Sunday, 30 November 2014

A Simple Guide for Teachers: Using and Making QR Codes

Our principal approached me and asked what I thought the best way to have our students take an online survey on the school's iPads would be.  He'd already created the survey, he just needed everyone to be able to access the link.

For me this was a perfect opportunity to showcase how QR codes can be used to direct students to a particular website, without having to worry about them typing the URL in correctly.  We have included a free QR code reader app on all of the school's iPads, so all I had to do was generate a QR code that lead to the survey site, and a set of instructions for those teachers who hadn't used QR codes before.  I wanted to put information about generating your own codes in there too, in the hope that teachers would see how easy it is and feel confident giving it a go themselves.

Here is my instruction sheet:

Using QR Codes

A QR (Quick Response) Code is a square barcode

that can be captured with a school iPad using the I-nigma app.

A common use of a QR code is to use it to take you to a particular website.  If you open the I-nigma app and position the barcode above so it is in the red square, it will take you to our school website (make sure you have logged on to Watchguard).  

Making QR Codes

If you have websites that you want to share with your students then creating a QR code for them will allow the students to easily find the sites.  You can also create QR codes for short amounts of plain text, which can be used for all sorts of things e.g. a treasure hunt.  And when you really get the hang of it you can record short amounts of audio and link through to them.

To make your own QR codes you can use a QR code generator on your laptop, like  

QR code generator.png

Here is how to make your own QR code for a website in three simple steps!

  • Copy the website URL you want to use and paste it into the box
  • Click on the “Dynamic” circle (it makes the QR code easier to scan)
  • Click on “Download QR Code”

Then you will have a picture of your code that you can print or include in a document.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Why we moved to specified apps and centralised iPad management

Back in 2012 when we introduced iPads to the school we wanted to give the teachers the freedom to experiment with the iPads and download apps they thought might be useful.  All our teachers got a $50 iTunes card, set up their own Apple IDs, and had their iPads configured so if they downloaded an app on one iPad it automatically downloaded it to the other three.

It became clear, however, that this system wasn't ideal.  For one thing, volume purchasing was introduced a bit later but we couldn't really take advantage of the discounts because we didn't know what apps teachers had already purchased.  I ended up doing an app stocktake and found that across our school iPads we had over 600 different apps!

Here are some of the other issues we had:

  • Teachers were forgetting their Apple ID passwords and security questions and because they'd been set up personally there wasn't much I could do to help them.  Sometimes iPads had been passed on to new teachers without getting the security question details - for a while you didn't need them for purchasing apps then all of a sudden you did.  That caught us out.
  • Teachers were not discussing apps and sharing ideas much.  The huge range of apps across the school meant that you might not find someone else using the same ones as you.
  • Some teachers complained that it was difficult to find out which apps were the best ones to use.  They didn't have time to download and compare multiple apps.
  • There was no vetting system to assess whether teachers' app choices fitted the school's educational aims.
  • By paying for only one app per four iPads we weren't obeying Apple's terms and conditions and paying the developers properly for their work.  Once volume purchasing became available in New Zealand we had no excuses not to.
  • Some of the more expensive apps aimed at students with special needs had to be bought for a different iPad every year as the student changed teachers.

For these reasons it was decided that we would move to using school Apple IDs, a specified set of apps and a centralised iPad management system.  We have an App Request Form teachers can use if they have an app they particularly want to use.

We visited a couple of schools using different mobile device management systems to see them in action.  One system cost $30 per iPad to have managed, the other was free.  Ironically it was the free system, Meraki, that seemed to have more functionality.  I'll post about the process involved with moving to Meraki later.

I think you do lose the ease of teachers being able to explore and try new apps by going to specified apps and a centralised iPad management system.  However, here are the many benefits:

  • Having one set of apps that all the teachers in each year level has means that teachers don't have to worry about which apps to select.
  • Teachers can share ideas and support each other more easily.
  • Professional development can focus on apps everyone has.  
  • We can save money by using volume purchasing.
  • If teachers change Year levels they can simply swap iPads rather than having to buy all new apps.
  • The App Request Form allows apps to be assessed for educational suitability by senior management and checked to see if they duplicate an app we are already using.  
  • If we do decide to add an app we can use Meraki to easily push it out to all the iPads that need it.
  • We can deploy the more expensive apps needed by some students with special needs and then pull them back and push them to another iPad as they go through the school.
  • Students will be able to learn how to use an app in one class and then they can carry that knowledge through in the following years as it will still be being used.

Finally, as we move to introducing BYOD next year it means we can use Meraki to easily (I hope!) push out our specified apps to students' devices.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Genre Shelving - The students have their final say

It's a busy term for everyone but I thought it was important to follow up with our students about how they are finding the new genre shelving.  I did an initial survey back in March and wanted to see how they felt now that they've been using books shelved by genre for a few terms.  Coincidentally, despite growth in the school there have been some bugs going around and I ended up with exactly the same amount of Year 5/6 students to survey. 

In order to make it quick and make it happen I reduced the survey to just two questions.  Here are the results, compared with the same questions asked in March, prior to shelving by genre:

1. Do you find it easy to choose a book to read?

What a big difference in the number of students who find it hard to choose a book to read.  From 17% in March to 4% in November.  A drop of 13%.  I'm very excited by this!  I love that changing the way the books are shelved made it easier for book selection - this is exactly what I'd hoped for.

2.  Do you think shelving books by genre has made it easier for you to find books to read?

I think this graph shows that our students' expectations of how genre shelving would help them have been met.  97% of our students think that shelving by genre has made it easier for them to find books to read.  Again I'm very happy with this.

The feedback I've had from teachers has also been overwhelmingly positive and I am so pleased that we changed to this way of shelving.  I blogged about some of the challenges earlier (and covered them in a presentation) but I still think these are far outweighed by the benefits.