Monday, January 27, 2014

Organizing Your Information on the iPad

In a recent middle school meeting the conversation took a turn at organizational skills our students have, and how the iPad has contributed to a level of disorganization that most teachers found disturbing. Along with worksheets and notebooks, students now create and keep documents on their device using Pages or Notability. So instead of needing to look in a couple of different places, students now have another black hole where homework and projects can disappear, leading to teacher frustrations at having crucial work simply vanish in the ether, never to see the light of day. A device that was designed to be productive turned out to replace the proverbial dog when it came to homework going missing.

We partly address this issue by using Schoology, a learning management software where students can save their information in a Resource folder by saving documents and opening them in another app. Check out our previous blog post on this topic. But I was curious, are there effective ways to have students organize their information on their iPad? A quick search on Google reveals over 126,000,000 hits, but most of them deal with apps that students can use to organize their information. So it made me think: Short of purchasing more apps, or even using apps at all, how can we help our students organize their documents on their device?

Here's an example of disorganization on the iPad. How would that student quickly find what he is looking for?

Here's a better example of organization from a different student. The folders and the document names make it easier for this student to quickly find information.

Here are some strategies we are implementing with our students to help them become organized:

  • We encourage all of our students to create folders in their preferred word processing app, so that they can save their documents to the appropriate class. This is similar to organizing a binder with different sections.
  • We also recommend that students name their documents instead of leaving it blank. The search feature on the iPad will look for titles, but will not go through the documents themselves, so looking for your science homework from last week will not result in a successful search if you have 167 documents named "Blank-###." 
  • With the ability to sync to iCloud, to Google Drive, to Dropbox or even to Schoology, students should back up their documents. We have set up the iPads to back up to iCloud regularly, but backing up documents directly with one or many of the other programs provides a form of insurance that these documents can be quickly found when needed. We average a broken tablet a quarter, and depending on the damage it may be hours before information can be retrieved and reloaded on the replacement tablet. Knowing your documents are in more then one place insures you have access to them at all times.
  • Take a picture of that worksheet you just got with your device. If you lose the sheet, you still have an image of what it looks like and what the information on it says. If you really want to push the concept, import the photo into a word processor and save it to the class folder. 
  • Speaking of taking pictures, we encourage our students to take pictures of notes on the board, of assignments listed on the homework board, and of key presentation slides.

Here are some strategies we hope teachers adopt as Schoology use becomes widespread:
  • Worksheets currently distributed in classes can be uploaded in Schoology as pdfs, giving students access to the information if they happen to lose their own copy. We're not saying stop distributing hard copies of documents, but rather enhance your distribution by adding a copy to your learning management software, your web page or any other electronic means of communication you have. This literally cuts down to nothing the "I lost my sheet, can I get another one?" question as students can now find what they are missing and quickly print it.
  • As a librarian, I like things organized so that I can quickly retrieve what I am looking for. Though we would love it if teachers organized information according to thoughtfully planned and reflected-upon schema, most of us either do not have the time or the inclination to think ahead to what our organizational system will look like three years down the road and thousands of files later. When you find something that works for you, keep it, but come up with a set of conventions that will standardize how you name and organize files. Worksheets named p. 36 homework are great the first year, but after two textbook changes and three computers, what exactly was p. 36 homework? A name like English I - Homework - p. 36 Novel themes is both easier to search for and suggests several ways in which to organize this information.
  • Ideally, we would come up with a naming convention for the entire school that followed a predictable format for staff and students, so that documents and information can be found quickly regardless of the class.
  • Lessons can be recorded with the tablet and broadcast as a podcast, or saved and add it to their course. You were not here yesterday? No problem, watch this presentation.
Organization is always a work in progress, and we are always looking for more advice. How do you organize your tablet?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Schoology at Moultonborough Academy

Over the summer a committee of middle school teachers and the library and technology departments gathered to evaluate two different learning management systems for use with the iPads in our 1:1 initiative with our grade 7 and grade 8 students.

Wikipedia defines a learning management system as "a software application for the administration, documentation, tracking, reporting and delivery of e-learning education courses or training programs." After much evaluation and discussion, we selected Schoology as our learning management system. We liked the use of operation, the similarity to Facebook, and the ability to export grades straight to Powerschool, our grades management software. Course material can now be accessed around the clock and on the weekend as well, and students can submit assignments and tests from home or anywhere there is an internet connection.

The middle school faculty embarked on this new adventure of e-education and we began implementing Schoology in phases. We created classes for all students, and we began posting homework and other calendar dates. Teachers with an adventurous mind took off with it and started exploring what the software can do. Others took it slow and picked up one feature to explore and use with their classes.

In November we opened Schoology to parents as well, so that they can see the assignments, the calendar, and other information posted by the teachers.

"Schoology is easy to use both for students and teachers and it's very helpful, showing me everything I've assigned to all of my different classes in one unified interface," says Latin teacher Matthew Katsenes. He uses Schoology in his class to assign and collect homework and to distribute material to his students. He also employs the calendar feature to make them aware of what's coming up, and he plans to investigate how he can use the test/assessment feature.

"Schoology allows students to be more independent with their learning and more accountable for what teachers want them to do," says Language Arts teacher Jeff Hussman. By posting assignments and quizzes on the calendar, and with the date stamp feature, there are no questions as to when something was submitted or accessed. With the information accessible to students outside of school, our students are able to complete assignments outside of the regular class time if needed.

"I use Schoology as a central location to keep track of the students' ICT portfolio," says librarian Etienne Vallée. "Students submit projects to one of six standards, along with a reflection. Their grades are immediately sent to their gradebook, and they can see the comments I left back on their documents. Best of all, no paper was used or exchanged, avoiding the loss of documents." He also uses the calendar and distributes library related information through Schoology.

"I am using it for tests and quizzes and homework," says Social Studies teacher Judy Perry. "I like the fact that it's accessible, that you can easily get to the work. The difference in the amount of paper is incredible. I like the authentic grading to that I can look at preliminary grades then adjust them and comment on them before returning them to students. I like the crispness of the graphs, maps, and charts on tests." Just as paper-based tests and assignments, however, Mrs. Perry says there is one problem that Schoology does not address: "I can't grade it unless they've submitted it."

Now as we complete our first semester, we look back to lessons we have learned. First, we need to take it slow. Not everyone is on board right away. Some people have a high comfort level with technology. Others will need some support to get started, and yet others will need significant assistance. However, once the basics are mastered, teachers report successful activities, and this encourages more use and more elaborate lessons. Students, however, quickly adapted to Schoology.

Second, we learned that when students upload documents to Schoology from their iPads, they must share them from other apps such as Pages, Keynote or Notability as pdf files. Proprietary formats can be uploaded, but they then must be downloaded and viewed by the teacher instead of being viewable inside Schoology.

Third, we need to provide significant technological support to help teachers and students succeed using this platform. The learning curve can be high, but the rewards are great when teachers realize that they no longer need to grade things twice, once on the actual project or activity and the second time when grades are entered in the grading software. Commenting is immediate, and everything is date stamped. Another advantage is that though setting up assignments and quizzes require significant amounts of time, these activities can be easily replicated and transferred to other classes and saved into a resource folder for future use. Once built, lessons only need tweaking and modifications to reflect how the assignment went and any changes in material.

With a new semester starting, here are some things we are looking forward to:
(1) More teachers using Schoology everyday in engaging and supporting activities;
(2) Calendar events posted for every class;
(3) Better use of the functionalities of the software.
(4) Continued parent awareness of Schoology and what it can achieve.

Here's to a successful second half of the school year!