technology

My Must Have Mac Apps for 2017

Acknowledgements to the list-makers, whose work I enjoy so much. The structure of this list based on John Vorhees work for Mac Stories

This year I’ve dug myself deeper and deeper into the Apple universe, a Mac and a Mac Mini and even using a MacBook Pro for work (not the sturdy Windows 10 workhorse) coupled with an iPad, iPhone and now even an iWatch. It hasn’t been without problems. iCloud syncing and security is a bit of a disaster, but yes, I’m in.

So, I’m always looking for apps that work as seamlessly as possible between the Mac and the IOS version, using some sort of cloud application in the background and all of that is getting better. Most of the time now I can rely on the thing to be backed up, for the version I open on the iPad really to be the version I was working on last night on the Mac.

I’ve mostly used Vorhee’s categories for my app list, except I deleted his podcast and communications categories. I’ve kept these:

  • Writing
  • Reading and research
  • Images and Video
  • Utilities
  • Task management and planning

Writing

iA Writer

For the last couple of years I’ve been using a text editor called Ulysses but then it went to a ridiculous subscription model and I moved to iA Writer (you can read about that move here) I won’t repeat my earlier blog post on why iA Writer works for me, but you can read that post yourself here Enough to say, that iA Writer does the distraction free thing really well, for a fair price. And, yeah, I wrote this on iA Writer and just ‘shared’ into WordPress.

iA Writer
iA Writer

OneNote

My work in a school is dominated by Microsoft: the Office suite, Outlook, Word, PowerPoint. Of the MS world, OneNote stands out as an organising and note-taking tool for me, and with OneNote Classroom Notebooks, it’s a pretty potent teaching tool as well with increasing power that’s been in the Windows version, coming to the Mac as well.

OneNote
OneNote

Scrivener

I sometimes feel that I should like Scrivener more than I actually do. I do like it, especially for longer-form writing, and especially for output to ePub or a range of other formats. It got a pretty big upgrade this year and looks better than ever; it’s just that, writing poetry a lot, I’m just as happy working in iA Writer most of the time.

Scrivener
Scrivener

Reading and Research

Feedly is my go-to RSS Reader, and one of the apps I open on my iPad every morning (just after the email, and right before Tweetbot)

I also like Pocket as a place to store articles I want to get to later on; it’s pretty amazing how beautiful the articles look, and how quickly they format, in this tool. It has an off-line mode too for those plane trips.

Evernote is also a tool I’ve used for a long time. I’ve got over 6k notes there now: snippets, recipes, book reviews, modem manuals. I keep thinking it’s something I could do without, but it isn’t. It’s like the bottom drawer of my desk; I just stick stuff in there when I don’t know what else to do with them.

For real ‘reading’ I use the standard Kindle App.

Pocket
Pocket

Images and Video

I take a lot of photos. While I wasn’t happy to subscribe to a text editor (see my Goodbye Ulysses post) I do subscribe to the Adobe Creative Suite; notably the Photoshop, Lightroom bundle. I was very sceptical about the new more online-orientated Lightroom CC product, but it syncs beautifully and is getting more and more tools.

Lightroom CC
Lightroom CC

I’ve also had a good look at a photo editor called Luminar, and particularly the new 2018 version. It’s $99AUD and has some impressive filters and effects and is getting better and better, updating fast. If I drop Photoshop it might be for this. I’ve tried, and beein unimpressed by Pixemalator and Snapseed on the Mac (though they both seem nicer on IOS) Luminar are saying an image organising tool is coming in 2018. I used to use Picasa for that, and miss a tool that can scroll effortlessly through thumbnails on the computer; maybe I should look at Adobe Bridge again?

Luminar
Luminar

I don’t do much with video, so I’m happy with iMovie and a little video converter called Video Monkey which quickly takes the .mov files out of my Olympus Pen and turns them into usable .mp4s.

Utilities

I use Alfred literally every time I’m on the Mac, to search, to launch programs and to skip to the next track on iTunes. If you’re keyboard orientated, like I am, it’s a real boon. (I should say at this point that I always use an external mechanical keyboard on my Macs. So much so that, whenever I have to type something in class on the Macbook keyboard, and the students can see how many mistakes I make on that terrible keyboard, it’s always worth a laugh.

Alfred
Alfred

For smaller, more specific, very targeted tasks I love Name Changer, which does the obvious, itsyCal, a little calendar that sits in your top menu bar, and LastPass for a password manager and Type it 4 Me, a great little productivity tool that replaced Text Expander for me when it too headed down the subscription model. With Type it 4 Me, I have a list of keyboard shorcuts xdate gives me the date, for example: 23/12/2017 and those snipppets are synced in the backgrouond so they’re always up to date on all my machines. The thing with keyboard shortcuts is that you dont’ want to have to re-learn them too often.

Type it 4 Me
Type it 4 Me

I don’t used backup software since I moved to OneDrive. I’m now that confident that it’s backing up my files in my personal cloud. I used Super Duper for a while but it seemed to become increasingly complex (have a go at backing up some folders rather than all, if you have half a day to spare!) I also use Dropbox for sharing files that I’m wanting to access and share currently.

Task Management and Planning

Task management is probably the place where I’ve spent the most money, taking a close look at Things, Wunderlist and ToDo before settling for 2DO which suits me very well.

2Do syncs seamlessly across my devices and is customisable enough to have projects, task lists and sub-projects. Importantly, for me, it follows the Getting Things Done paradigm created by David Allen, or at least follows it well enough for me.

2Do
2Do

For planning, and communicating, using concepts, I use MindNode, a concept mapping tool …iStat Mini, a compact way to keep an eye on your CPU, memory pressure, battery, disk usage and network activity.

And, if I want to do a proper email, not just a couple of lines composed in Inbox, I use Airmail email client.

Thanks for listening, and thanks to John for the inspiration.
Happy New Year.

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What’s in the backpack?

Next time: I’m taking a robot

 

Whats in the backpack?

I thought I’d do just a little on the changing technology landscape, this time in terms of what I use personally.

For three days at EduTech this time I just took my 64GB iPad, installed with Telstra 4G and a Brydge Bluetooth keyboard, an IPhone and one charger. This worked well, except for the one charger business; a full day out at a conference note-taking, twittering and occasionally checking on Outlook as to what’s happening back at school, takes its toll and both devices were seriously depleted by day’s end. It would have been better to charge both overnight but I certainly enjoyed the lightness of the iPad, especially on conference seating with no desk or table.

For the writing, I began by using OneNote to take my notes, but I decided I wanted to blog the sessions on the spot and found a great blogging tool for the iPad called BlogPad Pro. So, I switched to doing the note taking in Ulysses (my all-time favourite distraction-free text editor) and then exporting HTML directly into BlogPad via the clipboard. That worked pretty much flawlessly and I was also able to insert some images I’d taken along the way at some of the sessions.

They were just about the only apps I used over the three days: Ulysses, BlogPad Pro, Safari and Outlook, and I found that, more than ever at this conference, that unholy mix of Apple, Microsoft, Google and independent apps is more and more common. The Firbank session I attended (see blog notes) wasn’t the only school that was happily using a real mix of technologies, albeit mostly tying to find a dashboard for them all, usually via an LMS.

It was funny, looking around at all the fancy technology and heavy-duty laptops on display, that I found the iPad worked well (despite the naysayers and the prophets of doom from various quarters) but it only works well for me with the keyboard attached.

I did spend a long time at one morning tea looking over the various Chromebooks at the Google stand and they are appealing. For less than $400 you can get a light, long-powered, keyboard driven computer; for around $100 a Chrome dongle that contains a computer – just add screen and keyboard. I’m tempted to say that’s a better option than a haphazard BYOD program, but I’m still thinking about that.

 

 

Implementing an LMS

Implementing an LMS

Paul Mears (Firbank GS)

http://www.scoop.it/paulmears

@paulmears

Paul talked about

1 How to be strategic with human-centred design

2 selection process of an LMC

3 Implementing for success

This was interesting, beginning with a focus on ‘human centred thinking and design. ‘Opportunities, not problems’, which came out of Stanford.

He argued for ‘shadowing’, observation, interviews … and the importance of ‘student agency’ Bring the students in, give them respect and they’ll rise to the occasion.

When he talked to students the students hated the ‘mushrooms’ that had popped up with different teachers all doing their own things. They wanted to select a unifying LMS and shared the process they used to select that company. (Firefly)

Mears prefers ‘integrated learning platform’ to LMS, as the platform should integrate diverse things like YouTube, ClickView, Google Docs, PowerPoint

This was the most practical session I had for the day. Good advice, ‘The main thing is to make the main thing the main thing’

 

 

Flipped Learning Possibilities

Flipped Learning Session (Rupert Denton)

 

Flipped Learning Possibilities

Rupert Denton from ClickView talked about the possibilities of the ‘flipped classroom’, particularly in a context of an education system that is ‘failing’. (cue lots of graphs featuring PISA in full dive mode, alarm bells ringing, crew jettisoning ballast)

He cleverly used the work of Geoff Masters (what should we do to arrest the decline?), particularly ‘ensure every student has access to excellent teaching’, which aligned nicely to flipped classroom approaches.

It got a bit edgy when he compared the explosion in educational technology as a bit like the evolutionary explosion of life known as the Cambrian explosion.(see Wikipedia) He argued that, as in evolutionary terms, not all trees of life (or technology) will survive. One strand that he argued would survive is the ‘flipped classroom’.

Denton showed some of the emerging research around flipped learning (99% of teachers would use it again), one calling it ‘differentiation on steroids (Flipped Learning Network, 2012) and made several explicit links between ACER research and Flipped classroom approaches (flipped classrooms are shareable, so good teaching can be shared, and teachers can learn from other teachers about their own pedagogy.)

The Flipped Classroom

 

He then talked about the approach of ClickView in curating and gathering good content for Australian Curriculum approaches. He also shared some of the ‘value-add’ ClickView brings to video, like questions, annotations etc. as well as the teacher collaboration features that the platform has.

It was good to see this platform again and to see how some of the once competing threads of technology are coming together.

Rupert Denton is ‘a sceptical optimist’ who works for ClickView.

 

 

Terms and tools for engagement

Terms and tools of engagement

Andy Hargreaves has an ambivalent attitude to technology. He doesn’t own a smart phone (because he might use it!) and he talked about being critical thinkers about engagement and dis-engagement. ‘We need to be where our kids are’ (he said, sans mobile phone) He aimed to disturb our preconceptions, but this was a strong session, the third time (I think) that I’ve heard Hargreaves.

He argued that historically …

2000-2015 – The age of achievement (of testing, NAPLAN, a sense of urgency around achievement, literacy and numeracy) ‘Beating the odds’

2015-2025 – The age of engagement and wellbeing. To ‘changing the odds’.

This was a call for more engagement: 43% of students at high school are, to some degree, disengaged from their learning and showed the challenges of an ‘average’ class (mental disorder, bullying, parent separations, self-harm …)

Engagement is a challenge, especially now. (He talked about the needs of refugees). The job of educators is to take the kids where they are now, and move them forward. Before achievement comes engagement. Engage the kids as they are, not how we’d like them to be.

Six ways to improve engagement

  1. Architecture / School design (validating students through symbols)
    1. Curriculum
    2. Student voice
    3. Pedagogy – The future teacher will have less authority (around content) and more authority (the narratives from the ‘Ken Robinsons’ of the classroom: this seemed a weaker point)
    4. Technology – The Chromeboook and the climbing wall
    5. We have to stop disengagement – much of which comes about because of assessment.

Hargreaves ended by talking about teacher engagement; ‘A school that is good for a kid to be, has to be good for a teacher to be as well’


Session Details

Terms of Engagement

There is no genuine achievement without engagement. Too often, we have overlooked the importance of engagement as a condition and a companion for achievement. This presentation describes the need to pay more attention to student engagement, to understand what engagement actually means, to address its importance for adult as well as students, and to learn how to enhance engagement for all, with and without technology. Drawing on his current and development work, award winning author Andy Hargreaves will, in his characteristic fashion, get us thinking harder and differently about the role of engagement in our schools. 

Andy Hargreaves, Thomas More Brennan Chair, Lynch School of Education, Boston College (USA) 

 

 

EduTech

Sitting at the airport waiting for a flight gives you time to think. I’m heading off to EduTech in Brisbane for a couple of days and am trying to figure out just what I hope to find out, that I couldn’t get from a Twitter Feed. 

Of course, there’s power in the networked connections you can make in conferences, but I’m hoping too that there’s more that I’ll come back to my school with.  I’ll blog my thinking over the next couple of days but I’m particularly interested in:

  • The state of play in the LMS world (and specifically where Schoolbox sits in that)
  • IOS student response systems and apps
  • Are there possibilities in Chromebooks I’ve ignored for too long?
  • What do the new iPad admin settings look like
  • How can I get on board the next OneNote thing
Mixed up bunch isn’t it? Tech agnostic: Google, Apple, Microsoft … I’ll be interested to see if I’m any clearer on some of these key questions by Tuesday night.
 
 

Life with a smartwatch

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Just before Christmas I saw an offer on a Pebble Smartwatch. $100AU from Amazon (+ postage) for the basic model, in black. I’d been a little jealous of a friend’s Apple watch for six months so decided to take the plunge and see how much value there is in a watch.

I’d been wearing a Fitbit for a while and that buzzed when the phone rang and gave information as to who was ringing, which was handy, and the Pebble does that too, and that’s the essence of it. It syncs via Bluetooth to your phone and any notifications come to your wrist.

I’ve been using it now for three months and thought I might reflect on the idea of the smartwatch, and the Pebble specifically. I’m not trying to do a full-on review, there’s lots of sites like Mashable and iMore that do that kind of thing; this is a more personal kind of reflection.

On the positive side, I’ve actually been impressed with just how handy it can be have a snippet of information on your wrist, rather than pull it out of your pocket, and not just for the ‘persons liked your post’ notifications, but messages, Google updates, and more. I like the way I can alter the watch faces and I like some of the customisation and apps you can buy (including AFL footy score updates!) I seem to get just under a week’s battery out of the Pebble, which is also pretty good.

On the negative side, the Pebble is still a bit limited. You can’t make calls or record any audio. My black and white screen is pretty basic. It’s one of those things that’s useful, not essential, nice to have. It might be a different thing if I was looking at the Apple watch, but at $500AU minimum that’s in a different price-bracelet to the Pebble.

So, are there any educational possibilities beyond the slight paranoia around watches and exams? Maybe not. I’ve yet to see a compelling use-case for the watch as a learning tool, but it may come. Field trips supplemented by GPS, quick messaging to groups on the run, the kind of quick updates, alerts, hat might prove useful for students out on an excursion.

I’m still wearing it; at $100 it’s been worth it, but I’m not desperate to spend $500 for something with the current feature-set.