The great IWB swindle

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of the Interactive Whiteboard (IWB – or Stupidboard as I affectionately call them). They are disproportionately expensive (£1000…for a giant trackpad?), faffy to install, fiddly to set up and unreliable to use. They offer the chance of ‘interactivity’ to children, but more often than not they’re just used by the teacher. Admittedly you can write on them (if they’re aligned) but you can write on a normal whiteboard too! The interface really isn’t design for touch either, with the normal-sized touch targets requiring pixel-perfect precision that only a mouse can offer.

I have to acknowledge that I do prefer having an IWB instead of just using an OHP and acetates, as I did last year with my music teaching. But the only handy part is being able to display lyrics on a big screen and play different tracks easily. The ‘interactive’ part is so unreliable that I often resort to using the mouse instead.

So what is the solution then? Some form of large display linked up to a computer is handy, but that could just be a flat-screen tv or just a data projector. I am also very interested in the possibilities of screen-mirroring from an iPad using an Apple TV box. Very much cheaper too…who’d have thought it?

Wiki Server = no Fronter?

Now here’s a thought. Has Wiki Server on OSX Server basically got all it takes to do away with Fronter (our wonderful pan-London VLE via LGfL)? I think it just might…

  • It can do pages that are easy to edit
  • You could put a message board on as a blog?
  • You can do calendaring
  • It has the huge advantage that you don’t need to log in when in school to use it

Certainly worth some consideration anyway.

Apple European Education Leadership Summit

It sounds a pretty impressive title, and it was a pretty impressive day! Epic location – St Pancras Renaissance Hotel – and usual Apple polish and detail. But it was a very useful and interesting day, with big and small session input, discussions with schools and even presentations from kids using iPads about their learning (very startling that one!)

Apple TV

I think the Apple TV was the secret star of the show, effortlessly allowing iPad screens to be mirrored to any projected surface or TV. This sets the iPad free to become a genuinely useful tool to teach from, share children’s work and all kinds of other things. Lots of interest in this. And it’s remarkably, remarkably cheap. I feel that the rip-off days of the ‘Interactive-if-you’re-lucky-whiteboard’ are numbered.

The ecosystem (the ‘glue’)

A guy called Abdul Chohan from a secondary academy called ‘ESSA’ in Bolton had an amazing story to tell. The school he worked at had something like 55% of pupils achieving 5 A*-C at GCSE. Not great. Something had to be done. So he bought an iPod touch for every student. That, plus lots of other changes, saw the now academy turned around and they now have 100% achieving at least 5 A*-Cs. It’s not magic but technology plays a huge part in it. They now have a purpose-build new campus with technology everywhere. It looks like a stunning place.

The really interesting part came though when he talked about the apple ecosystem (the ‘glue’ – mac/iPod/iPad). In a workshop, he showed us the wiki server that they use to deliver all their lessons. Pupils log on using their iPod touches and then download any resources required, such as ePub documents that can be viewed in iBooks anytime (no Internet connection required). I’ve used the wiki server at school for our ICT club but I never seriously thought of using it to replace a VLE…

Shoes-off Learning

There was also this guy called Stephen Heppell who talked about lots things he’d seen in technology over the world. One thing he mentioned was where classrooms were ‘shoes off’ (mainly in Scandinavian places) which hugely helped children’s learning and behaviour. Apparently it helps kids feel more like they’re at home and so are more relaxed and engaged. Worth a try sometime…?

He also talked about a thing Apple do called Challenged Based Learning. Worth a look too.

Anyway, that’ll do for now. Brain very buzzing!

BETT Brewings

Just got back from BETT so thought I would share some of my observations and thoughts.

  • Insane numbers of new ‘Interactive Whiteboards’ were on offer. Some boasted the ability to interact on any projected surface, others were just enormous touchscreen LCD displays. Perhaps the ‘SMART’ stranglehold is loosening? Certainly the market seems ripe for disruption.
  • Many stalls were running Macs, even if not particularly selling Apple products. Saw quite a few Keynote presentations running too…
  • iPads seemed to be the prize of choice in competitions.
  • Not a huge amount of software on sale but certainly lots of ‘cloud’ or web offerings.
  • Multiple laptop/iPad trolleys/flight cases. Expensive though!

We also visited several demos of iPads and what you can do with them. There are lots of cool apps out there that I didn’t know about so will hopefully get to try them out soon. 1-1 deployment seems to be the holy grail, but many schools are settling for a class set that can be shared around a school. The demos were not always of the highest quality though; perhaps I’m spoilt by watching too many flawless Stevenote software demos?

Wireless access for iPads is an important consideration as well. Running a couple of devices from a cheap wifi point is one things, but 30 devices trying to access the network is a whole new ball game. It seems like it is very easy to spend £10k on doing the job properly! Needs more research…

I am interested what else I’ll learn at the Apple Education Summit tomorrow. It will certainly be fun to try things out!

On my way to BETT

Well, I’m currently on the train on the way to BETT. I’m not really sure what to expect, but it should be an informative and enjoyable day. I’ll post some thoughts later.

Here’s what I’m particularly interested in:

  • Ways of deploying and using iPads
  • What 2Simple have got to say about their shocking lack of support for native Mac apps
  • Any Windows 8 news
  • If anyone is talking about ICT assessment
  • More interesting ways of using a VLE. Fronter is still very underused in our school – are there better ways or platforms out there?

I’ll keep you posted (hurrah for WordPress’ iOS app!

Lion and interactive whiteboards

Today I made the happy discovery that even our aged 580 series Smartboards work with Lion. Yay! Our school has been gradually buying Smartboards over the last decade, which means some classrooms have some very antique models (with serial to USB cables and the old-style round erasers.  I once rang Smart’s UK technical support about one of these boards and they were in complete shock that they still worked at all…). I was not looking forward to paying thousands to replace them when we either bought new Lion Macs or upgraded from Snow Leopard.

Smart still claim that OSX 10.7 isn’t officially supported by their Notebook software, but they have released a patch that fixes things up well enough.