Digital smartpen assistive technology in the classroom

013113_0348_Digitalsmar1.png “I know my weakness at school: a laptop. I get distracted by videogames.”

At least, that’s what the guy at Future Shop told me when I was looking into getting an echo smart pen.

And I believe him. I see it all the time with students in my classroom who use assistive technology. The computer can be a great learning tool and cloud-based services like Google Docs can really help students stay organized.

On the other hand, internet access can really be a distraction. Think about how often employees can be distracted by social media sites at work. Then multiply that by hundred to account for the teenage brain.

Livescribe sells digital smart pens that can record what the teacher says as the student take notes. Over the past few years, a few different parents and teachers have spoken to me about it, so I thought I would check it out. Continue reading “Digital smartpen assistive technology in the classroom”

Upgrade to Windows 8 Pro by Jan 31, 2013 and save $30

011713_0331_UpgradetoWi1.pngI recently upgraded my old Windows XP machines to Windows 8 Pro. I was talking about this with a few teachers in the staff room, and they didn’t know that, right now, Microsoft has a special upgrade price.

Why did I upgrade? I really like the idea of Windows 8 storage spaces which lets you pool multiple hard drives into a single space. A hard drive on my home server recently crashed over the winter holidays, and now that Microsoft no longer supports Windows home server, it makes sense to try to switch to Windows 8 while I can. (I’m sure I’ve got a copy of Windows XP lying around somewhere that I can use to upgrade to Windows 8.)

Also, I’m really interested to see where Windows goes in the tablet market. I love my iPad, but the fact that you can’t have multiple user accounts is a serious drag in a school environment. (How many teachers bring their own personal iPad to school, but are reluctant to let a student use it because they don’t want kids to be able to access personal information?)

Four years ago, I bought an MDG flip tablet netbook for the classroom. I wonder if I can get Windows 8 Pro working with the touchscreen on the old device. Maybe that will be my March break project…

Do you use Windows 8 Pro?

Backing up Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 User Profile

011413_0209_BackingupDr2.pngThere is nothing scarier than opening up Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 to get an error message saying there’s something wrong with your user profile. (Well, I suppose your computer not booting up is pretty scary too. Or, when your hard drive crashes and you lose all of your family photos, that sucks.)

If you’ve been using Dragon Naturally Speaking for a while to dictate your computer, then chances are you’ve spent thousands of hours logging in corrections and helping the voice-recognition software to recognize your voice little better. You probably don’t want to lose that hard work. Thank goodness for backups.

My Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 user profile broke today.

  • Something got corrupted somewhere, but fortunately, I was able to restore from within Dragon.
  • This month, I upgraded from Windows 7 to Windows 8, but I don’t think that caused any problems.
  • I recently wrote this post, and this post just fine with Windows 8 (64 bit). The new enhanced Bluetooth headset still seems to be slow, but the Plantronics Calisto BT 300 II wasn’t working well under Windows 7 either.

Continue reading “Backing up Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 User Profile”

Can your students guess your password?

Could your students guess your computer password? Top 10,000 passwords in a WordleTeachers live in a digital world. We use computers and email systems to store and communicate student information to parents, teachers, and other colleagues: marks, assessment information, tests, special education data, etc.

Could one of your students guess your password?

Obviously, this isn’t a problem if you teach grade 1, but if you teach in middle school or high school, you have a lot more tech savvy students with a lot more time on their hands.

Is your password, “password”, “123456”, or “12345678”?

  • Apparently, almost one out of 10 people use one of those three passwords.
  • It stands to reason that one out of 10 teachers uses one of those passwords as well.

Continue reading “Can your students guess your password?”

CrashPlan for teachers

010413_0259_CrashPlanfo1.pngSomeone once told me, there are three things that are inevitable in life: death, taxes, and hard drive failure. If you’re like most of us, backing up your hard drive is a chore that you never quite get around to. Until disaster strikes.

We live in a digital world. Our kids have been photographed since birth. How do you take care of your digital life?

Recently, my hard drive crashed and we’ve lost an entire year of family photos. Yes, I’m a computer geek kind of teacher, and yes, I did have a backup plan. Apparently, it wasn’t good enough.

  • I have a Windows home server backing up our personal computers every night.
  • Important files were in a dropbox folder, so a copy of these files live in the cloud
  • Unfortunately, our family photos were stored on the home server itself, and I never got around to paying for an extra hard drive to backup the contents of the home server.
  • So, when the hard drive on the server broke, we lost all of our family photos and backups for our home computers.

Continue reading “CrashPlan for teachers”

iPhone 5 cases: OtterBox Defender or Lifeproof Fre?

I recently got the iPhone 5. Two words: love it. In fact, I don’t know how I lived without it.

I used to have an old school hand-me-down iPhone from my brother. I use the Pocket Informant iPad app to try to manage my calendar and to do list. I use pocket informant and ToodleDo to try to keep my life organized, but running an app on an iPhone 3G is painfully slow.

Now, running informant Pro on my iPhone 5 is unbelievably fast. Click on the app, and it opens immediately.

So, now that I’ve signed my life away for three years, it’s time to protect my investment with a solid case. It came down to the OtterBox Defender and the Lifeproof FRE. Continue reading “iPhone 5 cases: OtterBox Defender or Lifeproof Fre?”

Using Dragon Naturally Speaking in mind mapping software

Some students use Dragon Naturally Speaking voice recognition software as assistive technology the classroom. Voice recognition is not a magic solution that will help all students, but for some students, writing using their mouths instead of their hands can be a more effective way for them to get their ideas onto paper.

Mind mapping software is another great accommodation to help students organize their ideas.

SMART ideas is great because you can create multilevel concept maps that you can easily export as JPEG images inside of Microsoft Word documents. Lucidchart is an online concept map program that syncs with Google Docs and lets you export your mind maps as well.

In some applications, Dragon Naturally Speaking has full text control of the active field. If you look at the Dragon bar, you see a little green checkmark meaning that you can dictate directly into the application. For example, you can transcribe your ideas directly into Internet Explorer, or Microsoft Word.

Continue reading “Using Dragon Naturally Speaking in mind mapping software”

What tech to buy next for your classroom? Chromebook? iPad Mini? iPad 2? Nexus 10? The New iPad?

I’m trying to decide what technology to buy next for my classroom. Right now, I have my own personal iPad 2 in the hands of some students to help them with their learning.

(The wonderful thing about using my old technology in the classroom is that I can feel less guilty about upgrading to the latest toy.)

I’m very happy with my iPad 3. I’m glad I upgraded from my iPad 2 and as much as I’d love to have the brand new iPad 4 with the upgrade in processing power, I can’t really justify the cost.

There are a few options that caught my eye. Not sure which one I would buy for the classroom, but here they are in order of price:

$249 – Google laptop: Chromebook (Samsung XE 303C12–A01US)

  • $249 for 16 GB, Wi-Fi
  • available in the US and UK only. Not available in Canada stores yet. (You can find it on eBay or by hopping across the border.)
  • 11.6 inch display (1366 x 768 resolution)
  • Chrome OS (allows multiuser accounts)

Business insider has a review of Google’s new Chromebook. The nice thing about Chromebooks is that you can set up multiple user accounts on the device. Everything is in the cloud so you don’t have to worry about losing your work. From the classroom perspective, multiuser accounts is nice because different students can have different settings. You don’t have to worry about students being able to access your own personal information when they’re using your Chromebook.

The downside for the average user is the device is completely dependent on internet. This isn’t a problem for the Wi-Fi enabled classroom.

$329 – Apple tablet: iPad mini

  • starts at $329 for 16 GB, Wi-Fi
  • available in Canada
  • 7.9 inch display (1024 x 768 resolution at 163 pixels per inch)
  • iOS 6 (single user only)

I haven’t entirely decided if I like the idea of the iPad mini for the classroom yet. For $70 more, you can get an iPad 2 with a 2 inch bigger screen. Basically, you can get five iPad minis ($1650) for the price of four iPad 2s (1600). Or to put it another way, you could get a class set of 30 iPad minis ($9900) , or you could get a class set of 25 iPad 2s for approximately the same price ($10,000.)

IPads are nice in the classroom because the touch interface is really intuitive. It’s easier to sketch out diagrams when you’re taking class notes on an iPad than a laptop. On the other hand, it’s harder to type class notes on a tablet for extended periods of time, compared to the keyboard.

$399 – Google tablet: Nexus 10

  • starts at $399 for 16 GB, Wi-Fi
  • will be available in Canada, November 13
  • 10.1 inch display (2560 x 1600 pixels at 300 pixels print)
  • Android 4.2 jellybean (allows multiuser accounts)

Google’s new Nexus 10 tablet has some better specs in the iPad, but what’s really interesting for the classroom is that android 4.2 jellybean is a multiuser environment. This means you can share your personal next 10 tablet with students without having to worry about them accessing your personal information. (When you hand over your iPad, on the other hand, a student can often very quickly access your apps, email, calendar, and personal data.)

I’m not sure how I feel about android apps. Forbes magazine highlights some interesting data about IOS apps versus android apps: “apps are more popular than mobile web, and Apple is winning this race by any measure.” Apple has 550,000 apps and 25 billion apps have been downloaded. On the other hand, android has 440,000 apps and 10 billion have been downloaded.

(I am biased towards Apple. I own four IOS devices and zero android devices so far.)

$399 – Apple tablet: iPad 2

  • starts at $399 for 16 GB, Wi-Fi
  • available in Canada
  • 9.7 inch display (1024 x 768 resolution at 132 pixels per inch)
  • iOS 6 (single user only)

in terms of classroom use, I don’t think there’s any need to spend the extra hundred dollars to buy the new iPad when the iPad 2 is just fine for student use.

$499 – Apple tablet: iPad 4

  • starts at $499 for 16 GB, Wi-Fi
  • available in Canada
  • 9.7 inch display (2048 x 1536 resolution at 264 pixels per inch)
  • iOS 6 (single user only)

Bottom line?

Let’s be honest. I’ll probably upgrade to the iPad 4 eventually, and my current iPad 3 will become a classroom device. I’d have to play with the iPad mini at the Apple Store before you can convince me to shell out money. (On the other hand, I could see me sending my daughter with a smaller iPad tablet to school one day.)

New enhanced Bluetooth headset seems to slow down Dragon Naturally Speaking 12

To be perfectly honest, it seems a little bit like magic. Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 seems to be working just fine right now with the new enhanced Bluetooth headset. (Whoops, I spoke too soon. Keep on reading.)

Last month, I was having a lot of problems trying to get my new Plantronics Calisto BT300 II enhanced Bluetooth headset to work with Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 Premium. It just wasn’t working.

  • I upgraded my user profile from Dragon Naturally Speaking 11 to Dragon Naturally Speaking 12.
  • I changed the source to that new “Enhanced Bluetooth” in Dragon 12 (instead of the regular “Bluetooth microphone”)

  • But, Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 just didn’t seem to work for me with the new Bluetooth headset. It seemed much slower when correcting mistakes.

When I started writing this post, it looked like everything was fine. But now that I’ve dictated a few paragraphs in Microsoft Word, it seems that Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 is getting slower and slower with the new headset.

I guess I do need to call technical support. Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 seems to work a lot better with my old Dragon 11 Bluetooth headset, which is a little disappointing. Making corrections is painfully slow. Right now.

Then again, a few minutes later, it seems to work just fine. For the last few minutes, I haven’t had any problems dictating using the new version of the Plantronics headset.

  • Maybe the issue is really me – maybe there are some background processes that are interfering with Dragon Naturally Speaking 12? (I’m running Windows 7 64-bit, on an i7 processor with 12 gigs of RAM.)
  • On the other hand, maybe it’s not me. I just spent the last two hours dictating a post using the exact same system, but my old Dragon 11 Bluetooth headset. No problems, and no slowdowns when correcting text.

There are two things I did differently after having a closer look at the Plantronics manual. Continue reading “New enhanced Bluetooth headset seems to slow down Dragon Naturally Speaking 12”

Google drive app makes the iPad an effective tool in the classroom

There are two big problems that I hear about using an iPad in the classroom (or anywhere else for that matter.) I’m talking about problems with using the iPad as a notetaking tool, as opposed to problems with deploying and managing a class set of iPads.

  1. It’s hard to create content on the iPad. The iPad is more for media consumption.
  2. How do I get my content off the iPad? There are so many notetaking apps on the iPad, I don’t know which one to choose. I don’t want to start with one app, and then a few months later find out that there’s a better app, and discover it’s hard to get my notes out of this app.

This month (September 2012), Google updated its free Google Drive app, so you can now create and edit Google documents using rich text formatting. This is a big deal, especially for schools that already use Google Apps for Education and provide their students with free Google Docs accounts.

Other iPad apps to access Google Docs

Before September 2012, editing Google Docs on the iPad was a problem. There are a few iPad apps that can connect with your Google Docs account, but I couldn’t find one that I liked.

  • For example, Office2 HD took forever to load my Google Docs directory (if you could load it at all.)
  • Good docs requires you to upload and download documents from your Google Docs account which adds an extra step.
  • The Google iPad app does have “docs” built-in to its applications, but it’s essentially just a web browser loading the mobile or desktop version of Google Docs. (I guess it’s one step up from mobile Safari on your iPad in that it saves your Google Docs account information so you don’t have to keep on entering your password.)

Mobile version of Google Docs on the iPad

For the longest time, you could only get the mobile version of Google Docs to work on the iPad.

  • The problem with the mobile version is that you only have plain text editing, which means that you can’t add bullets, bold, or other formatting.
  • Formatting does show up if the original document already had formatted text, but you can’t add new bullets or change the formatting from the mobile version.

Desktop version of Google Docs on the iPad

The problem with the desktop version of Google Docs on the iPad was that it really didn’t work in mobile Safari.

  • Although Google announced in December 2010 that the desktop version loaded on mobile Safari, the reality was that there were lots of little quirks and glitches that crashed the desktop version on the iPad.
  • The desktop version of Google Docs seems to work fine on the iPad now, but the new Google Drive app is a much more efficient and effective way to edit your Google Docs from an iPad. Here’s why:
    • The keyboard hides half of the screen when you’re viewing the desktop version in mobile safari on your iPad, and when you type, you have to manually flick the page up or down to see what you’re typing if your cursor goes below your keyboard. (The new Google Drive app automatically scrolls the screen  as you get to the end of the page.)
    • Also, the iPad AutoCorrect feature doesn’t work when you’re editing using the Google desktop version. (It works fine in the Google drive app.)
    • Finally, the shift button is frustrating on the desktop version in your web browser on the iPad because it really acts as caps lock. Once you capitalize a letter, it capitalizes everything you type until you hit the shift button again.

Editing Google documents using the Google Drive app on your iPad

Here are a few of the things that I like about the new Google Drive app. Continue reading “Google drive app makes the iPad an effective tool in the classroom”