Sharing Enthusiasm for Technology in Education


Best Device for Students and Teachers; School-Wide Device Choice

Author: Posted: 2017-02-19

Bridging Devices

The best option for students and teachers in schools today is a device that is portable enough yet, powerful and functional in terms of getting work done. Today there are few devices that fit the bill, such as convertible laptops, traditional laptops, and to a lesser extent Chromebooks.

The beauty of a bridge device is that they incorporate multiple methods of input such as a touch interface, stylus, and a keyboard / trackpad. Typically, they are also lightweight. Having to carry around, or have available a few devices such as a table and a laptop or desktop, defeats the purpose of being mobile. Bridge devices have cameras, and can detach easily from their combo keyboard battery. In addition, they are powerful enough to take on any task or demanding video.

Soon we should all have a good selection of device to choose from that will free students to work anywhere anytime. By purchasing bridge devices schools can also save a good deal of funds by not having to buy multiple devices, allowing for funds to be allocated towards other needed devices for the classroom. Finally, both students and teachers can choose devices that fit their teaching and learning styles allowing for differentiated instruction in both directions.

Choosing a Multifunctional Bridging Device

As the famous television, Chef Alton Brown advocates concerning the purchase of cooking utensils, they must be multifunctional. As so must be computing devices. Their function and input methods should be flexible and multifunctional since not every teacher or student works the same way.

When initiating a device agnostic school environment, it is crucial that the teachers and students have access to device that add functionality. The goal is to teach content and skills, not to learn a specific device or operating system. Exposure to different software and devices helps students learn the intuitiveness across all systems. By implementing an agnostic school where students and teachers can use the devices they are already familiar with, there is less training needed, and the user will be comfortable and motivated to use their devices.

By using a variety of devices, students can extend their learning to outside school creating opportunity for real world connections with what they are learning as students can use web based programs across all devices which may be different in their homes.

We are doing a disservice to student and teachers by only using one type of device or platform. Technology rapidly changes and students should be learning on all devices and comparing and contrasting what they can do on their system with what their peers can do. 

Freedom of Choice & BYOD

One of the main arguments for the use of BYOD in schools is that all students get to use devices that they are comfortable using. This saves a great deal of time and effort, as faculty don’t have to teach the minutia of device use, which is a colossal waste of time. One major benefit to a device agnostic BYOD program is that schools don't have to pay for upkeep of devices that are bought and owned by the students.

The argument against BYOD that I hear in most schools is that students all need to use the same device. These same people argue it's hard to train students in the basic use of their devices if they all are different. This is a false argument, as teachers still must teach to different versions of software even if students all have the same device. Oftentimes if not always, software versions differ even on same devices due to minor device variations or outright user interface upgrades. How often students update their software determines whether all the devices are in sync. This almost never happens thereby forcing teachers to teach to different versions regardless.

Schools could force updates to maintain uniform operating systems and programs using specialized software, but that is a costly solution. Schools would balk if teachers requested new text books every year so why should electronic devices be any different? Devices typically needed upgrading every couple to few years depending on the upgrade cycle and forced upgrade path. The only company that guarantees backward compatibility is Microsoft. Allowing students to choose their own devices and to maintain them saves an incredible amount of resources. All major apps and software are platform agnostic, meaning they work on all systems. In addition, most functions today that are needed in schools have a web variant that will work on smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Funds can be better spent on teacher training and other aspects of the school environment that won't need replacing every few years and require our needing to purchase support services and follow expensive upgrade cycles placed upon us at the whim of companies whose sole purpose is to sell us more devices!

Benefits for Agnostic Approach
•	Wide exposure to new innovations in Hardware & Software
•	No OS platform training needed for converts 
•	All systems need patching regularly; No expensive MDM needed!
•	Virus infection is "dead", Symantec has given up on making virus software; Biggest threat is mal/spyware which affects all operating systems
•	Most computer functions can be done online; even tablet apps are having web based interface
•	Good for content creation

Chromebook Invasion

In the United States Chromebooks, have surpassed both Apple and Microsoft as the first choice for student use. Chromebooks are very in-expensive. They are essentially a tablet without the touch screen, but without the high cost. They use Google's Chrome browser as their operating system. They are light, have a keyboard, camera, and have a long battery life. They are ideal for students in a school that uses Google Apps environment, or primarily use online tools. They can only do what can be done in a web browser. So, movie making is out, unless a subscription to a movie making online site is purchased.

Limiting a student or a teacher’s choice to a one brand or device in today’s web centric world only limits the ability to use different teaching and learning styles and methods. By mandating only, the use of one particular device, essentially is tying the hands of both teachers and students by limiting them which is the exact opposite of differentiated instruction. 

By allowing a more open system environment in schools, the learning community will be able to adapt more quickly and easily to changes in the ever-changing world of technology innovations. Using the students as a source of potential new programs and devices will only help create a more dynamic learning environment. By encouraging a device agnostic environment is the best option for schools when looking to create an effective learning environment.

Google Web Store for Education Apps

Author: Mark Page Posted: 2017-01-09

Finding useful applications to enhance student learning can oftentimes be a time consuming endeavor. There are many details that a teacher needs to take into consideration before choosing a program to use in the classroom ranging from cost, platform, age appropriateness, and its usefulness rating. Finding a one stop place to search for learning applications is now a much easier task now that Google has a well established web application store that allows teachers to confidently find applications.

The Web Store is accessible to all devices regardless to platform, which allows teachers to extend the learning environment outside the classroom. The majority of applications are free, and many integrate Google Drive for easy access to school services such as storage and sharing. Using the built in search filter is easy enough to use by selecting “education” category. Finally by using the user rating system teachers can find applications that are tried and true. 

Taking a few minutes to explore the Web Store is sure to be an enlightening experience and will give an idea of what is possible using web applications for learning in the classroom.

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Keyboarding the Neglected Everyday Skill

Author: Mark Page-Botelho Posted: 2016-12-04

Keyboarding is an important skill (Wetzel, 1985) that is taught using one of many readily available programs for any situation. For Kinder through 2nd grade, use the program Tux Typing if your school uses PC's, as Tux Typing is easy for younger students to use. Also, it allows for custom word lists, to help with homeroom collaboration. If your school uses Macs or PC's, and you have good Internet connectivity, use the web based Dance Mat Typing from the BBC web site. The goal for K-2 is familiarization and basic techniques (Nieman, 1996). For 3rd through 5th we use a more comprehensive typing program such as All the Right Type, which is a client server based program for the PC. Non-web based typing programs often allow for tracking of student progress, unlike most of the online typing programs. For the Mac Mavis Beacon has a program that can be loaded on your school network. The goal is to have students learn basic typing skills using programs, then to incorporate the skills learned into existing projects where they can practice what they have learned. Web based applications are also a great choice,e specially since they can work on all devices. There are many browser based apps that are free and track progress such as the Chrome Browser app Typing Club, found in the Chrome Browser Store.
"After students achieve grade level WPM level, they should continue keyboarding familiarization using leveled word lists"
Three Areas of Importance for Typing

Posture - Students need to learn good poster while typing to decrease fatigue Nieman (1996) 
Homerow - Insuring that students keep their fingers on the homerow will help them become efficient Nieman (1996) 
No looking - Taking the time to look for keys demonstrates that more practice is needed. Nieman (1996) 
WPM - 3rd grade aims for 15wpm, 4th grade aims for 20wpm, and 5th grade will aim for 30wpm Sormunen (1988, 1991, 1993) 
Keyboarding Teaching Tip

When students are typing, they will tend to pick-up their hands in order to reach key certain keys such as Backspace. Allowing them to do so will hobble their ability to achieve a high typing rate. Show students that they can reach far-away keys, but have them keep their pointing finger on the initial home row keys J and F. This will allow them to quickly place their other fingers back on the home row keys.

To help students learn to type without looking at the keyboard, have them use the on-screen visual keyboard common with most typing programs. If the program you are using doesn't have an on-screen prompt, you should think about getting or using a different program.

Also, once students are taught Home Row, use a piece of felt or folded paper to cover their hands. This in conjunction with the online screen visual can really help them quickly learn proper finger placement.
Systems and Education Department website:

Nieman, P. (1996). Introducing early keyboard skills: Who, what, where, and how?. Business Education Forum, 51(1), 27-30.
Sormunen, C. (1988). A comparison of speed achievement of students in grades 3-6 who learn keyboarding on the microcomputer. The Delta Pi Epsilon Journal, 30(2), 47-57.
Sormunen, C. (1991). Elementary school keyboarding: A case for skill development. Business Education Forum, 45(6), 28-30. Retrieved January 30, 2005 from Utah State University, Business Information 
Sormunen, C. (1993). Learning style: An analysis of factors affecting keyboarding achievement of elementary school students. The Delta Pi Epsilon Journal, 35(1), 26-38. 

In Search of the Perfect Screen Sharing Device

Author: Mark Page-Botelho Posted: 2016-11-05

Revised November 5th, 2016

In a school environment there’s a need to share one’s desktop in order to teach students, peer student sharing, or presenting at a meeting. Long gone are the days of transparencies, and now digital projects are ever present in school settings. At first as many of us know, cable connections were the mode in which we connected our devices, but soon Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections started to take over allowing easy access to our classroom and office projectors. However as BYOD has started to take hold, we found that wireless software was locked to particular platforms making it difficult to connect in an open platform environment. The Apple TV was a good example of a device that still dominates school settings that even though it is for Apple products only, AirServer, AirParrot and other third party vendors created software to help other devices connect wirelessly.

Apple TV was one of the first devices allowing for wireless connections allowing for students and others in a room to connect and share their screen using a projector. The cost is relatively affordable around $150, and the device is robust. The software and hardware have now gone through a few revisions making it relatively bug and trouble free. However having to manage the incorporation of third party software in order to allow other non-Apple devices to connect can be a drawback. However, using a third party software solution such as AirParrot adds additional functionality. In particular AirParrot allows Apple TV to be cross-platform, and adds the ability for all devices to display specific programs only versus the whole screen. The drawbacks for Apple TV is that the software was designed for viewing movies making presentations viewing less optimal. Finally, the constant barrage of the latest movie ads on the home screen is not perfect for a school setting.

Another new choice is MiraCast, which is designed as a full screen sharing device similar to Apple TV. They usually sell for around $50-100. I've had a few of them and they work well. Its primary purpose is for the business world, so there are no movie ads on the startup screen. However it only works on Android and Windows platforms, which is problematic in a cross-platform school. Additionally, I found that only the Microsoft branded MiraCast device work flawlessly. The other brands I tried were buggy and needed reboots every now and then.

Yet another choice that is truly cross platform is the Chromecast. It works extremely well, and never needed a reboot like Apple TV and MiraCast. It is very straight forward in setting up and is very affordable costing around $25-40. What is really cool about it is that students can all log into it and add there content to a playlist which advances through the queue on its own. ChromeCast can also share specific browser tabs, applications, or the whole desktop making it the most effective casting devices available. A new feature is that it can also cast your screen live to Google Hangouts, which can be recorder for later playback! It’s very share friendly. It is the best choice for a large scale deployment.

The final device which I’ve purchased and tried out is the AirTame. The cost is on par with the Apple TV at $150. It is very similar in design to the Miracast and Chromecast devices. It was designed from the ground up as an education and business centric device. The software is now in its second major revision and is more stable that the initial release version. However the device is still very bugging and needs rebooting often. Although billed as a cross platform device, Apple laptops seem to have difficulty more so than Windows computers in connecting and in maintaining a connection. The ability for phones and tablets to connect however make it a promising device. I was never able to get it to connect to the school’s network which uses a MAC Whitelist authentication. This means that people have to disconnect from the Internet enabled network losing connectivity and connect directly to the device which defeats the purpose.

Now that I’ve used all the major devices available today, what is my choice for schools? I’d still have to choose Google's ChromeCast. It is now a mature product line and allows for BYOD programs the ability to share screens across all devices. It also when taking into account the Pareto principle, is the best choice when implementing school wide. There is no compromise in functionality and the low implementation cost would allow for funds to be used for other projects.

Using Live Video to Extend the Classroom; Virtual Learning Day at the American International School Dhaka

Author: Mark Page-Botelho Posted: 2016-11-04

During our last Virtual Learning Day, I came up with a few observations and tips that potentially can help others with their online teaching and learning practice. First off, all schools should participate, or hold a virtual learning day, as it gives everyone in the learning community an opportunity to practice and to become familiar with the tools and procedures. If a school for whatever reason needs to closed down for one or more days, having everyone prepared will save time and make the experience better. There are many reasons why schools might have to close down, from weather, communicable disease outbreaks to terrorism. Be prepared is better than not.

There are many tools available for use in a virtual learning day. For a class that is not needing direct live contact with students, the tools available that are multi-functional as well as designed for students include Google and Microsoft Classrooms, Moodle, and Edmodo to name a few of the more popular offerings. All of the mentioned online learning platforms are adequate for non-live interactions with students. If face to face interactions are needed there are two very strong offerings, Google Hangouts and Microsoft’s Skype. Both allow for multiple concurrent connections and both are cross-platform ensuring all students regardless of device can connect even if they have to borrow a device. The main strength of both is the ability to share screens as well as files with all participants making both an ideal solution for remote teaching.

Both options allow for multiple students to connect, but they both have a limit. It’s usually not wise to have too many students connected at once as it creates a bandwidth bottleneck thereby degrading the quality of audio. A great strategy is to allow students a range of time to connect for one on one, or small group discussions. Also, turning off video helps conserve bandwidth as well. I recommend training and requiring students to enable the chat feature, which helps students with bad audio situations as well as it allows for a backchannel discussion. The back channel can help guide the discussion as students can post questions while the live discussion is happening. Finally, training students how to use their device for live video use is recommended. Take time in class to have them practice before the online session to make sure the audio and video settings are correct. Also, informing them about ambient noise and light will make the experience much more fruitful and less frustrating.

Allowing students to sign up for a time slot is helpful, but also have students try to connect early on in your planned day leaving time in the end for those students who miss the initial connection time. When working with live video there are many obstacles and pitfalls that can prevent a student and teacher from connecting, leaving a buffer of time for emergency connections is wise. With all the free tools available, and the added potential for live remote learning perhaps it’s time for schools to not only use it for emergency situations, but for extending the classroom for other opportunities such as class trips to a more functional flipped classroom! 


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