10 Things I Need My iPad For – My Bizz-Ness Workflows

I just spent time recently rewriting my notes to justify the purchase of an iPad as a business tool for a colleague who is setting up in a new role. Being that I wrote up my original notes so long ago (pre-iPad 2) I was pleasantly surprised with how far iPads (and tablets in general) have come as proven business tools. There now seems to be an expectation that peoples’ workflows will utilise some form of tablet device rather than it being the exception it was when I first looked at them.

In writing the original proposal I came up with some fairly solid reasons I thought an iPad would suit my style of work (heavy note taker, avid reader and some times writer/ content creator). I took for granted in my proposal that apps and ways of working with iPads would emerge over time, as the app developer and user communities grew, in similar fashion to what took place with iPhones.

I had ‘lofty  ideals’ of mobile access when travelling for business, answering emails whilst out of the office, without the need for wifi. Handling customer queries and requests while away from my desk. Working on documents and presentations on the commute to work. All things which seemed like a huge leap at the time are now considered de rigueur for those in my field.

I realise now how much I rely on this tool in my daily workflows. My iPad is truly integrated, and my workflows are truly dependent (by the large part) on it. My original proposal waxed on about ‘larger screen size’, ‘higher resolution’, ‘increased processing power’ and a few other buzz words of the time. All these did a disservice to what is a solid business tool. Not in what it can do, but in how it can be used to supplement and underpin workflows.

I was surprised at how I now use the iPad for almost all my communication which is not face-to-face (email, chat, conferencing, VOIP, etc). Looking back at my initial proposal the only one mentioned was email, in direct relation to remotely accessing email when on business related travel.

No mention then of securely accessing sensitive data remotely, giving customers the answers they need whenever and where ever we happen to meet.

No mention then of the speed at which you can power up the iPad, sign in and get access to information in a matter of seconds (against the 3.25 minutes it takes for my Mac to boot, the 2 minutes it takes for it to register on the network and allow access through credentials, then however long to search for and bring up a dedicated app for whatever it is I’m looking for).

I had limited notes on using the iPad for task management and planning, although I am a heavy user of Evernote and its many sibling apps. Task management and planning are now one of my heaviest workloads on the iPad.

No mention then of flying through (no pun intended) check-in for flights using my local carriers app (Air New Zealand) and not being required to take the iPad out of carry on luggage like a laptop.

No mention then of just how much you can actually store on a 32Gb device, let alone the 64Gb version I ended up with. I have a number of apps I use almost daily (20), and many other apps I use at least weekly. Add to that a huge  number of readings, books, drawings, mock-ups, user manuals, papers, agendas and minutes. With room to spare for music and movies.

I noted that the iPad ‘may be of use in delivering workshops’, where I find myself now recommending it to teaching staff as ‘a fantastic tool for teaching and learning’. I myself have completed a number of courses and MOOC using the iPad alone. Submitting images and mock-ups/ diagrams as part of course work is SUPER SIMPLE!

No mention of the ability to run an unplanned presentation (without a hitch), when paired with a VGA adapter and projector, for the Chief Executive when she drops the office by with a delegation of external stakeholders unannounced.

No mention of the many hours saved moving around in a new city I’d never visited before. Finding venues for meet ups, ordering meals, arranging and tracking delivery of marketing packages between venues and campus.

No mention of the ability to appear lucid on the final day of conference, having enjoyed (perhaps a little too much) the conference dinner the night before, by searching for and finding papers or articles of the keynote presenter and referring to their work during the Q&A sessions.

Seeing is Believing?

DimDim Down (It’s like Watership Down, but for Web conferencing)

Image: The Rabbits of Watership Down by Iyosha  via fanpop

Image: The Rabbits of Watership Down by Iyosha, via fanpop

The Gloss

Early 2011 saw my preferred web conferencing tool acquired by Salesforce.com, and with the acquisition it vanished (a little melodramatic really, it’s now part of Salesforce’s Chatter offering).  Now locked away behind a paywall DimDim functionality is lost to those who do not have access to Salesforce Chatter.

It is on this note that I started looking at alternatives late last year, and stumbled upon an open source web conferencing tool that I surprisingly found more intuitive and easier to use (my reasons for using DimDim initially were its ease of use and good support material).

Web conferencing is a fantastic way for distance educators to “bridge” the physical divide between themselves and students who may be across town, the other end of the country or studying in a different country entirely.

I have used web conferencing to great effect in helping build several communities of practice, teach computing online and to meet with prospective clients, writers and faculty without having to leave the comfort of my office.  I have had the both the pleasure and disappear of attending webinars across a number of different platforms (both proprietary and open source).  My experiences have been affected more by the comfort of the presenter with the tool they are using, more so than the software itself.  Most web conferencing software solutions have the same or very similar feature-sets.

The Nuts

 (BBB) is an open source web conferencing tool built to help deliver learning experiences to distance students.  It has most functions you’d expect from a more fully featured tool, although nowhere near the bloat that these products suffer from on the flip-side.

  • Chat (Public and Private)
  • Desktop Sharing (on Mac, Unix and PC)
  • Document Sharing
  • Recording and Playback (incl in HTML5!)
  • VoIP
  • Whiteboard
  • Webcam

+ Support for 35 languages

Being built for higher education it is surprisingly easy to pick up, with my initial play lasting about three hours, spread across the day.  I was able to use most of the features with little to no fuss.   The user interface is clean and uncluttered, and the buttons and tabs are all clearly labelled and do exactly what they are supposed to.

Big Blue Button User Interface

Joining a demo meeting was very easy, with only one field required (Screen Name), and once in the demo environment it was easy to navigate.

The presentation panel sits front and centre, with User, Listeners and Video Dock panels to the left, and a Chat panel on the right by default.  These panels can of course be moved around, minimized and maximized depending on the focus point you wish to emphasis during a session.

BBB has three roles that can be assigned to users:

Moderator (tutor/ speaker): with the highest level of functionality, a Moderator has overall control of the web conference space, including the ability to mute and/ or remove participants.

Presenter (speaker): can upload presentations, share their desktop and participate in chats.  This role would likely be assigned to a speaker/ tutor in a course.

Viewer (students): can view content and chat with others.  This role would most likely be assigned to students in a course.

Moderators are able to mute/ un-mute and “eject” participants and the system can be set to allow webcams for presenters only.  Both these features will be useful in managing large student cohorts, and consideration would need to be made prior to sessions being run about “rules of engagement”.

Participants have a range of functions available, which will be covered in more detail in a later post and how-to.  As noted above BBB does not have massive bells and whistles, so some of the desirable controls are not currently present (polling, annotation by participants other than Moderators/ Presenters, etc).  Being open source these features are being developed and rolled out as part of the mainline client.  There is a detailed roadmap for BBB which you can read through if you are that way inclined: RoadMap1dot0.

BBB animates PDF documents display using OpenOffice 3.2 for the conversion.  Microsoft Office 2007+ documents may show font alignment issues.  For best results it is recommended that you upload as PDF.  Most current office suites allow you to save direct to PDF.  Animations and transition effects will not convert to PDF, so think about using the whiteboard functions to supplement and highlight important points.

The Bolts

The Team at BigBlueButton recommends that BBB is installed on a dedicated server, running Ubuntu 10.04 32-bit or 64-bit, with the following specs:

  1. 2 GB of memory (4 GB is better)
  2. Dual-core 2.6 GHZ CPU (quad core is better)
  3. Ports 80, 1935, 9123 accessible
  4. Port 80 is not used by another application
  5. 50G of free disk space (or more) for recordings

The architecture that underpins BBB is elegant and simple, which belies the obvious work needed to build such a robust web conferencing solution.  Work is underway to develop a native Android client, and being an open source project it is likely that someone will develop an iOS BBB client.

The ability to integrate BBB with Moodle is an added bonus for those organizations using it.  The process to set-up and integrate BBB is well documented on their support pages, and BBB also carries a couple of recommendations in the Moodle community also.  A big driver for deciding on BBB as an option for web conferencing is that it works well with Moodle, my employers LMS of choice.  Having said that, it’s ease of use and stability won me over pretty quickly.

The Crystal Ball

HTML5 development is well underway moving closer to a reality of an HTML5 BBB!  This functionality will be fantastic as we push further into digital delivery channels.

Of note is the intended inclusion of the polling and break-out room modules in a later release/ s.  Both these features appear to be well into the development phase, and will be investigated further when released.  Another exciting development on the horizon is support for Jabber, which would allow for integration with popular IM systems.

The Scratchings

A couple of almost rans were Blackboard Collaborate and Adobe Connect.  Both are cost prohibitive for fast small/ medium integration projects similar to the one I’m working on for this post.  To their benefit, both platforms offer mobile access clients and its useful to note how seamless the login is for users in BBB as opposed to the others.  After all, it’s getting students connected to and egged with your material that really counts.

Blackboard Collaborate (nee Elluminate)

Adobe Connect

Google+ Hangouts and Skype get thrown into the mix if you are after a cross-platform solution for hosting small, quick, one-off sessions.  Both have large user bases, and are pretty quick to pick up for those less tech savvy amongst us.  Participant numbers are capped at ten for both services, and require registration prior to attending sessions.  These two tools will be covered in a later post, focused on how and when to use them in teaching.

As always, feel free to comment and add your thoughts to the mix.

Get Your Media Out

“What to do?  What to do?”  I’ve got some instructional videos I need to share with my students, what’s the best service to use?.  “Uncle Google will know!”… 

Google search bar

Voila!  YouTube logo is the answer for us as a media streaming service!  Problem solved!

Or is it?

Like many people you are probably aware of YouTube, and its wide spread use as part of many students’ learning network or toolset, along with the likes of Wikipedia, Howcast, etc.  YouTube is widely recognised both as a channel for delivering video content through its easy user interface and the trolls that lurk in its depths awaiting unsuspecting individuals to harass and feed their lulz.  As well as the trolls and advertising that students need shielding from academic institutions need to be sure their content meets appropriate academic standards of accessibilityaccuracy and quality.

If YouTube is not an appropriate channel for sharing instructional academic content then what services are there that may meet this need?  Enter TeacherTube.  Although I have been aware of the TeacherTube service for some time (it was launched in 2007) I found little content of interest that wasn’t easier to find on YouTube.  Work has been done since my early visits to the site to make the user experience more intuitive and user friendly, yet I’m still left feeling the experience could be less “academic”.

The original vision of Jason Smith, TeacherTube‘s main creator, was to provide “an online community for sharing instructional videos”, and to that end TeacherTube does well.  TeacherTube is geared to fill a need for educationally focused material that is safe for teachers to use in their courseware.

The service relies heavily on its community of users, with over 300,000 user created educational objects (video, audio, photos and documents) shared on the site.  Users are encouraged to rate content and have the ability to flag inappropriate content for removal.

Content on TeacherTube appears to be aimed at the K12 segment of the education market.  Although there is content aimed at higher levels of study this is not readily apparent when first visiting the site, and probably reflects the make up of the wider TeacherTube user community.

TeacherTube places itself as a safe alternative to YouTube, focused on educational content.  TeacherTube is “safe” in that students are not so exposed to the trolls that can appear on YouTube or other video hosting sites.  Uploaded videos “must address specific learning objectives and/ or provide professional development for educators”.trollol

TeacherTube does not allow any nudity or profanity and videos must be appropriate for all audiences.  The focus on videos for professional development for the teaching community is another positive for the site.  Safe browsing for students, and the specifically educational content, is an important difference between YouTube and TeacherTube.

TeacherTube functionality is similar to YouTube, making it relatively easy to upload and manage content.  You also have the (limited) ability to control access to your content through setting and sharing options.  Media is searchable by user defined categories, assigned when uploading content.

For usability and awareness YouTube far outstrips the educationally focused TeacherTube, with a community of users in the hundreds of millions (as opposed to TeacherTube’s estimated 750,00+ users).

The Options

Trolls and advertising are the most obvious reasons not to use a public YouTube channel as a sole means of delivering instructional video to students.  So what alternatives are there?  The easy answer: many and varied!

The first consideration you’ll need to make is whether you have the capability and capacity to host internally (on your own servers, like Moodle/ BlackBoard/ ) or a requirement to host externally (on YouTube, iTunesU or a service like TeacherTube).

A very good reason for hosting your media files on internal servers is that an academic organisation can retain ownership of their media, protecting it behind authenticated login and distribute it to known individuals.  A drawback of this approach is the need to invest in server space and the infrastructure that supports delivering media online (including skilled IT staff).

For academic institutions wanting to protect their intellectual property, maintain quality and adhere to brand standards internally hosting media content should be the first choice.  The flexibility and responsiveness of organisational infrastructure is only ever dependent on that organisation’s capability and not susceptible to what could be the limited life of an external provider.

If internally hosting/ serving media is not possible there are a number of dedicated video hosting options available.  Wikipedia has a comparison of some of these options, which scratches the surfaces focusing on educational services, or those geared to that market specifically.

Two heavy hitters in educational video hosting/ serving are YouTube EDU (YouTube’s educational variant) and iTunesU.  Both allow you to upload content for free, and may require a subscription to embedd or use content either at an organisational or user level.

YoutTube Edu Logo

In many situations, YouTube EDU is a simple and straightforward way to host content you have created.

YouTube EDU content is served in both Flash and H.264 formats, allowing a level of ubiquitous access across devices and platforms, with users having the option of which format they wish to view.

Posting copyrighted content outside your ownership, even under fair academic use, will often result in a takedown by YouTube EDU.

iTunes U App

iTunesU provides a no-cost hosting service for educational media.  Students access media using the iTunes U app http://www.apple.com/apps/itunes-u/index.html.  While iTunes U is free, it requires the institution to register before use.  In some cases, the terms of service have been problematic with institution’s legal councils.

Users are able to specify the level of copyright of their materials.  Apple allows restricting videos to users in a class, users on campus, or free and open access.  Externally copyrighted materials can be included in videos and restricted to students enrolled in a class.

All video content must be encoded MPEG 4 or H.264 for upload so iOS devices are able to access it.  Apple only allow access from within iTunes, so non iOS devices are not able to access the content without syncing from a desktop/ laptop.  iTunes must be installed for access from a desktop/ laptop.

With both these options you have the a user experience that many students will be familiar with by exposure to YouTube and/ or iTunes.  Navigation and search functionality are intuitive and user friendly.

Other Considerations

Regardless of what service provider you opt for there are other considerations you’ll need to make prior to jumping in boots and all.  Ask yourself things like:

What kind of learner experience do I want to create?  Formal setting with minimal interactions, or informal and organic?

How will me students access this material?  Mobile device, desktop/ laptop, or lecture theatre?

Will it be shared freely, or does it need to be accessed only by a specific cohort of students?  Publicly available, free to download and use or authenticated login, view and comment only?

Are there learning media standards I need to adhere to when producing, uploading and using video content?  Strict academic design/ brand standards or full, unimpeded creative control?

Questions (and their answers) like this, and the many others not covered here will help you decide on the best fit for your media content.  Do you want to embed the video as part of an e-pub, or in a larger site?  Do you want it to stand-alone as a resource, or is it part of a larger programme of learning (a series of videos)?  If there is enough interest I will look into these considerations and post at a later date.  Feel free to comment below.

On a personal note my main concern when using video (or any media for that matter) is how easy it is for students to find and use that content as seamlessly and directly as possible.  I work on the principle of the “general masses” first and then focus on special requirements second.  Back to the “Field of Dreams” analogy, if I have media content available, those students who wants to will engage with it.  They will search it out, use it and share it with their networks.

As many legitimate businesses found when MegaUpload was taken down access to their files and content was cut-off entirely without warning, and will remain so possibly forever.  More recently the GoDaddy service fell over leaving millions of their customers’ websites to suffer through several days of no access to their data and remedial work restoring that data once the service did eventually get back up and running.  As an academic institution these types of access issues are an obvious concern, and contingency plans need to be made to ensure your students can use your media when they need.

What if it all falls over?

Aside from relying on a service provider’s disaster recovery planning and infrastructure (or lack there-of) the only real option available is to retain copies of your media content on servers, either local or external, and link to these from somewhere in your learning material.  The big players in the market invest heavily to ensure user content is readily available and protected against single instance take-downs or natural local disaster by spreading their servers geographically and content across numerous arrays (group of servers).  If the type of contingency plan does not meet your individual organizational requirements you will need to speak with your infrastructure team and work to a solution that does.

Excellence in Teaching Online

Washington State University Certification of Instructional Effectiveness

Stumbling  over the weekend I found a recommendation for training in online course delivery, based out of WSU.  This course is a group of stand-alone and self-paced modules that can be completed in any order.  After a quick run through of the freely available reading material I’ve signed up for the non-credit assessment papers.

The course outline is preatty broad ranging, but I guess it has to be to meet its intended outcome of providing a good foundation for teaching staff venturing online.

I’ll keep a log here as I go, primarily to meet my own study needs, however certain items or thoughts may be of use to others.  Already I can see use for the “Quality Matters Rubric” and noted best practices in my current setting as a Flexible Learning Advisor.

Examining The Open Movement

Nice little gem from the twittermachine: Alec Couros covers a number of important possibilites and issues related to the use of open source within an educational context.  Although written some time ago it is surpirsing that within my scope we still struggle with a number of the issues raised.  His section on the origins of open source is comprehensive and gives a solid foundation to his thoughts on communities of practice and social capital.
Alec Couros
A Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements
For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy In Education
University of Regina
By Alec Valintino Couros
Regina, Saskatchewan
December 2006
Licensed Under the Canadian Creative Commons (AT/NC/SA)

Teaching & Learning With Vision

Two day conference on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia.

Keynotes from some of the regions leading educators and technology providers.

Stephen Heppell (@stephenheppell) talked to key changes in how we design learning environments and hand over ‘control’ of those environments to learners.  He has a vast network of both educators and students who he has worked with and has worked across the globe building classrooms and schools that are truly learner centric.  His passion certainly seemed to be how we create spaces that re-engage learners who may have been excluded or remove from conventional learning institutions.

Prof Stephen spoke about dropping the “tariffs” we impose on students, and allowing them to learn without our baggage.  In our instance I would liken this to the heavy time resource we demand of our students, over and above what they current do in their workplace and/ or home.

Change is afoot, and it is being pushed by the likes of Adrian Camm (Quantum Victoria) who spoke to learners building there own learning. Portal2, AngryBirds and Little Big Planet all got a mention.  Anyone who can get Crysis in front of a bunch of teachers and not lose their attention deserves props.  I especially liked his comment on video conferencing being intuitive, over and above virtual worlds, people know how to use a remote control, and don’t need to learn how to “fly around the place”.

Adrian spoke about technologies which would render certain teaching practice obsolete, and what teaching practices ruled out the use of certain technologies.  The obligation lies with teaching staff to find the best solution, not restrict access based solely on institutional constraints.

Then it fell apart for me, with capability outstripping available technology. The joys of corporate kit and it’s strangle hold on our time. With access issues comes performance issues.  No app store means browser based tweeting (and all it’s lag).  By the time I’ve posted one nugget, another five have passed by.  Flipping in and out of twitter and notepad costs to much in lost time.  Love the idea of direct notes to Evernote and teams at home viewing, but again, connection issues meant a number of notes did not sync.

Anne Bragg talked to QR codes that are useful and informative. Her presentation was fast moving and as you’d expect contained a number of QR codes, and was made freely available on slideshare.

It’s not the QR that matters, but what it links to.  This is evidenced most strongly in marketing, and their early adoption of these tools.  QR codes were used in a number of presentations, name tags and icebreaker games (treasure hunts) throughout the conference.  The most dynamic was a tattoo with a QR code embedded in the design.

Summer Charlesworth (@EduSum) smashing it good styles in Teach Meet format of conference, using: http://www.pecha-kucha.org/ format for presentations. Seven minute ‘blind’ demo showcased potential and got people chatting.  This may be an interesting concept to bring into New Zealand, informal teaching development sessions.

Day Two kicked off with three very good presenters.

Couros Bros Alec and George (@courosa & @gcouros) smashed it big styles on participatory media and it’s trans-formative power in education (#tlv11) interesting family connections with Alec and George sharing the stage and owning the audience with their charm and passion.  Their presentation was streamed live across a number of platforms and links sent out live over twitter.  Changing the way we connect and who we can connect with was a big part of their bent.

Kevin Honeycutt (@kevinhoneycutt) talked to teaching kids to learn to love to learn. iPhone4 “China Real”, real insignia, Android undercover. The world copies, and we teach our kids not to. Have ideas and more ideas, don’t sit and write them for thirty years. Have new ideas, and think big. Experience is the difference.  He has a resource page of free tools for teaching.  A comment he made resounded in that our children are discoverable and on record, “in this age of Google”, how do we show them the best of the web.

Ann Brady & Kathryn Couttoupes spoke about a culturally adaptive training model for supporting disaster relief in remote communities.  There work is freely available in Moodle community.  Thirty+ slides meant I switched off, but their report and Moodle package can be viewed online.  Awesome as project, with a number of very good findings and recommendations.

Pinying Wu (Waikato University student) spoke about the use of a facebook group in supporting ESOL training and creating a community for students.  The main point I took was the need for learner created content, based on interests that would bring others to the group for discussion (the example of movie reviews was used).

Sophie Carter (@sophiebcarter) spoke to gen-Y’s expectations when learning.  Refreshing not to have someone talking to the disparities or perceived negatives this learner set brings.  Sophie’s research looked at learner groups within the workplace and their experiences in induction training and professional development.