photo of a man holding a tablet in front of his face, one in his raised left hand, in front of a sky background. A laptop is in the right corner.
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Microsoft has lately stepped up it’s software game. Even when using MacOS, programs like OneNote are among my favorite. My favorite app for iOS is Seeing AI by Microsoft. So, I was excited to play around with a Microsoft Surface for the first time in a long time. Unfortunately, that’s when I realized why I am so invested into the Apple ecosystem and why I think Apple makes the best software.  Out of the box, the Surface Pro ran through a nice setup process and I was able to sign in with my school Microsoft account.  And then, problems galore. Typical for Windows, I had about 200 updates (yes, I am slightly exaggerating) waiting for me. After sitting around for a couple of hours waiting for updates to install it finally popped up with an error during the last update. It was a feature update and it threw up a typically meaningless error. After researching around on the internet and spending a couple of other frustrating hours trying all kinds of recommendations, I was ready to throw the Surface out a window. I realized that I couldn’t come up with anything else to try to get the annoying update to install so I stumbled upon How to Reset Your Windows 10 PC. So, I proceeded to reset the brand new Surface that after half a day of mucking around I still hadn’t used for anything rather than to run try to run Windows updates. Of course, resetting took another couple of hours after which I was yet again at ground 0: waiting for my 200 updates to install. This time, the feature update worked (why it didn’t the first time is still a mystery), and after a couple of days of really doing nothing productive with the Surface I was ready to use it.

I installed a few apps and used the stylus.  I liked the handwriting recognition training even though I had to write 50 sentences, which again seemed like it took forever, but which improved my handwriting recognition significantly. The Surface itself was fine. It flaked out a few times deciding between tablet mode and computer mode, I couldn’t figure out how to access the desktop in tablet mode, but overall it was an ok experience. The handwriting recognition in OneNote was my favorite aspect.

The jarring realization came when I went back to use my iPad. The experience is so much more polished, the device so much more intuitive and responsive that I’m not sure I can find a reason to use a Surface over the iPad.

What has been your experience? If you’re a Surface person, what do you like about it? Have you tried an iPad? What don’t you like about the iPad?

man with hand on temple looking at laptop
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I teach a couple of assistive technology classes, and lately, I’ve been contemplating the idea of transferring them to online. However, I’ve never been a big fan of asynchronous online classes.  I understand the benefits and the allure: distance education, access at a time that is convenient for the student, no commuting and fighting for parking, possibly lower cost, access to a variety of courses.  However, the need for self-discipline is a huge drawback for a lot of students. I, like many others, have signed up for numerous MOOCs when feeling ambitious only to leave them incomplete in the face of multiple demands on my time. Because we don’t have to go to class and face a professor and classmates, it’s a lot easier to put an online class out of mind. Now that’s not to say that everyone lacks the self-discipline to take an online class. It also doesn’t mean that there aren’t other factors that have to be considered when judging the success of an online class.  How engaging is the class? How present is the professor? How is the relationship with the other students in the class established and nurtured?

Quite a while ago, I signed up for an online class that sounded interesting on paper. However, upon logging on, I realized that this is a class that I would never be able to finish successfully.  The way this professor envisioned the class would never work for me because of my lack of self-discipline. He expected that we read the book and answer the questions at the end of the chapter. If we didn’t hear back from him, it meant that everything was great and we could move on. Mind you; I doubt that anyone ever heard from this professor. To me, this is not an online class.

So, while I knew what I didn’t want in an online class, I wasn’t quite sure what an online class should look like, so I started doing some research into best practices.  It turns out that there are quite a lot of recommendations out there that would make the online class much more engaging and accessible than what my old professor was suggesting.  It also turns out that if you want to create and run a successful online class, you probably have to put in more work than when running the class on the ground.

You shouldn’t just take the on the ground class and try to transfer it online. While on the ground lectures may take up an hour or more, in online, best practices advise to keep lectures in 15-20 minute chunks.  You have to make sure you’re available and present in the classroom. If a student has a question make sure you establish a reasonable amount of time that you’ll get back to them, best within 24 hours. If you have online discussions, make sure you let your students know that you are present. Encourage them and ask probing questions but do not take over the lecture.  Encourage group work whether it’s an assignment or discussion groups. Make sure that you detail your guidelines and your expectations. Hold virtual office hours. Consider whether you want to incorporate synchronous activities. Make sure your class is accessible to all learners, including those with disabilities.

Preparing and teaching an online class is a huge responsibility. It’s not a way of reducing your workload.  It does offer the same flexibility to professors as it does to students: the ability to work from where you want and when you want, as long as you are engaged and present.

The 10.5″ iPad Pro is my favorite technology device. I know that it’s expensive, especially if you add the excellent keyboard and pencil, and that is why Apple revised their iPad to have the ability to take advantage of the pencil, however the iPad Pro is what technology should be. It’s light and portable, it has a fairly large screen, it has a flexible operating system (one that could stand some more Jobsian attention to detail but a good one nonetheless), and it has accessories that fully complement it. It is, should be, the future of technology in education.

Side note: I think the greatest educational technology commercial ever created is the one with the young girl and the iPad Pro, “What’s a Computer?” There is so much good stuff packed in a one minute commercial that it should be considered a work of art. But that’s a subject for another post (although if you haven’t seen it, take that one minute and watch it).

One of the greatest things about iOS is the app ecosystem. Not only do we have access to over 2 million apps (although I would debate whether that’s a good thing or not) but those apps are curated by Apple and therefore, at least on some level, we can trust that they only do what they say they do and not some other nefarious function(s). Due to the nature of my job, I have a lot of apps on my iPhone and iPad. As of right now, I have 436 apps on my iPhone and 214 on my iPad. Clearly I don’t use all those apps every day and some I haven’t opened in years months. But, I wanted to take some time and think about my favorite educational apps and share that list with you.

Organization
Fantastical ($9.99) – My favorite, natural language calendar app.  Works with Apple, Exchange, and Google calendars. It is fairly expensive though and it’s only for the iPad.  If you want it on your iPhone as well you have to spring for another $4.99.

Pocket Schedule Planner (free/$.199 pro) – Good academic planner. Includes the ability to add your classes and for each class you can add assignments, tasks, projects, and exams. This is a universal app so it works on the iPad and/or on the iPhone.  You can create an account and sync the information between devices.

Note Taking
Microsoft OneNote (free) – I can put this app both in organization and note taking.  It’s a great app that is available for free as a web app, a computer app or an iOS or Android app.  On the iPad you can type your notes or you can write them with the Apple Pencil or a stylus.  I use it to organize my notes for the classes I take as well as any committee work that I have to do.  I use it to take notes in class and I use it to take notes from my readings. I can take pictures of PowerPoints or things written on the board and it will automatically crop them and insert them. I use it to take notes during meetings and I use it to import documents and minutes for each committee. It’s an app that I wholeheartedly recommend to everyone regardless of operating system or student status.

GoodNotes ($7.99) – Good note taking app that also converts handwriting into text.  Good handwriting recognition but not the best (see below).  It provides a large gamut of paper templates and the handwritten notes are indexed and searchable.  Also allows for handwritten PDF annotations.  You can also type your notes. It only works on iOS.

MyScript Nebo ($5.99) – In my opinion, the best handwriting recognition app on the store.  In addition to English it offers a variety of other languages as well.  It also recognizes math. In addition to handwriting, you can also type your notes. As it stands right now you only have one paper type template which is a drawback compared to some of the other apps out there. It’s also the only one in this list that only works on the iPad and not the iPhone but it also has a Windows 10 version and an Android version.

Notability ($9.99) – The only one on my list of note taking apps that records the audio at the same time you’re taking notes.  It correlates the notes with the audio so if you need to hear what was being said when you took a specific note, you tap on it and it plays back the audio.  You can type or handwrite your notes.  They also have a MacOS version but no Windows and no Android.

Reading/Annotation
LiquidText (free/$4.99 – $24.99 for pro versions) – My favorite annotation app. You can import PDFs and other documents as well as webpages. You can handwrite/type notes, you can highlight and extract passages, you can link notes to each other and places in the text, you can tap on an excerpt and be brought to the original source.  You can save notes/annotations as text files or save a PDF with your entire “workspace.” You can pinch a document and only view the passages you highlighted. It only works on the iPad and has no other OS versions.

Voice Dream Reader ($14.99) –

Writing

Research

Well, that’s my list as it stands right now. What about you? What are your favorite educational apps? What do you think about the iPad/iPad Pro?

wordle for ed tech

In 1943, at the start of the computer era, Thomas J. Watson Jr., then president of IBM is sometimes alleged to have predicted that “there is a world market for about five computers.”  Regardless of whether he said it or not, neither Thomas J. Watson Jr. nor many of his contemporaries could have foreseen the technology revolution that has taken place over the past 70 or so years.  Today, companies like Apple sell hundreds of millions of smartphones, tablets and computers every year.   The biggest consumers of that technology are young adults.  As far back as 2001, Marc Prensky coined the terms “digital natives” and “digital immigrants” to refer to the generation that grew up using technology and those who only adopted technology later in life. Whether they’re accurate terms or not is debatable.  The “digital natives” are certainly adept at using technology for personal use.  Social media, creating and consuming multimedia and gaming, are definitely areas in which digital natives thrive.  Where I think the divide between natives and immigrants narrows is in the use of technology for academic uses.  That’s not stopping the business world from investing tremendously in educational technology and for schools and higher education institutions to follow suit.  According to Gartner, Inc. global spending on technology in education was set to exceed $67 billion in 2015.  While there is impressive evidence to suggest that technology can enhance education, not all technology is created equally. Technology by itself is just a tool and, like any tool, it has to be employed judiciously.  Here’s the analogy I always give: Say you need to dig a hole to plant a flower. You have three options in front of you: you can use your hands, a shovel or an excavator. Too often people either pick their hands or the excavator. Using your hands may be fine in certain situations, but sometimes the earth is too hard. When they use the excavator they make a mess of the situation but rather than realizing that they didn’t pick the appropriate tool, they end up blaming all tools and eventually return to trying to use their hands.

So what is educational technology? Educational technology is technology that, used appropriately, can enhance education.