Thursday, January 19, 2012

Make Sure You Can Get Your Data

Source: San Diego International Airport
I've written about this topic before, but a question I was asked this morning made me think that it's time to bring it up again. 

This morning, after my presentation at Hunter College, CUNY, I was asked a question about the reliability storing information in "the cloud." It's not an uncommon question and it is a valid concern. My recommendation is, if you're going to store a lot important information in a cloud-based service, make sure that you can export your information whenever you want. If that is not an option, I would be reluctant to store a lot of important information like grades or exams in that service.

I do 98% of my document creation in Google Docs. Any document that I create in Google Docs that is important to me I download a copy of and store on my computer and or on removable drives. On the other hand, I have plenty of short documents in Google Docs that I never download because they don't contain any information that I couldn't live without.

Updates to LearnBoost

LearnBoost, a great online gradebook service, has updated the way that teachers and school administrators can allow students and their parents to view their grades. You can read the full announcement and directions here. The short version of the story is LearnBoost has made it easier for students and to organize their access to grades. In the past students had to keep track of multiple access credentials for each class. That inconvenience has been removed now.

Full disclosure: LearnBoost is an advertiser on Free Technology for Teachers

PowerSchool Comes to the iPhone and iPad

The gradebook/ student data management system PowerSchool recently released two free iPhone and iPad apps. The new apps, one for students and one for parents, give students and parents instant access to information like attendance records, grades, assignments, and school-wide announcements. To use the app the school has to be using PowerSchool 7.1 or later.

Applications for Education
For students and parents who use iPhones and or iPads, the PowerSchool apps should be handy for keeping up with important information. Parents concerned that their high school students may have skipped a class can check on that information quickly (provided the record in PowerSchool is updated).

Wolfram Launches a New Education Portal

Wolfram Alpha has offered free lesson plans for a couple of years now. Today, Wolfram announced the launch of the new Wolfram Education Portal. The Wolfram Education Portal is an etextbook for Algebra and Calculus. The etextbook includes interactive demonstrations built using Wolfram Mathematica. In the Wolfram Education Portal teachers will have access to lesson plans. While not terribly detailed, the lesson plans do have clear objectives as well as all of the resources a teacher needs to conduct the lesson.

To access all of features of the Wolfram Education Portal you do have to register for a Wolfram account (it's free) and download the Wolfram CDF Player for your computer. Registering and installing the player takes just a couple of minutes.

Applications for Education
The Wolfram Education Portal could be an excellent resource for middle school and high school Algebra and Calculus teachers. The aspect of the Wolfram Education Portal that I find most appealing is the interactive demonstrations accompanying the text.

Initial Impressions of Apple's New Education Initiatives

You might have heard that today Apple had a big event to launch their new K-12 marketing educational products initiatives. For the sake of full disclosure I will tell you now, that I have not had hands-on experience with Apple's new offerings yet. I hope to have time for that in the next few days. These are my initial impressions based on reading the promotional materials, reading some other blogs, and some short exchanges on Twitter. Remember, these are my initial impressions and I reserve the right to change my mind.

About iBooks Author
iBooks Author is Apple's new free (although it only works on Mac OS X) is the one thing that I'm somewhat excited about using. iBooks Author will allow users to create their own multimedia digital textbooks. The templates that I've seen remind me quite a bit of Apple's Pages program. For the record, I think Pages is fantastic. The limitation of iBooks Author is that you can only publish to and access the finished product through the iBooks app. Audrey Watters has written a nice hands-on with iBooks Author piece that I recommend reading.

If your school is exclusively using Apple hardware and software iBooks Author could be a good authoring tool for you. Of course, you could accomplish the same purpose of having students create multimedia reference materials by using services like Wikispaces and Simple Booklet.

About the new iTunes U
The new iTunes U certainly has the potential to be a good way to distribute course materials to students. I always celebrate when schools, whether K-12 or higher ed, publish their course materials to the public. One of the great things about the modern web is wealth of free information available to almost anyone that can access the Internet.

Once again Apple has created some highly aesthetically-pleasing products, they always do. The technology tools that get me excited are tools that students can use to remix and or create new things. The iBooks Author tool offers that to Mac users.

Other than iBooks Author, my initial impression of the new education offerings from Apple is pretty blah. The iBooks textbooks look very nice and have some interactive elements. But, I can't help but wonder why Apple choose to make the, "iBooks will make kids' backpacks lighter" as their second marketing point. It seems to me that if iBook textbooks are going to "revolutionize" education that something other than "lighter backpacks" would be Apple's second marketing point for iBooks.

Discovery, Discussion, and Demonstration

This morning I had the privilege to speak to about 100 nurse educators at the Hunter College campus of City University of New York. These are the slides from my presentation this morning. The slides on their own don't mean all that much, but they do contain some references to the tools that I demonstrated. The tools that I discussed this morning were organized around the idea of using technology in education for the purposes of discovery of information and resources, discussing our findings, and demonstrating what we've learned.
If you're interested in having me speak to your group, please see my work with me page and or send me an email at richardbyrne (at) freetech4teachers (dot) com