15 November 2011

App-rehensive

About 6 weeks ago, I started using a tablet. Perhaps "using" is too strong of a word. It might be more accurate to say I have access to one at work. The fact is, there isn't a lot of work that is done on it---mainly because the day-to-day aspects of my job don't fit well with this kind of device. Yes, I have access to a keyboard for it...and I even purchased an app to be able to do some basic work with Word, PowerPoint, and Excel files. But my laptop is just a much more robust tool (and, it's connected to the Internet).

However, the overall purpose is greater than just my personal productivity. I'm also doing a lot of thinking about classroom uses. I've been trying to set aside a certain amount of time each week to review apps and ponder how I would integrate the device and the apps into my teaching. I keep asking myself, If the education fairy plopped you in a classroom tomorrow and all the students had tablets, what would be different for teaching and learning?

At this point, I'm not entirely sure of the answer to that question. Mind you, I never thought much about it with other resources and tools. Replace the term "tablets" in that question with "textbooks" or "calculators" or "coloured pencils" and I don't think the answer would be very different. Maybe it's because the magic that is learning is not dependent upon the stuff---at least not in my mind.

It's not that I don't see certain advantages with the tablet. One tablet weighs a helluva lot less than a bunch of textbooks. (Tablet = 1, Scoliosis = 0) In terms of science and math, there are a lot of tools that I wouldn't have to spend precious dollars to buy/replace: e.g. stopwatches, graphing calculators, measurement tools. There are additional ways for students to capture content. They can take a picture, capture video, or sync audio to notetaking. A classroom calendar could easily be synced with a student's personal calendar to track assignments. Certainly immediate access to the Internet could be a plus (and a distraction).

But in the grand scheme of things: So what? If kids can do all of the same things in the classroom without a tablet---why bother? It's a lot simpler to pull out the container of stopwatches for a lab than to sort through the various apps to find the best option. I have to say that searching for and testing out apps is a major time commitment. I don't have to plug in and sync textbooks (and kids have a far easier time annotating print). I know that I'm not the most knowledgeable person around when it comes to careers, but I can't think of any that exclusively use tablets. (We'll get into the whole issue of student choice for product/output in the next post.)

I know that some out there will argue that this isn't the point. A tablet is a Disruptive Technology, therefore we won't understand it's potential and uses from the get-go: Users will define those within the learning environment. Maybe there's some truth in that, but I would be willing to bet that what we will see is a bunch of tablets pushed into schools and instruction will continue pretty much the same way it always has. If you want to blame lack of PD for that, feel free. But I think it's more than that. I think it's a fundamental disagreement about how teaching and learning occur.

However skeptical I am at this point that tablets will revolutionize the classroom, I'll keep poking along with my own explorations. I'm willing to be convinced.

And with that in mind, here is my first list of apps to share. These are just for organization. I don't know or care if these are available for iPad. If you're a droid person, however, you might want to check these out:
  • AudioNote allows you to take synchronized audio and text notes. It's not as good as a LiveScribe pen, I have to say, but for brief events that you want to capture, it's a nice tool. There is a Lite Version, which is free.
  • Schedule St. is geared more toward students. It's a dayplanner/agenda app, with to do list integration. I like this one because you can easily categorize and sort the "to do's." So far, this is the best agenda/planner app that I've found.
  • Bluetooth File Transfer is a nifty way to move files and apps between devices. One of the greatest advantages of the droid platform is the freedom you have with your devices and apps. You never have to use iTunes. Sharing and syncing with bluetooth means you can be cable free.
That's all for this update. I'll keep exploring and sharing ideas now and then. Have recommendations? Leave them in the comments.

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