Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Why I don't want an IWB (Interactive Whiteboard)

Recently, I have been asked quite  few times about IWBs and which ones are best etc. My usual answer is 'none' and then I have to explain, so I thought, instead of explaining I would write this post so that I could point people towards each time they ask.

So this is my classroom set up of preference and these are the key components.

1. Data projector - I'm not really bothered which one as long as it produces a good screen resolution (There's a reasonable article here on how to choose one:
How to Buy a Projector)

2. A Laptop - My preference here is for a MacBook, but I can understand why some people find that extravagant and don't feel they are worth the extra financial outlay. Personally, I think they are worth the extra money, because they work faster and so save time (the most valuable commodity we have) and because they are pretty durable(The Apple products I've owned have lasted at least twice as long as their PC counterparts I've had and are still going strong.)

3. iPad - Again my preference here is for the iPad mini, because it is so light to hold in one hand and pass around, but still big enough and powerful enough to fulfil my storage needs and to operate without squinting (also quite a bit cheaper)

4. Reflector app - This is a key app that you download onto your laptop. It then enables you to project your iPad screen onto your computer (and so through the data projector) as it wirelessly receives signals from the iPad's Airplay function.

For those who aren't familiar with Airplay, it's an Apple function that allows you to use the wireless to project sound and vision from an iPhone, iPad, iTouch etc of to Apple TV. You can find more information here: Airplay

Why I like the Airplay enabled set up
  • For me this allows the best of both worlds. I can use the laptop for any software that's native to computer world and very quickly and wirelessly switch to the mobile environment of the iPad.
  • This set up is portable so you can use it in any room with a data projector and computer, as long as the Reflector app is installed.
  • This also has the advantage of allowing your students access to the data projector if they also have iPads, in fact the Airplay function combined with Reflector can allow your students to project onto the screen from a number of iPads simultaneously, which is great to get students showing and comparing work for the whole class to see.
  • Controlling the projection screen from the iPad means that you can move around the class and control it from wherever you are.
  • To hand control over to students you just pass them the iPad
  • You can store all your materials on your iPad and use it to do all your preparation / marking etc at home.
  • You don't have to fiddle with replace or try to find those awful IWB pens.
  • The iPad gives you access to the vast range and variety of apps that you just can't run on a computer or IWB environment. 
  • An iPad and a $12.99 app are hugely cheaper than the cost of an IWB and far more flexible.
  • You can also use the Reflector app to record screen activity so you can easily turn parts of your lessons into flipped learning or useful revision.
  • The iPad and laptop set up provides an authentic digital learning environment so digital literacies can be developed, whereas IWB software is an artificial digital environment which students will only encounter within schools.
There are of course some downsides to this arrangement. 
  • Hand writing on the iPad screen isn't so comfortable even with a stylus and a good whiteboard app (though if you want to try it I would recommend Bamboo Paper).
  • The Reflector app isn't free, but it is very cheap ($12.99) so much cheaper than an IWB.
  • This set up only works with Apple mobile products as the controller (Though you can use any laptop to install the app on), so if your students bring along Android or other devices they won't be able to access your projector (but they wouldn't on an IWB either).
  • The Reflector app runs through the wireless to connect the laptop to the iPad, so you may need to have some specific ports open if your IT manager has them closed.
If you don't have the choice and you already have an IWB, then that's fine, you could still install the Reflector app and start using an iPad too, but given the choice it's pretty clear. So, now hopefully I'll be getting asked this question a lot less often.

Do post comments and let me know what you think. I'd also appreciate hearing about any alternative apps you may have used to connect your iPad and especially your Android tablet to the projector

Related links:
Nik Peachey

Friday, 7 June 2013

Gamification to encourage learner autonomy

This post tries to pull together a couple of things I have been thinking about recently. The first was a post I saw on the 21st Century Fluency Project blog a few weeks back. The title of the article 'How I Turned My Classroom into a ‘Living Video Game’ caught my eye and before I even had time to read it I started thinking about how the factors that create motivation in computer games could be applied to the classroom. The article is well worth reading, although this is only one element it touches on.
The other thing I have been thinking about recently is time management and distraction as it is one of the more significant objections which teachers often raise to having students using computers and mobile devices in the classroom, so when I saw 'HabitRPG' I thought it could be a useful tool to help deal with the problems and implement more of a gamified approach to the  classroom.

HabitRPG is a time and task management tool which overlays motivational elements of computer games onto managing time and tasks.

The two major motivational elements are health points, which can be used up and coins which can be earned by doing daily tasks, following good habits and doing jobs from your 'Todos' list. These coins can then used to buy rewards.

You can define the rewards for yourself. In my case I decided to define the rewards as the things that I usually do to procrastinate, such as check my email or look at facebook updates etc.

Then you can simply add your list of 'one off' jobs to the 'Todos' list. For me these are things like 'write an article', 'complete a job application', 'update my CV' etc. These become more valuable the longer they are left and so this increase motivation to do them and gain the coins so that you can pay for your rewards.

Then there are my daily chores which I can set up. These are things like 'update my blog' , 'add some links to' , 'search my RSS feeds for interesting articles' etc. If I do these they earn me coins, but if I don't do them by the end of the day I lose health points.

Lastly, there are the habits. These can be positive or negative depending on whether you do them or not, like 'take a walk' or 'have a snack'.

You can edit all of your lists quit simply by clicking on the pen icon, making the changes and then clicking on save and close.

The main thing you may need to edit is the price of rewards and the amount of coins you get for each task.

To change the price of the rewards, you just click the edit icon and then type in the price. The default amount for a reward is 20, but you can adjust the price depending on how much time your reward takes.

To change the amount of coins you are rewarded for doing each task, you need to go to edit and then go into the advanced options and choose, Easy, Medium or Hard. Doing a hard task will of course earn you more coins.

Once you have your lists set up it becomes quite easy just to click the + and - each time you do a task or have a reward.

Everyone starts off with 50 health points and if they have no coins to buy rewards or if they indulge in bad habits then they have to pay with health points. The challenge is to stay alive and build up enough coins to start buying rewards.

So how would this work with students?
  • Well you could set the rewards as similar things to my own rewards, especially in a connected classroom. You could also add things like play a game or have a few minutes free browsing time online etc.
  • Within the habits you could have things like 'speak L1', 'take notes' or 'copy an answer' etc.
  • The daily things could be 'revise vocabulary', 'read a short article', communicate with someone in English', 'do an activity from the course book' etc.
  • The 'Todos' could be a range of homework and autonomous learning assignments.

Here's what I imagine an ELT students profile would look like.

You'll need to guide students through the set up process and make sure they understand that for this to work they will need to be honest. You could actually have one page for the whole class, or set a page up for a group of students, but it will probably work better if they manage their own page.

They can also add a few elements of personalisation. If the click on the avatar (top left) there are a range of ways to change its appearance.

What I like about HabitRPG
  • It's free and easy to use.
  • It can help get students to take responsibility for their 'bad habits' and reduce the amount of 'policing' you have to do.
  • It can encourage students to work on single tasks with concentration, rather than constantly multitasking.
  • It's a great way to get students to take responsibility for their own time and learning and have some fun at the same time.
  • It could increase motivation and help your students to be better organised.
  • Students have their own account so they can log in on any computer.

Things I'm not so sure about
  • Each student would need to have a computer or mobile device for this to work effectively.
  • It would be great to see this on mobile, but I think that is being planned and it does run in the safari browser on iPad.
  • There is some down time sometimes.
  • Grouping students would also be great, but again I think this is coming.

If you want to know more about HabitRPG, there is quite a long tutorial below which shows a number of other features that you can unlock by playing the game.

I hope you enjoy HabitRPG and that it helps your students to be more organised and disciplined about they way they use their computer or mobile device for learning.

Related links:

Nik Peachey

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