked with a group of new sailors. We covered some essential concepts on land – namely, parts of the boat and sail. While this may seem trivial, you try explaining to a cold, wet, 14-year old to “pull the purple line on the left side of that white thing you’re sitting on” over 10 knots of breeze and an outboard engine. About half-way through our lesson, I looked at my groups slightly glassed over expressions and said, “go get a notebook and write all of this down.”

As the words came out of my mouth, I stopped in my tracks, turned to them and then said, “No, wait, go get something to keep track of this information. I don’t care if it’s a notebook, a Google Collection, Evernote, or apps on your phone.”

Welcome to coaching in the 21st Century! To be honest, I think I would prefer that they get organized on their phone. This way, they could have all of the PDFs, Google Docs, photos, videos, notes, animations, etc. that we send them all in one place. My only criteria for how they aggregate all of this information is that it has to be mobile. When we travel, I want them to have access to a rule book, a play book, the team racing call book, a boat set-up checklist, and a host of other things. A 3-ring binder can do most of this, but a device could be even better.

Lately, I’ve had the pleasure of working with Richard Byrne of Free Technology for Teachers. Yesterday, he published a presentation file, Best of the Web 2012. It’s embedded below. The presentation covers 70 tools in 60 minutes – even more impressive than the 30 tools in 40 minutes that he discussed during our EdTechTeacher webinar a few weeks ago. I’ve added it to this post as proof for why I’ve reconsidered the concept of the sailing notebook. Personally, I think I would use Evernote

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iRead, iLearn, iPad…

I’ve admitted this before. I did not instantly love the iPad. For the first few months, I used my iPad more as a clipboard than any sort of mobile device. However, as the device – and my thinking – evolved, I started to become an advocate for it. One of the main reasons for my launch onto the iPad bandwagon had to do with its ability to differentiate learning experiences for students. In addition to providing instant Internet access and a host of learning tools, it gave students an opportunity to customize their own learning.

I started making a Top 10 List of ways that the iPad can be used to make learning more accessible to students, but it turned into more of a Top 8 … (I went with quality over quantity and combined a few items.)

  1. Reading – instant access to dictionaries, annotation tools, and audio make reading on the iPad a whole new experience.Thanks to speak selection, all ePubs, web pages, notes, etc., can be read aloud to support struggling readers.
  2. Note taking – beyond basic text, notes can now include photos, videos, and audio recordings, plus they can be emailed, published, and shared. Whether using the Notes app, or something more robust such as Evernote, SoundNote, or PaperDesk, students have the flexibility to choose a note taking tool that best meets their learning style.
  3. Organization – believe it or not, but “there’s an app for that!” Whether using the built-in apps such as Calendar or Reminders to keep track of due dates, assignments, projects, and appointments, or mind mapping apps such as Popplet, students no longer have to keep track of their organizational materials as well as the organizational process.
  4. Audio recording – just the fact that the iPad has a microphone and recording capabilities opens up possibilities for students and teachers. Without requiring multiple devices or massive files, students can think out loud, orally pre-write, and record class notes. Teachers can give oral directions to supplement written ones, or provide audio commentary.
  5. Research – with a host of note taking, annotation, and citation apps available, students can focus more on the analysis and synthesis of information rather than the collation and organization of materials.
  6. Studying – from flash card apps (I really like StudyBlue and A+ Flashcards) to screen casting tools, students can interact with materials and construct their own knowledge from the content provided.
  7. Digital Textbooks – I know that some folks still feel that paper textbooks are invaluable, but when you rethink the paradigm of what a text could be, then digital content is an amazing vehicle for multimodal communication. Using dotEpub or Joliprint also allows teachers to rapidly and easily create digital content for students that can be annotated, shared, heard…..
  8. Multimodal presentation – students no longer have to rely solely on paper to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding. Videos, podcasts, screencasts, and a host of other options now exist on just one device.

Recently, I had a conversation with a group of educators who wanted to know why I thought they should invest in iPads. To quote Douglas Kiang, the true value of the iPad comes from the Asymmetrical Impact, meaning that it greatly benefits those students who are not usually reached through traditional, standard channels. The iPad puts the power of learning in the hands of the students. So, after over two years of wondering about the value of the iPad, I have found it, jumped firmly on board the bandwagon, and plan to hold on for the ride.

For even more proof, take a look at Doug’s presentation from BLC2011.