Notetaking app for Education: Review of Underscore Notify

iTunes Link:

One of the most popular categories of iOS apps is that of notetaking, for obvious reasons. It is one of the areas where nearly all the benefits of working digitally come together to provide real enhancement of the teaching/learning process. There are several really good ones – Penultimate is beautiful for handwriting, Soundnote is great for recording audio notes that are mapped to typed notes, Smartnote lets you add all kinds of widgets and graphics to enhance your notes. But far and away the most useful, most comprehensive notetaking app I have ever used is Underscore Notify – I know I’m making this sound like I work for them – not the case. I’m just one grateful educator. Here’s a quick overview of its features:

- Type notes anywhere on screen; multiple font and text colour etc options
- draw, highlight etc again with multiple pen and colour options
- import PDF files or other documents to annotate and highlight
- import images as backgrounds or to illustrate notes
- use the built-in web browser to clip webpages straight into your notes
- use the built-in maps function to clip google maps straight into your notes
- add audio recordings to your notes
- built-in web server – you can share your screen live to anyone with a web browser
- VGA out- you can display your screen live as you create your notes or present pre-made pages
- hand-writing recognition (with PhatPad in-app purchase) – translates handwritten notes into typed text.
Of course just having all these features is no good if the app is too messy or complicated for them to be easily used, but Notify has a great inbuilt help function and tutorials (although these load from a website) meaning that it doesn’t take to long to puzzle out all of its extensive functions.
The obvious use of this app is for notetaking right? And certainly from the features above you can see how powerful it would be. But here is my usage scenario to illustrate how I think Notify can be by a teacher:
Because the VGA out / web-server allows you to share your screen, I have enjoyed success using Notify to present and facilitate a teaching session. I draft up a series of pages (slides) as an outline and fill them with some images, info etc, but as the session goes on, Notify allows me to add in web pages, maps, extra documents, whatever that enrich and extend the lesson – all right within the one app and immediately viewable by everyone who is participating. The dynamics that this allows fits in very well with my ideas of how the 21st century classroom should operate – flexible and adaptable.
Even better, its US$1.99 price AND the fact that its universal (pay once for the iPad and iPod touch version) makes it a no-brainer to download and try. It does experience crashes on my iPad (probably due to low memory), but seemed to always have saved my work when I restarted. The sheer number of features does give it a learning curve also, but as I’ve said, the help and tutorials sections are very good. Overall, 8/10

Posted via email from Jonathan Nalder’s posterous

#LWF11 Festival of Learning & Technology: My Best Of

I recently had the great opportunity to attend the Learning Without Frontiers ‘festival of learning and technology’ in the UK in January of this year. The conference itself had three streams of Handheld learning, Game based learning, and digital safety. I of course had been interested mostly in attending the handheld learning sessions, but it was in fact the lineup of amazing short talks (what we used to call ‘Keynote’s in a pre-TED talks world) that ended up having the most impact on my thinking.

(Collage created in Moxier Collage on iPad)
So, I’d like to share here which of these talks I found the most inspiring, and hope they may provide the great start to your year that they did to mine: (I’ll include direct viewing links as well as links to download the podcasts via iTunes).
Iris Lapinski – Apps for Good, a problem solving program for young people that leads to their apps being created using Android. Features students themselves talking about the project.
Theo Gray – Creator of the Elements App; Co-founder of Wolfram Alpha; spoke eBooks, creating media, and about the disruption caused by technology.
Bill Rankin – ACU mobile connected initiative. ACU in Texas, USA was the first university to deploy iPhones and iPod touches to all students and faculty, and they now have three years of data showing the initiative to be a success. Bill talked also about eBooks and the future of books and textbooks.
Abdul Chohan – ESSA Academy school UK – this schools was a failing school, until a re-boot saw iPod touches widely and smartly deployed.
Tony Vincent – Learning in Hand – Tony expertly goes through just what’s possible with mobile movie making.
Stephen Heppell ‘Education is the next cartel that people and technology will break’. Inspiring and disruptive as ever, Stephen was great at cutting through to inspire thoughts about what education should look like.
Jimmy Wales, co-founder, Wikipedia – A great opportunity to hear directly from the founder of such a central plank of the digital revolution share his thoughts on the power of information.
David McCandless – Infographics –
Just wanted to take this opportunity to say a huge thanks also to everyone who SMS’d and TXT’d in to support my shortlisting in the Primary Innovator Award category – the win was a  great surprise, and just goes to show the strength of the great networks I’m privileged to be a part of.

Posted via email from Jonathan Nalder’s posterous

Where is Australia at on the mLearning to uLearning journey?


Nearly two years ago, I closed down my Google top ten Mobile Learning blog after 3 years and over 10,000 hits. I felt that the time of calling from the roof tops that mobile learning existed was over. People had started paying attention to the rise of mobile phones etc as the preferred computing platform of those who education should be centered around, ie. students. Reports like New Media Consortiums ‘Horizon Report’ were including mobile learning as one of the top educational trends. Game-changing next-gen devices like the iPhone were just appearing, and when I went to write an mLearning paper for my Masters thesis, I discovered there were plenty already.

So I was forced to research where mLearning was going, and to think about what was the next phase that the world of education needed to be hearing about. It seemed logical after a time that of course as computing became more miniaturized and mobile, it would eventually become ubiquitous, or an unnoticed part of everything – invisible as all other technology that has proceeded it has after enough time has passed. So in a world such as that, what will ubiquitous learning need to look like?

I’m still not really sure exactly what it will look like, but as you know if you’ve been following this uLearning blog, I’ve been continuing to follow several mLearning developments as a way to track the overall journey. There are two in particular I’m most involved with here in Australia, and I’d like to detail whats been happening and what learning that takes them into account looks like.

1. Single use – multi-use – ubiquitous uses

The first is the continued convergence of the standard mobile device from being a phone or a mp3 player into one that does everything. Dedicated devices will always be around, but what has also occurred is that the average device, especially now that touch-screens have replaced buttons and mobile app stores are proliferating, is becoming ubiquitous-use devices. Its safe to say for instance that the 300,000 apps in the iOS App store provide at the very least thousands of potential uses, be it as a digital level tool for building, or a portable weather radar etc, as well as the more traditional phone, camera, GPS etc.


In Australia, the uptake of the iPhone is the highest in the world. That alone has to tell you something about how deeply entrenched these kinds of devices are here already. The state of Victoria is trialling 800 iPads, and I personally know of over 40 schools (there will be many times that number I don’t know about) here in Queensland who have deployed iPod touches and now iPads. In fact the second Slide2Learn conference focusing on these devices in education recently sold out 80% of its places in only 2 1/2 days.

Here are some links to explore more of what the actual practitioners are doing: ,

Also significant has been the spread of educational net-book programs into countries that have skipped the desktop PC era (for various reasons) and gone straight into the mobile computing one. In this category we have the One Laptop per Child XO laptop, as well as the Intel Classmate. OLPC has seen over 2 million XOs deployed, with many more ordered. Classmate numbers are harder to get a hold of, but large orders have been placed in addition to the many schools that have opted for standard netbooks.


Like the iPod touch and iPad deployments happening here in Australia, the OLPC XO laptop is much more in the complementary/ personalised learning device category. What this means is that most schools already have PC labs and other ICT infrastructure, but they don’t have mobile devices that allow students constant, anywhere access to the potential benefits of having connected, personal tools in student hands. The rugged nature of the XO device in particular makes it ideally suited to use by early and primary school aged students, especially in remote locations far from repair sites.

Here are some links to see more of what has been happening:

Get some perspective… (a primer piece re: lofty ideals vs on the ground realities in regards to educational technology deployments)

Perspective graphic sm sm
I just found out that I’m one of about 20,000 people in Australia working in the area of information and communication technology in education ( Wow. That’s a lot of us. My first reaction was, why aren’t we having a bigger impact?

Turns out this figure is actually only 3.71% of all the nations ICT workers, so maybe thats why. You see what I did there? The big picture perspective does matter.

I’m fortunate that my job does have scope for analysing research around ICT integration and pondering these kinds of matters so I can best support schools who are moving towards mobile and transformational learning programs (specifically the XO laptop, but also other platforms such as iPad’s and iPod’s). This led me today to this big picture article: Global trends in ICT and Education that lists mobile learning, cloud computing, 1:1 computing, ubiquitous learning, gaming, personalised learning, redefinition of learning spaces, teacher generated open content, smart portfolio assessment and teacher managers/mentors as the top 10 trends happening in ICT and education right now. Shorter and easier to quickly read than the similarly useful Horizon reports (, this blog post has however inspired a series of comments many times its length, my summary of which is: ‘lofty ideals vs on the ground realities’.

We seem to waste so much time in this field debating which of these two extremes deserves to be the guiding light. In response, I’m going to commit the cardinal sin of saying – there is an easy solution (more on that in a moment). Basically the commenters were saying either that yes, these big picture trends should be what educators aim at, or that no, realities close to the ‘coalface’ (there’s that industrial vestige still hanging around) of schools and classrooms should be the priority. One comment from a teacher in Morocco in particular really effected me (‘the true trends’, anonymous). This teacher states that “that in most parts of the world teachers are still fighting to get colored chalk from the administration of their schools”. Wo. Didn’t see that one in the top ten trends. They go on to say that while their school has one multi-media room with PCs, its little used, and that a training program for teachers to encourage ICT use only focused on theoretical topics, not practical issues, and thus was largely irrelevant. The teachers own efforts in using a blog to enhance learning had gone completely unnoticed and supported by the schools administration. You can understand a person like this questioning the if the global trends were trends or just buzz words.

So instead of ‘global’ trends, perhaps we should say ‘western’, or ‘for those who can afford it’, or ‘for those who live in cities’ etc. My own work in partnership with One Laptop per Child Australia’s 1:1 XO laptop deployments is giving me a unique and treasured chance to see what education in some of the disadvantaged schools of my own country is like. One Laptop per Child could certainly be said to have lofty goals. “Give poor, disadvantaged children a laptop?!” Many people say “What about food, clothing, and water?” Even those who can see that a digital education is key to help give students a chance to connect with a wider world and create their own solutions to such problems may have other questions such as “what about our existing curriculum and mandated testing?”, or “we don’t have a culture of individual ownership here, how can we give laptops to kids to take home and expect them to come back to school?”.

So, should we aim high? Or take care of local problems first? If we do aim high, how can we stop on the ground complications from impacting the benefits that ICTs might otherwise bring? Does it have to come down to a one or the other choice?

“There is another” (- Yoda, Empire Strikes back). My offering here in this debate, gleaned from spending a few years now working in my own school, with teachers across my state, and now across the country to help teachers integrate technology in their pedagogy amounts to this – there is a middle way. See, easy! Don’t take one or other side – look for the exact mid-point. Ok? Article over.

So why doesn’t this occur? Why is it that the continuous commentary on the success or otherwise of One Laptop per Child on a site like, or the debate on the Global Trends post referred to in this article always come down to aim high, OR focus on local problems almost exclusively?
Hard work, thats why. Not that educators are avoiders of hard work, far from it. But whether you are an administrator planning a technology deployment, or a teacher dealing with a busy classroom, you are no doubt already working at your limits, and finding an approach that marries the best of two lines of thinking is always going to be harder than sticking with one or the other.

So am I going to specify what this middle way is to ease the burden so to speak, if I really am saying this is the way to go? I would, except I don’t fully know yet myself… , sorry.

See what I did there again? I raised your hopes, only to leave you somewhat disappointed. Why would I do that to someone who has faithfully read the last 850 words? Because, you don’t need my solution. In effect, you are your solution, as long as you know not to stick just to one camp or the other.
What I do humbly suggest though, is these two things:
1.Plan plan plan: The most lofty but potentially transformative ideas tend to convert into hot air if left to do all the work themselves, or if its assumed that a ‘one size fits all’ approach is sufficient. Please don’t allow this to happen. Effective transformation opportunities in schools are too rare to not do the hard work behind the scenes of planning every step, and answering every local question first before they get asked. In this way, you can base your plan on the right big picture goals, but address on the ground issues as well.
If you’d like a basis on which to do this planning, have a look and download this detailed planning guide that gives 21 steps to take your school through It bravely but sensibly leaves handing out the actual technology until step 20. Have a read to see why.

2. Change the minds. “THERE IS SOMETHING WHICH COMES BEFORE TECHNOLOGY. It’s the mind of people.” So says our anonymous teacher from Morocco. Research shows that teachers are the biggest factor effecting the long term success of technology deployments (see page 10, Therefore, it is vital that teachers engage in processes that allow their pedagogy to best support the possibilities that 1:1 classrooms and technology rollouts in general offer. This means effective teacher training that gives the theoretical big picture argument as well as the means to apply this locally in ways that enhances existing practice as a means to starting them on a journey where the potential of ICTs to inspire transformation can begin.

I’ll have more to say about this stage of the process in a future post…
NB. The thoughts and opinions expressed in these posts are all mine, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of anyone else, including my employer.

So what are these super popular tablet computers capable of anyway?


Its hard to deny that in the book that tells how computing has become more and more mobile such that its already almost ubiquitous, the current chapter would be titled ‘tablets’. While they have been around for some years in various forms, the recent maturation of mobile operating systems such as Android and iOS to match the slate style has seen an explosion in the adoption rates of tablet computers. The iPad is selling over 1 million devices a month, and it seems that conversely, about a million different Android tablets get announced each week. The Dell Streak, Asus EePad and Samsung Galaxy are all examples of high profile Android tablet computers that will be released in the next 4 months. There are also education specific initiatives around Android tablets in the shape of the Marvel/OLPC $99 project, and India’s $35 slate. Of interest also is what HP releases in the way of a ‘PalmPad’ tablet that will run the WebOS they bought along with Palm.

Ok, so enough about the hype of devices. What can they do? And specifically, what can they do for learning? Not having access to an Android tablet yet myself, my observations are based on the using the iPad. For a list of Android education apps though, go here.

I’m aiming then to post semi-regular articles on what these tablets can do, starting today with this example: iBrainstorm (free from the appstore). This app (an others like it) allow you to map out ideas, plans and thoughts visually. Where it really provides a new experience is that, being available on a tablet, all the work is done by direct touch, just as we would have once done pre-PCs. So we get to arrange notes and draw in a paper-like way, but with all the advantages that working digitally brings – such as instant sharing and storage of the brainstorm session. And, you also get to instantly collaborate. iBrainstorm allows other devices (iPhones or iPod touches as you’d expect from this platform) to connect via bluetooth and create their own sticky-notes which can be passed to the main iPad with a flick of the finger.

In a classroom, I can just see the group work possibilities. You could have four – five students summarising a topic, with up to four students creating sticky-notes of key points and flicking to a fifth student with the iPad tablet who then arranges them. I am really hoping that in near future the developers will add a video-out capability so the work could be projected to a big screen to show the brainstorm taking place live – that way the whole class could contribute.

If this is any indication of the kind of applications that tablet computers of any platform are capable, I for one am excited about the the kind of learning they will help enable. Of course it all depends on teachers facilitating their use – would love to hear from other teachers attempting to do so.

Moving at the speed of Learning: a case for mLearning and the iPod touch


I recently had the great pleasure of presenting these slides both at the Slide2Learn event in Victoria, and for 80 teachers of students with hearing impairments on the recent pupil free day. The slides aim to show how mobile devices are able to help teachers and students to keep up with the speed of learning that should be a feature of any contemporary, complex classroom now that ubiquitous, everyware computing is almost upon us.

It draws on Blooms Taxonomy and challenges teachers to aim higher and to engage with how mobile tools are becoming an increasingly necessary tool for all of us as we seek to prepare students for a digital future (and present). Each slide includes notes explaining what the PDF files are showing. The slides basically fall into these three sections:

A. Assumptions about schooling, then and now, B. PART 2. Blooms Taxonomy, higher order thinking, and where the complex contemporary classroom and mobile devices come in, C. PART 3. Focus on the iPod touch platform in relation to how it fits the complex classroom – with actual examples from my school.

You can view the slides HERE thanks to slideshare.

iPhone 4 – not much for educators? (updated)


While I wait for a decent Android tablet to ship (be it iPod touch or iPad sized), I’ll instead post here about the just released info on the iPhone 4 and its OS (iOS4). Why? Well because in my state alone there are many many schools using the iPod touch to enhance learning. Here are some thoughts:

iPhone 4 new wiz-bang features:

  • 960x 640 ‘retina’ IPS display, antenna’s integrated into the case, front facing video camera, all glass casing thats much thinner than the 3GS, noise-canceling mic, Apple A4 processor, LED flash, fast 802.11N wifi, gyroscope, 5 megapixel camera with 5x digital zoom, 720p HD video recording, iMovie for iPhone and ‘Facetime’ wifi video calling.

I can’t see much there that will actually help me do my job as a teacher any better than what the 3GS does, perhaps except that it’ll be a bit faster at switching from say reading a pdf to showing a picture etc. UPDATE: Looks like from the tech specs on the iPhone 4 site that it will support VGA out to projectors like the iPad – NICE!

Perhaps of more interest from a school perspective is what the iOS 4 update will bring on June 21:

  • iBooks – plenty of free books AND will soon be able to act as a standard PDF reader and bookshelf
  • Multi-tasking – this is why I say iOS4 – not much for schools, because the vast majority of us are using 2nd gen iPod touches in our schools, and these won’t support mulit-tasking. Will have to see what price the 3rd gen iPod touch drops down to around september when the 4th gen iPod touch should be released, but when the 2nd gen is now available for under AU$200, its hard not to be getting these for schools
  • Spellchecking is listed as one of the new features – didn’t we have that before?
  • bluetooth keyboard support – now this might be a big one for students – what does everyone think? Screen still too small to type with a full keyboard?
  • The update will at least be free for iPod touches now!

Slide to Learn – guide for teachers (Beta)


For about 5 months I (with help from friends) have been writing a guide to using the iPod touch, iPhone and now iPad in education. Nearly every day I get an email or query as to how to approach deploying these devices in schools. I’m passionate that hard-working teachers not fall into the ‘shiny-things’ syndrome and just spend school money on whatever is the latest cool gadget – although I am secretly stoked that finally, most are actually looking at mobile devices rather than dubiously fixed IWBs.

To help answer some of the questions that these time-poor teachers have, there now exists THIS guide – . It takes its name obviously from the ‘slide to unlock’ home screen of iPod touch, iPhone and iPad devices – a nice metaphor for unlocking potential. My favourite description of this platform is that it is a ‘blank slate’ ready to become whatever the user/ student/ teacher wants. Sure its not a perfect platform (no true video-out, can only act as clients of a desktop pc) – but its flexibility and ease of use put it at the head of all mobile eco-systems at present. (I’ll be happy to write an Android guide if I ever am able to get some devices).

The guide has five main sections – and is still in beta and receiving feedback – so please feel free to comment/ email back.


Talking Carl does early years oral literacy without kids realising it

Carl exp_048

You’re 4 years old, you love bright red shiny things, and you have a parent with an iPhone. You might also be just starting to develop your oral literacy (don’t worry, you’ll understand what this is when you’re older). So is there an app for you? As of this week, and Awyse’ release of ‘Talking Carl’ ($0.99), there is.

When you first open Talking Carl, you see floating cartoon clouds, and a lovable, shiny red creature who likes to be interacted with in ways that all kids understand – tickles and pokes. But unlike your standard animated character, he also likes to be spoken to, and saves his best trick for when you do. When Carl hears your voice (microphone required for use with iPod touch) he immediatly opens up his big red mouth and repeats back what you have said in his own cartoon voice.

And thats it. Some reviews on the App Store so far point out that kids only use it for short bursts, and my own testing with a nearly 3 year old confirm this. But from a teacher’s perspective, it is exactly this kind of short-burst, repeated activity that reinforces a child’s sense of how sounds, words, and later sentences sound.

The voice of Carl could do with a bit of variation (again thats probably just an adult talking), but overall, as a cheap but fun aid to the development of oral literacy, its well worth the investment, wether for long car trips, or for classroom group activities. Perhaps a female character could be added? Apart from that, its simple and it seems to work. 4 Stars.

Classroom use? > A. simply allow students to access Carl in their device ‘playtime’ – its fun enough that they will seek it out and even in short bursts, its all adding to their development of oral literacy – sound and speech development. B. Have students practice specific sounds or words by saying them to Carl. These can be recorded using Voice Memo (which being an Apple app can run in the background while you use Talking Carl) so that students can have further reinforcement by hearing the whole session played back.

Current thoughts on ubiquitous computing and learning

Well, I started this ubiquitous learning blog just over 12 months ago as a successor to a long-runing mobile learning blog. My reason was that while mobile learning (or mLearning) had finally started to catch on amongst educators, we are often a conservative lot, and I felt there was much more yet to be done – such as using the mLearning as a basis to start preparing for the real show – what learning would have to look like in a world of totally universal, ubiquitous computing.

Writing now some 14 months later, and being based in Australia as I am, I see currently three movements that indicate we as a country are further along the road to computing becoming just another human right/ utility in the same way as electricity say. The first is the rollout of the federal governments Digital Education Revolution (DER) – a catchy election promise that is becoming a reality such that all year 9-12 students will have 1:1 access to a computer by the end of 2011. The program is about halfway deployed at present, and its only 3 year timespan has meant that every high school in the country wether ready or not has had to adapt to suddenly embracing the digital world. Some are taking advantage of all the value-adds that 1:1 and digital environments can bring, others are struggling to take traditional pedagogy and make it work when students have such regular access information and the tools to re-shape and share it.

The second sign is at the opposite end of the Australia schooling system – remote primary schools. One Laptop Per Child Australia (with and partly for whom I am currently working) is at the very beginnings of deploying up to 400,000 XO learning devices to remote schools in Western Australia, Northern Territory, and Queensland. About 1500 have been deployed in proof of concept rollouts so far, all with the express philosophy of saturation – whereby every teacher, aide and student receive the same machine. Similar to the DER and high schools, this can be a shock at first – but all signs point to the ubiquity of the approach as being a key to its success – there is no going back or choosing to be the non-XO class so to speak.

Finally, I turn to a computing movement that doesn’t even qualify definitional-y as one. You won’t find it (yet) being supported officially through Education Departments – but it is one that grassroots educators are embracing exponentially just as their students have – I’m talking about the iPod touch, iPhone, and soon (for us non-US citizens) the iPad. What started first as individual teachers spending their own money on an iPod touch for their classroom has spread to school-wide deployments of 30 or even up to 200 iPod touch’s. In my state alone we have well over 200 educators active on our iPhone and iPod touch in education discussion list. They have been called the first computer you can use without instructions, and they and their ilk (we need more Android mobile devices here please Google et al) seem to be building up a momentum that even more than the many hundred of thousands of laptops mentioned in the first two examples may be bringing Australia towards a ubiquitous computing environment (apparently over 1 million iPhone’s have been sold in Australia for instance).

And what should an educator’s response be? Possibly you’re already in the middle of deploying one of these options – and if so, my biggest suggestion is – reflect. While our sector has stood still for so long, the current rush might make us forget our usual values of tying everything we do our learning vision first. So reflect first then on how these devices can enhance learning – don’t make learning fit to them. I’ll be sharing more shortly on a guide to the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch for educators that may also be useful if that is your area (you can check out the beta HERE)…

The other great mobile education movement

I am aware dear reader that much of my writings on how learning is handling the inevitable rise of ubiquitous computing centre’s around the iPhone/iPod touch/iPad platform. But in this post I’d like to reflect a little on the other great mobile education movement of the last three years – that of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) ‘children’s machine’. While even the latest version 1.5 of the XO laptop they build and supply  has tech that is getting a little behind, it does have at least three distinct advantages over the iPod/iPhone/iPad platform:

1. Designed for children – yep, rather than being a consumer or business device that crafty educators are able to integrate into educational settings, the XO was designed ground-up to be in students hands. I mean its bright green! When a student first sees one, they know already this is for them – and that means their use of it for learning starts at a unique place. This is a factor not to be underestimated.

2. Automatic collaboration – while there are a growing number of  iPod touch apps that can use wifi or bluetooth to do some basic screen-sharing or sending of files etc, another of the distinguishing features of the XO laptop is that sharing and collaboration is built in automatically to practically every activity, even the camera. Its not something students even have to think – ‘oh can I work on this with someone?’ (or two, or four etc), but is simply a matter of switching to the dedicated ‘friends’ screen and sending the invitation.

3. Dual screen modes – the announcement of the iPad means that one of the XO’s advantages (larger screen) will shortly be neutered, but the ability of the screen to work as a regular colour LCD indoors, and a black and white screen outdoors with full readability in direct sunlight gives the XO a big advantage over the glossy  iPad as far as true mobile learning goes.

4. Ok I know I said three – but this one is not one of mine – Flash support. I don’t use flash hardly at all, but I know alot of educators that do rely on it for hundreds of interactive learning objects that are totally unavailable in the Apple mobile world. How long it takes for these to eventually be ported over to Java/HTML5 or turned into the mobile apps (via Adobe conversion software) that are becoming more of the standard for such software I don’t know, but until then, educators are great hoarders, and so Flash support remains an issue.

Of course there are downsides to the XO laptop also (such as the aforementioned aging hardware, and the fact that a more natural touch-based version may be more than two years away). As a final note to this comparison, I don’t know how many of the 140,000 iPod touch apps are educational, but a developer in that space recently mentioned a figure of 3-4000 to me. Anyone reading out there know how many XO activities (the OLPC name for apps) there are?

2010: the year we make contact?

Welcome to 2010. I feel a bit foolish writing my first 2010 blog entry when the announcement that might define mobile and ubiquitous computing this year is still a week away, but there have been enough early signs from a range of companies to make some assumptions, and speculate on what they will mean for learning that attempts to take advantage them.

The previous decade has seen computing move from being desk-based to lap and now hand-based, no doubt about it. Laptop sales overtook desktop pc sales, and mobile phone sales have long dwarfed both. In fact sales of Smartphones (or mobile phones that are also computers) will very shortly pass those of laptops to become the main way that we access and share information.

That’s the hardware story. Software wise, I think the picture is less clear as the different design and interface requirements of mobile devices is not something that most hardware makers have yet got their heads around. But there is an emerging way of controlling hardware, and by extension, interacting with information that has come to maturity in the last couple of years, and that is touch, direct contact between our natural selection devices (fingers) and the machines we are using.

Coupled with the release of multiple tablet-like touch devices (such as the several models announced at the CES events, and the expected Apple iSlate in late January), its fair to say that this kind of personalised, more natural computing could be the real hallmark of 2010. I’m excited to see what happens as it becomes possible to move back to a direct hand-eye form of control that has been lost while we used physical keyboards that made us look somewhere different to our fingers, pretty much for the first time in communication history.

So, is learning and the institutions who’s job it is to propagate it ready to embrace a touch-computing future? I’d like to think so. The presence of over 50 teachers at a day exploring the iPod touch in education yesterday – while they were still on holidays – indicates that at least in my Education Department, interest is high. What I love about the potential of simplified, touch-based interfaces I hope to see is that they open up computing to everyone. There is nothing between you and the information and you, and the smaller screen sizes are forcing companies to reduce clutter and non-logical menu’s and buttons. Sounds like the sort of improvements that can benefit students right?

iLearn personalised learning unit: Journal 4


This will be the final journal of my current ‘how to learn’ unit before we hit the end of the educational year. Remember the intent of the unit was to shift the emphasis from me teaching to students learning, and especially to students taking responsibility for their learning. The unit has been aided by mobile, ubiquitous devices (in our case, the iPod touch) – chosen because of the power of such devices to put learning tools right into each learner’s hands.

First, I’ll report on how the last weeks of the unit have been going. As alluded to in the last journal, school events such as swimming and compulsory PD I had to attend have really impacted on how much time I’ve had with students, such that we will not complete the unit. Now, two things – first, this is still ok as I’d built the critical thinking/ making learning decisions throughout. Secondly, in reflecting on this I’ve realised that all units suffer from interuptions – I just need to plan less – or maybe not – perhaps I actually should keep planning ambitious units but just plan in agility for the sub-parts.

Agility really has shown itself to be the key to the success of the unit actually. Because even though I planned for reflective points every two weeks, some students only needed one week, some three to work through the ‘solution’ (app) they had found (duh!). To help manage this complexity, rather than go back to a one-size-fits-all unit, in this phase I introduced a data-base tracking where each student was up to. By displaying this at the start of each session via data projector, I could begin each lesson discussing with students exactly where they were up to. This database also includes a cell for student comments – I quiz students constantly about their app – what, how, why questions linking it back to their decision making and chosen focus area. These comments then form the basis of the review that students write once they either complete an app, or decide its not helping them.

So as we near the end of this ‘proof of concept’ run through of this unit, I must ask – did it work? I’ll answer for myself, and for the students. For me, what I’ve found is that this unit has been very hard work. Thrilling yes, exciting, but also – going uphill – ie. creating rather than just using an exisiting program, and stepping back rather than always stepping in. These are not always natural teacher behaviours, and despite knowing in my head lots about student-centred learning, the power of what is established (both for myself and my institution) has shown itself to be very strong. But I do believe in personalised learning, so I’m committed to this now.

For the students – I’ve had comments like – ‘why are we doing this?’, and ‘do I have to come?’ – exactly the kind of questions that students have always asked in regards to being part of learning support. Does this mean it wasn’t the revolutionary change the world unit I had thought? I hope I never did expect so much of it – what I did differently though when asked these was respond back with a question this time – putting the emphasis back on student decision making. I see that it will take more than one unit though to have students take full responsibility for their learning. But now they have successfully completed pro’s and con’s charts for example, they have begun to learn critical thinking. Some students have completed these independently to such a degree that I am sure they will be able to do this.

As for 2010, I’ve already started planning two additional units with the same approach but building on what I’ve learned. And I’d like to set up some ‘critical friends’ as part of this – email me jnxyz at mac dot com if you are interested!

iLearn personalised learning project Journal 3


Do you want the good news or bad news first?

Due to swimming and various other school timetable disturbances, most students are only just now reaching the end of phase 1 – choosing their app. Bit sad that its week 4 of the project and only 15% are actually using their chosen app, but I’m not so worried – because the point of this unit is not time on the device that will magically solve everything, but instead is about teaching critical thinking, problem solving, independent learning. I’m happy that this is embedded thru our whole unit so that the unit itself ‘works’ even if the phase 1 of evaluating their weaknesses and choosing a corresponding app does take a while.

What’s happened since the last journal is that students have been searching the app store, saving screenshots of likely apps, then completing T-charts of pro’s and con’s (yes there is a free ‘T-chart’ app for that! -opens iTunes). They then email this chart to me from the iPod touch which initiates a conversation around how suitable the app is. Then I download the app ready for students to try.

How’s this- the very first student who went to use his newly downloaded app found – it was terrible! Didn’t do what he needed after all. Failure? No – this was a great learning moment where we could discuss with the whole group what happened, and how to make a better decision next time. The student has now written his own short review and submitted it – and how real life is that? Also, as other students with his same chosen focus area have found other apps, he’s finding he can now rely on the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ aka personal learning network around him to choose his next app.

Also this week I introduced a new innovation where on the day of the week when I am engaged in regional support duties I record a talking head video of myself giving instructions to the kids. The replacement teacher just plugs in an iPod directly to our data projector with an AV cable (we have the Belkin one) and students can still get their challenge for the day in person. The replacement teacher can even display images of our progress mindmap etc to the students this way. Now I can take my laptop with me for the day knowing that our digital resources are still available to the group.


I’ve also been able to work it such that the school wifi now is usable from within our classroom space – going and sitting outside the office was great for showing off to passerby’s that we were doing an interesting project, but not so great for other reasons. I’m also really happy that we got email setup on the iPod’s now (all using the one generic account, Mr iPod) so students can send records (via screenshots) of their work to me and even to their classroom teachers.

OK! So my learning and teaching environment is starting to feel different most of the time – actually like how I imagine 21st century, student-focused learning maybe should. BUT you know, sometimes I’m still my own worst enemy – because I start teaching again every now and then. Yes, teaching, when I should be sticking to the idea of ‘less me, more them’. I still jump in instead of giving ‘wait’ time, or thinking time where students can develop their own understandings…

Next step is students have 1-2 weeks using their app before another evaluation kicks in – is it helping me improve? If not, students will need to decide to switch to another app, or perhaps access podcasts or other resources instead. Will write another journal then. Just wanted to also add how great it is to be finishing up the year with such a great project, instead of the usual countdown, how long until holidays feeling!

iLearn iPod touch personalised learning project Journal 2: Critical thinking via the App store

iLearn iPod touch personalised learning project, Week 2 & 3:


This has been the part where the kids get very excited, something to do with the fact that they get their hands on the iPod Touch at this stage. Why do they get excited? Is it because the touch’s are so ‘cool’? Or is it in fact because they are so relieved to get to use something from the real world, something they are familiar with, when normally this only happens rarely at school? Up to this point, the students had not even seen the iPod’s; I’d made them wait so that we could work through some of the critical thinking goals of the unit first.
After a brief keynote demonstrating to the kids the basics of using the app store again and how to save a screenshot to record their choices, it was off to the space outside our admin block where we can access the wireless network. Obviously the wifi is crucial to this stage, and true to form, it was in and out, working fine for some lessons and not others. But they say that through trials comes learning and I was able to find couple of solutions to the wildest problems, although why the exact same settings work one hour and need to be re-entered another is still beyond me (3COM are you reading this?!).
Just as I’m asking the kids to continually be reflecting on the learning process, so am I attempting to do the same with the unit as a whole. So I’ve already made two adjustments, both arising out of conversations with members of my personal learning network. One was with a project officer who was interviewing me – the process of answering allowed me to reflect and also pick up on one of his ideas. So even though I had set verbal discussion moments up to occur every two weeks where the students reflected on their learning choices, I will now formalise this a little with set questions. The idea is that I can gauge their progress towards independent critical reflection by how much scaffolding they need to answer these questions, with the goal that they will need no help by the end of the unit. The second adjustment is that I found a free app where students can build T-charts to put down the pro’s and con’s of their initial app choice. This is how they will justify to me which ones need downloading (especially for the paid ones).
So that’s pretty much week 2 and week 3. The students have made their choice of a focus area based on their own learning data, and have narrowed down a choice of solutions (apps), with some even starting on completing T-charts to analyse these selections.
I’m still trying to get email setup on the devices so we can easily share content to and from them… But have been successful in getting assistance from our wonderful Principal and P&C to get some of the furniture resources (storage, lockable cupboards etc) that we desperately need.

iLearn project Journal 1


There were three jobs I had for this week if this mobile learning project with learning support students was to get off the ground:

1. intro the personalised learning approach to students

2. explain concept to staff

3. physical setup of space and devices

photo 3

Here’s some reflection on each of these:

1. very silly of me, but introducing the philosophy of students taking responsibility for their learning (via personalised learning using the iPod touch) was probably the area I found I had least through through. Selling the use of the devices was easy – but helping students grasp what would be expected of them learning-wise is a bit harder to do. My first intro sessions (with students in levelled groups of four) didn’t go so well at explaining this – I had to create a short keynote and incorporate a group mindmapping exercise before these sessions started to achieve what I’d been after. Live and learn. – I must say that being able to use a projector has also transformed this intro. I project up an image (say of a mindmap) which shows students instantly what me drawing and talking about would take a few minutes to do as well.

I’ve also now compartmentalised the steps involved in this first part. Students have just completed part 1 where they are introduced to the personalised learning challenge and have chosen their focus area. Next week is hitting the app store to find an app that will fit with their chosen focus.

2. This has gone well – staff are used to me trying new things etc. And all are supportive of creating self-motivated learners

3. This is proving to be the hardest area as it relies on others… Not that that is a bad thing, and in fact the other staff involved are great. But getting one thing in place (say a lockable cabinet) involves many steps and I’m not even sure if I can get the devices in students hands until next week even though they are here! – I have been able to get a special email account setup (thanks Kate!) so we can open an App store account. – Need to get the devices security coded and get some furniture supplies sorted…

I aim to keep reporting on our progress, good and bad! Love to hear from others also seeking to add personalised and challenge-based ubiquitous learning to their school environs.

I’m sick of teaching: OR all about my plan to grow self-learners (iLearn project preview)

Keywords: Personalised learning, challenge-based learning, digital pedagogy, iPod touch, OLPC XO laptop
As a learning support teacher, I happily spend my days teaching struggling and disadvantaged students in years 4-7 some of the basics that they have missed or have difficulty with. I see groups of four to five for 60 or 90 minutes a week for about half the year. Is that enough time for one teacher to ‘fix’ them, or have them ‘catch up’?

No. And yet for five years I have been content that the regular improvements 75% of them make each year are sufficient. But I’m changing my mind now. I’ve identified that in fact, much of the improvement I see is in danger of falling away once my regular but limited scaffolding and support is not available. Some of their classroom teachers are able to provide ongoing scaffolding also, but in a room of 28 needy kids, I ask how can learning support students experience ongoing success in their learning?

I recently blogged about just how many giant shoulders I feel I stand on in being awarded a Smart Classrooms Teaching Award and being a finalist in the Handheld Learning awards. Giants like my own Education Department’s Smart Classrooms framework, the Connectivism ideas of George Siemens, the ‘death of education but the dawn of learning’ thinking of Stephen Heppell, the ‘less us, more them’ philosophy of Gary Stager, the #eqelearn twitter network of engaged and dedicated Queensland teachers, fellow edtech bloggers (especially this post from shanetechteach and this one from josephperkins and this article), the Challenge-based learning tenets of Marco Torres and fellow Apple Distinguished Educators, the ‘addicted to learning’ mindset of Kristine Kopelke… All these and more have been percolating thru my mind over the last few months.

So in recent weeks when I asked ‘how can students experience ongoing success in their learning?’, an answer has started to emerge. Its probably not half as innovative or radical as I’d like to think, but it does reflect a big change in the way I’m going to approach my teaching. A change from incorporating bits and pieces of digital pedagogy into existing programs where I as teacher chose entirely what students needed to learn, to one where the presence of digital tools makes it possible for students to begin to take charge of their learning.

And I’m going to do it! I’m going to attempt to teach my students how to reflect and HOW TO LEARN rather than what to learn. With this skill and awareness, they will be able to succeed on their own.
Now, it is true that I’m only able to do this because:
  1. The ‘digital’ in this digital pedagogy ie. iPod touch’s and XO laptops are available to me in enough numbers now to be used by students as personal learning platforms
  2. I have a supportive local and regional administration
  3. I stand on the shoulders of the giants above
  4. My education department recognises how key ‘digital pedagogy’ is
  5. I feel confident enough to attempt it.
So what will this look like in practice? Well here is a draft diagram:

iLearn draft plan JN

View this in full size via posterous

Basically the plan is that students will reflect on what their learning strengths and weaknesses are and create an iLearn plan by selecting the learning tasks (in this case, XO activities or iTunes apps) that will help them improve. They will further be shown how to ask if their choice is in fact working or what other resources (podcasts, Smartpen ‘pencasts’ etc) they might incorporate as well. Finally, because data and assessment are still the be-all of the curriculum in which we teach, the original instruments and data which students based their iLearn plan on will be re-sat/ administered.
Sound ok? A bit simple? A bit …? Please all feel free to contribute feedback – in fact I’m inviting it. After all, why not ‘crowd-source’ a project like this and give it a better chance of success?

Over to you, and the kids…

Posted via email from Jonathan Nalder’s posterous