A great alternative to Interactive Whiteboards

In this post Ian McNaught, Director of e-learning at Majan College reports on the college’s recent experience with an Interactive Whiteboard iPad app. You can see an example of this technology in action in the video below.

I’ve always had mixed feelings about Interactive Whiteboards (IWB). On the one hand, it’s not hard to see they genuinely have some great potential in the classroom and there is plenty of research reporting them to be popular with staff and students (curiously “popular” is a more common adjective used to describe them rather than “effective”!). However, they are beset with two major problems: 1) They are very expensive and 2) they are not portable.

Why we’ve never invested in Interactive Whiteboards

Being expensive, it is rarely possible or sensible to equip every teaching room with the equipment, but because they’re not portable  access to them is limited (I realise there are some portable options, but because of the time they take to set them up before a class can start I don’t count these). Using them effectively takes some practice and experience, therefore easy access to them is essential. Unless every single classroom is equipped with the technology, a teacher may be in a position of having to plan two lessons, one for when they’re timetabled in an IWB equipped classroom and another for when they’re not, or settling for the lowest common denominator and failing to get the best out of the technology and relegating the IWB to being a $3000 PowerPoint clicker! If the IWB classrooms are under heavy demand (as you would expect) when can teachers get access to the technology to practice?

Doceri IWB iPad application being used at Majan College

Doceri IWB iPad application being used at Majan College

For these reasons and more, we’ve resisted buying IWB’s, despite being attracted to some of their features. Now however, we’ve discovered technology which is much more affordable, completely portable and offers all the major features of an IWB (plus a couple of unique ones of its own). This technology is called Doceri, it comes in two halves – a desktop application (for PC or Mac, costs $30) and a (free) iPad app. At a basic level Doceri works as a remote desktop application allowing you to control the screen of the PC you are wirelessly connected to (usually the one connected to the projector), but beyond this it allows you to control PowerPoint,  annotate on the screen, create diagrams and graphs and take pictures using the iPad camera (or importing from the gallery). It also allows you to record your presentations using the built in microphone making it the easiest lecture recording applications I’ve come across.

While there are certainly a few areas where a true IWB would be better than Doceri, many other factors tip the balance in Doceri’s favour. Below is a summary of the biggest advantages Doceri has over an IWB.

Cost

Even if you were to buy an iPad for every classroom or teacher, it would be substantially cheaper than equipping the same number of classrooms with IWB’s, plus you have all the other functionality built into an iPad. Even with a limited number of iPads, staff can get a lot of use out of it due to how portable an iPad is.

Flexibility

IWB’s are limited to projector screens small enough for a user to reach to all four corners. Doceri has no such limitation, it can be used in small teaching rooms and huge lecture theatres.

Access

Staff who have their own iPad can download the free iPad app and use this in any classrooms with the $30 software installed. This software can even be used unlicensed and for free, but with a watermark on the screen. This means staff can practice using the software in the comfort of their office or living room, rather than having to practice out of hours in an empty classroom.

Interactivity

Despite their names, IWB’s are designed to enhance rather than replace what is a very teacher-centric pedagogy. All the action takes place at the front of the classroom and students who wish to interact have to walk to the front, taking valuable time out of the session and leaving out those who may not have the confidence to “perform” in front of their peers. In contrast, an iPad can be handed round students without them getting out of their seats and more students can participate without taking time away from the learning process.

We’d love to hear of any other innovative technology people are using in their classrooms to enhance the students learning experience.

Using Google Docs to give instant feedback to English language students

Live comments on a document

Live comments on a document

In a recent classroom session, Mohammad Tanveer (referred to as Tanveer), one of our lecturers teaching English Language to foundation level students (usually native Arabic speakers) used Google docs to facilitate a writing activity. Prior to the session, Tanveer put the students into groups and created a document shared with each group (we use Google Apps for Education, so students already had accounts). They were assigned a topic “Poverty” and given a few pointers to inspire their writing. The students then worked on individual computers, but on their group documents.

As the groups were constructing their documents, Tanveer sat at a computer with all the group documents open in different tabs. He was constantly switching between these documents to check the progress and adding comments to highlight any mistakes. These comments would pop up instantly in front of the students, and they would make the correction and click on the comments “resolve” button to make it go away. Tanveer could see the corrections being made live on his screen, often before he had finished writing the next comment.

This activity meant students could receive instant feedback on their writing, make corrections and in the course of the session create a document of grammatically correct English. The added advantage of this approach is it encouraged students to keep writing because they knew their progress was being monitored.

Overall this was a very successful session; however it was not without its challenges. It was the first introduction to Google Docs for most of the students, so there was a slight learning curve, and it took a bit of time to get going waiting for them to get over the novelty of seeing multiple cursors simultaneously writing a document!

5 steps towards true blended learning

blended-learning-divideWhen working towards a true “blended learning” environment, it is common to see more of a “split learning” approach with very little “blend”. It’s easy to segregate the different learning environments in your mind. It’s also easy to assign differing importance to each element according to the environment in which you are delivering them. You can end up observing some or all the following attitudes:

  1. online activities = optional extras for the keen students
  2. online = a repository of resources for the module
  3. online = optional; face to face sessions = mandatory

These may be subconscious attitudes, but they are certainly attitudes that can be observed in a lot of staff and students. The reality is, learning is learning whether online or in the classroom, and each environment contributes unique learning opportunities that the other doesn’t offer, or offers poorly. A key skill of the 21st century educator is to recognise the strengths and weaknesses of the learning environments available to them, and create the most effective and holistic learning experience that they can. This is true blended learning.

If this post we will present a 5 practical steps we have found helpful in removing the division between online and offline learning. Continue reading