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Friday, May 3, 2013

Three Approaches for Getting Content to Elementary Students' iPads - No Email, No Problem

This is a guest post from Beth Holland of EdTechTeacher.org

From the beginning, a major challenge of working with iPads is actually working with iPads. Unlike a computer, there are no multi-user logins, no file structures, and no easy way to share these devices with multiple students. Additionally, in elementary classrooms the challenge becomes even more difficult. Students don't have email addresses. The Terms of Service of many cloud storage options preclude those under the age of 13 from having an account, and devices are often shared. So how can teachers easily distribute content under these circumstances?

Here are three ways to approach distributing content to students without using email or having them log in and out of an account.

Approach #1: Cloud Storage and ______

One of the most obvious answers to distributing content to students, is to leverage a cloud storage solution such as Drive, Dropbox, Box, or even Evernote. Files can be uploaded from either a computer or mobile device and then accessed by the students. However, once those files are uploaded to the cloud, how will students easily access them from their iPads?
Use the App
One option with elementary students is to create a single account with one of these services for all of the shared iPads. To disseminate content, teachers upload files to a folder within that shared account and then instruct the students to access them through the app. While this is an easy solution, there are also two issues. First, this technique skirts the Terms of Service requiring users to be at least 13 years old, making some schools and districts a bit squeamish. With all students sharing a single account, there is an additional risk of students accidentally deleting files from within the app.
Add to Home Screen
Any web site can essentially be "bookmarked" to the home screen of an iPad. Tapping this web clip then opens up the content in Safari. All of the mentioned cloud storage platforms generate public web links for entire folders, meaning that students could access content with one tap, allowing them to follow the same protocol every time a teacher wants them to open a file.

In this manner, teachers upload files to the designated cloud storage folder and then ask students to access that content by tapping on the home screen icon. Since the app is not installed on the iPad, and the students are not logging into an account, there are no Terms of Service violations. The risk of a student accidentally deleting a file is also removed since they only access the files through the web.
Shortened URLs
Typing long web addresses (URLs) can be challenging for younger students, but using a consistent shortening system could provide an alternative solution. With TinyURL, bitly, or goo.gl, students only type a few characters rather than an entire web address. If the same shortener is used repeatedly, Safari will start to auto-fill the web address, leaving students to only update the custom ending. In addition to accessing files, and folders, hosted with cloud storage, shortened URLs can help students quickly access any web site.
QR Codes
Think of QR codes (Quick Response codes) as image-based short links. They are the square images with black and white squiggle patterns that often appear on advertisements, in magazines, and on signs. Scanning a QR code with iPad then launches the designated web site.

With iPads, students could use a QR scanning app such as Scan, Qrafter, or Zapper, to instantly visit a web address - eliminating the need for them to type in a URL. Teachers who want every student to read the same web page, or download the same file from the cloud, could use a QR creator site such as delivr to generate the image for students to then scan. Imagine a scenario when students enter a classroom, pick up their iPads, scan a projected QR code, and then begin working with whatever web content that they accessed.

Approach #2: Create a Landing Page

Using the Open In feature in Safari allows teachers to easily get content to students as long as it is hosted on the web. Another option for providing students with a consistent means for accessing content is to create a Landing Page.

For teachers who regularly and routinely provide content to students, a class blog, wiki, or Google Site would be a great option, and a link to that site could be added to the home screen for easy access. To present content specific to a lesson, unit, project, or activity, there are two other tools to consider:
Thinglink
With a free Thinglink account, teachers create interactive images that include links to other images, videos, audio files, and web addresses. Especially when working with non-readers and beginning readers, this could be a good visual option for disseminating information about a unit or project. For students to easily access a Thinglink, consider using either a shortened URL or a QR code.
EdCanvas
Similar to ThingLink, EdCanvas lets teachers create interactive pages with a series of "tiles" that hold images, video, audio, web links, and even Google Docs. From a computer or iPad, teachers can curate content for their students to use, and then provide a link to the canvas. The video below provides more details about using EdCanvas and iPads for workflow.



Approach #3: Use a Learning Management System

There are dozens of options for Learning Management Systems (LMS) and some work better with iPads than others. With an LMS, students login with their own account - no age limits - and can then access PDF files, images, text, video, audio, and links. Two free options to consider are Edmodo and Schoology.

With both platforms, teachers can post what they want their students to open and access. This can happen either through the Edmodo or Schoology app as well as the web versions of those tools. In a shared environment, students just need to remember to log out of their account at the end of each session - which can be a bit cumbersome until a good routine has been established.

Jennie Magiera wrote an excellent post about Schoology vs Edmodo, and Daniel Edwards has a great article about Edmodo as THE iPad Workflow Solution. The EdTechTeacher iPad As.. page also includes a section on Access a Class with a Learning Management System (LMS).

No Single Solution

With workflow, a single solution does not exist. However, with some creative planning, it is possible to easily distribute content to students who are under 13 and do not have email.

This summer, Beth will be addressing this topic and more during the EdTechTeacher Summer Workshop Series.

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