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Posts tagged ‘mobile devices’

BETTer at ExCel?

The annual visit to the BETT exhibition took place on Friday last, a couple of weeks later in the calendar than usual and at a new venue, the ExCel centre in place of dear old Olympia. Bit harder to get at by car, so we went up by train, which made for a rather more relaxing and sociable experience. The traditional lunchtime jaunt to the Persian restaurant or the pub with Thai food were sadly off the menu in these new surroundings, but we did find a fair substitute – might have been The Tavern, but can’t quite remember – which served up a pretty decent pint of bitter and 70s-style scampi and chips.


So what was new this year? Well, I suppose there was no real sense of the next big thing about this year’s exhibition. Rather it was about further development, particularly of mobile devices and resources designed for that format. So lots of tablets and hybrids everywhere, many inspired by the recent arrival of the new Windows 8 OS. I especially liked the look of the sleek and shiny Samsung Ativ Smart PC Pro, which sports its own stylus in the style of the Galaxy Note, making for a much better writing experience than with the more usual fat-tipped capacitive pens. But, as I suspect you could need a small mortgage to buy one, it might be better to settle for one of the other more affordable – but still sleek and shiny – alternatives.

In the afternoon I thought I should check out where the book publishers are up to in terms of developing e-book (horrible word!) alternatives to the school textbook. The much trumpeted RM Bookshelf has finally actually arrived but has a long way to go to before it becomes the one-stop shop it sets out to be. Hodder’s Dynamic Learning is kind of getting there but is still a bit stuck in the ‘let’s pdf the printed book and call it an e-book’ mode. The best progress, I think, is being made by Pearson whose Active Teach is much more like it, offering something truly interactive and flexible which could see the textbook heading for the recycling bin. We linguists already enjoy the interactive resources that go with the Expo and Logo courses, for example, and Active Teach takes these the next logical step forwards.

I was encouraged by the responses to my questions about pricing for these resources which indicate that there will be definite cost savings as the e-book (can we please stop calling it that?) replaces the traditional textbook. On the other hand, it was a tad depressing to think that, at this critical moment in the development of such resources, Mr Gove and his back-to-the-future reforms threaten to hold the whole thing up because of the need for publishers to adapt to new, hastily cobbled together specifications.

So, there we are for another year. Big, buzzy, captivating and confusing, BETT remains the definitive day out for the technophile within us, and its new location hasn’t changed anything about that.

remote control

mzl_hofjqivhWhen the machine you are using hasn’t got all the capabilities you need, what do you do? Well, go and use one that does. And when it’s not where you are? No problem, access it via remote control. We have grown used to this in a desktop / laptop environment, but it works for devices such as the iPad too. With a view to extending the otherwise rather ringfenced capabilities of said device, I thought I would try out some possibilities in the form of PocketCloud, LogMeIn and TeamViewer.

The last mentioned we can pretty much discount immediately, as it worked once then turned flaky and resisted all efforts to get it to work again. In any case, it was perhaps less impressive than the other two contenders. The basic premise is the same in all instances: download the app to the iPad and another program to the machine you want to control, set up an account (or use your Google one for PocketCloud) and make the connection. In all cases this was very straightforward and I was remote controlling within minutes.

In all honesty there isn’t much difference in terms of functionality, and both PocketCloud and LogMeIn do what they say on the tin. There are some small adjustments to get used to, such as using two fingers to scroll rather than one or double tapping and holding before you drag an object on screen. Pinch and zoom works just fine in both instances, and the overall experience is good. So you really can do whatever you like on your iPad. Sort of. At a distance.

In the end it comes down to the detail. PocketCloud wins on the toolbar front, as its clever toolbar can be hidden or on display as required. 1-0 PocketCloud. Both keyboards are perfectly useable. The LogMeIn one has a toggle button to acccess arrow keys and F keys, but PocketCloud rather trumps this by having an excellent keyboard (with optional input area) plus a mouse button that pulls up all the usual keyboard shortcuts. 2-0 PocketCloud. Both have a floating mouse that allows for accurate onscreen action, but the LogMeIn version is just that – a mouse – whereas PocketCloud give you not just a rather better designed tool (try it and you’ll see what I mean), but the shortcuts mentioned above along with a brilliant button that allows single fingered scrolling. Plus quick pull-up of the keyboard. 3-0 PocketCloud.

And the winner is …….. well, clearly PocketCloud, isn’t it? Hmm. One thing I haven’t mentioned is that, while LogMeIn doesn’t mind where it goes, PocketCloud is frightened off by network scenarios, where the machine you want to control remotely is hidden behind a proxy server. Wyse have said that this will be fixed, but no sign of them living up to their word, which was given quite some time ago.

So, for networks, you are stuck with LogMeIn (other tools are, however, available), which will be perfectly serviceable. But, if you can, go for PocketCloud, which – for me at least – is a clear winner. In fact I am using it right now in writing this post. ‘Nuff said.

iPads versus textbooks – the numbers

Came across this rather nice infographic which compares the relative costs of deploying iPads to replace textbooks.

Ok, the statistics and the numbers are US-based, but we can assume some degrees of similarity in translating them for the UK. Interesting and food for thought as the debate develops.

iPads vs. Textbooks
Created by: Online Teaching Degree


Hands-on learning

I was interested recently, as I am sure a lot of us were, to read about developments in gesture control technology, which will soon see us control a wide range of devices, and not just our games consoles, by hand and finger movement. Some of the headlines rather exaggerated the matter by suggesting the imminent demise of the touchscreen. Well, I suspect that’s probably not true, and a good job, too, as I think the touchscreen is set to be one of the important keys to effective learning.

How so? Well, one of the the thorns in the side of so called e- learning has long been that the traditional read > write notes > remember sequence has struggled to retain its effectiveness in the transition from book and paper to the computer screen. This is because we are at heart tactile, touchy feely creatures and making notes by using a keyboard can’t quite replace the hands-on feel of pen on paper. The keyboard still separates us from our on-screen source of information.

Which is where the touch screen comes in. Just look at the success of the Kindle, which allows you to retain the sense of handling your reading material, or the iPad and its various imitators, on which the reading experience is made more immediate and engaging than on a traditional screen simply because you are in physical contact with it. And these tablet -style devices have the capability to make our note taking experience just as involving just as soon as they get their handwriting recognition properly sorted out. It’s still not great, but it must get better. If I can do it on my Windows 7 powered touchscreen netbook, you ought to be able to do it on an iPad!

Learning is certainly set to be revolutionised by tablet-style devices over the next few years. And my hope is that they will allow for the reinvention of effective learning by note taking and so finally put paid to the argument that you can’t learn properly by reading from a screen.

Paper-free MFL

Scrunched up paperTwo or three years ago, fed up with carting piles of exercise books to and from school, I ditched them in favour of homework completed and submitted electronically, using Acrobat.com(like Google docs but much nicer). I haven’t looked back since. About the same time, I tried with a small teaching set to go completely paper free. The Asus 7 inch eee pc netbooks were all the rage and we had some of those. Which were fine, even when Marietta tried pouring orange juice over the keyboard of her machine. That project died a death for two reasons: (1) my taking a sabbatical part way through the year, and (2) the failure of the existing wireless network in School to get anyway close to working.

So the installation of what seems to be a highly effective wireless network over the summer break and the School’s plans to run a number of mobile device pilots this year rekindled my enthusiasm and made me think about giving the paper-free thing another go.

The plan? To see if you can teach a modern language without the teacher or the students using paper in the process. Can we do it? Who knows, but we are going to give it a go.

Those interested can follow our brave attempt on our blog paperfreemfl. Advice from anyone on the same journey or who has successful experience of doing this would be most welcome!

To Kill A Textbook

In school today in the run up to next term, I was really pleased to note that the installation over the summer break of enterprise grade wireless across the school site appears to have been successful. Phone and laptop were picking up a strong signal in various locations where previously it was weak or non-existent. So the opportunities to try and go mobile and paper-free might be becoming real at last.

South Korea has had much publicity of late for its digital textbook project (they’ve been at it since 2007!). And Amazon have been getting in on the act with their Kindle textbook rental scheme in the US. We have got a bit further to go yet here in the UK, I suspect, but the tongue-in-cheek infographic below from Schools.com might give us some encouragement in the meantime!

Students prefer digital textbooks
Courtesy of: Schools.com

Plus ça change …..

With all the brouhaha over the last twelve months about the various incarnations of tablet-style devices and their application in the classroom, it has actually been quite interesting to note that the ‘device’ that appears to win most favour with students themselves is the strictly old-tech mini whiteboard. They just love using these within the context of a lesson and their inherent flexibility offers lots of scope to do so. Yet isn’t the mini whiteboard just the slate of the Victorian (and earlier) classroom in another guise?

Since, however, we are, at KEVI and elsewhere, seriously pondering the introduction of mobile devices into our classrooms, I found this potted history of the pad / slate / tablet a helpful and clear illustrative account of how we got where we are today.

History of ed tech
Courtesy of: OnlineSchools.com