#iPad app of the week: Polycom RealPresence Mobile

It’s been a while since I’ve done an iPad app of the week, so I thought it would be prudent to catch up with a doesy!  This week I’m all about the Polycom RealPresence Mobile app for the iPad.  At work we are deploying Polycom HDX video conferencing units in five rural school districts and this app is going to complement that deployment very nicely.  But thinking big picture, if you are a teacher who is looking to connect with other teachers and their students whom are physically distant from yourself, then this app might be just what you need.

You may be asking yourself why you would want to use a Polycom app over say Facetime or the Skype app.  Well, it might very well be that you don’t want to use this over those, but this app does provide a couple extras that might make it all the more useful.  First, this app allows you to video conference at a low bandwidth rates, which means even if you are in a school that has very, very slow Internet, you can still bring in others using your Internet connection.  Beyond that, you don’t need any kind of account to start using the app.  You can give the person you are trying to video conference with your IP (the app will tell you what this is) and presto, you’re video conferencing!  Lastly, the app is very simple.  There isn’t much to it other than a keypad to dial the IP address you want to call.

This app works with any “standards based” video conferencing device, which means you can call both other iPads as well as any other fancy standards based device, like the Polycom HDX 7000.  This expands your pool of potential experts and other educators/students you and your students can learn from.  The app is free and is in the grey zone between content creation and content consumption.  You can easily argue consumption since it is a video conference, but you can also argue creation since the app can lead you to create amazing deliverables.  So, you choose what you want to call it.  I’ll call it exciting and a great resource!

I don’t have time to take original pictures today, but you can see some stock pictures here.  Enjoy!

#iPad app of the week: Bookmarklets in Safari

This week, instead of looking at an app and everything you can do with the app, I decided to focus on just one thing, Bookmarklets.  A bookmarklet according to Wikipedia is “Unobtrusive JavaScript stored as the URL of a bookmark in a web browser or as a hyperlink on a web page.”  So in layman’s terms that means that a bookmarklet is a “bookmark” that allows you to share a web page to a social network.  This is handy on the iPad as there are a number of social networking services that don’t yet have an app.  For me this is a critical issue since I spend a lot of my leisure exploring the depths of the Internet for ideas, ways to solve problems, and the next great thing.  But when I find something I want an easy way to store and share that information.  This is where a bookmarklet comes in handy.

I found the following steps at http://static.chrisbray.com/bookmarklets/.  You can go there to find the code for various social networking sites, but here are the steps you will go through to add a bookmarklet to your iPad.  You can also find a variety of bookmarklets for different social networking sites here as well.  If the social network of your choice isn’t there, do a Google search for bookmarklet javascript and the name of the social network of your choice.  You’d be surprised what comes up.

  1. Add this page as a bookmark by tapping the share button and add a new bookmark.
  2. Find the bookmarklet below[from http://static.chrisbray.com/bookmarklets/ that is] that you want, and select and copy the Javascript to your clipboard.
  3. Go to your bookmarks and edit the new bookmark.  Edit the name and paste the Javascript in the field for the URL.
  4. Done.
Now don’t be worried about Javascript and editing bookmarks.  It really doesn’t require much more than a few clicks and a copy and paste.  Here is a video that goes through all the steps:
So this really is a toss up when thinking about content consumption or creation.  I’m going to err on the side of creation, because sharing is really a step past consumption.  It may be a stretch, but in the end, bookmarklets are going to help you be more productive when you browse the Internet on your iPad.

#iPad app of the week: iBooks/Pages for Mac

Today I attended a presentation by Apple about using the iPad.  The presentation was nicely done, and while it wasn’t necessarily a hands-on workshop, I still learned a lot about the iPad and using it in education.  One thing I learned more about was creating ePubs using Pages for Mac and then viewing them in the iBooks app.

An ePub is the format for many ebooks, typical to what you would buy in the Kindle Store.  I have dabbled with ePubs in the past and we are using them with the TQP pilot project some, but here’s what struck me today: If I’m in a school with an iPad 1:1 deployment and I’m trying to find ways to have my students create and publish their own content, with their own voice, then using ePubs is a great way to make that possible.

Here’s how ePubs works, and keep in mind this is just one way to do so as well as the only way I know to create one, you need to open the Pages app for Mac.  This app is $10 and can be purchased through the App Store on any newer mac.  Pages at first glance looks like most word processors you’ve seen.  However, the export function is what makes this a crucial tool for creating ePubs, since Pages can export ePub files, which can then be opened in the iBooks app on the iPad.  So to create your ePub, you can type/copy-paste your written content into a new document, but you can also add multimedia files, like video and audio, to the file as well.  You insert these files into the document and make them an inline object with the text.  You can also create links to places both in the document and to websites on the Internet.  Then once you are done creating your document you simply just export the file to an ePub format and make it available to your audience via email, website, or even sync it through iTunes on your computer.  This is the creative process students could go through, but more about that in a minute.

Once the ePub document is on the iPad, you use iBooks to view the book.  Within iBooks you can copy text, highlight text, create notes for a piece of the text, change the font size, bookmark pages, and do general searches.  The app itself isn’t anything too exciting, but it does change the way we think about teaching and content consumption, which is where the power comes into play.

So for example, if I was a teacher and all my students had an iPad, I would structure my course so the students created their own textbooks.  I’d likely use a variety of online tools to facilitate the process, but then once we finished a section or chapter or however the course was organized, the culminating activity might be to bring all this content together and organize it in a way that makes sense for readers, create the ePub, and then distribute that ePub the next time the course is taught.  Then the next year I’d have my students build on that and keep making updates to the course text.j

There are a number of things you could do with ePubs, but the key is that you can consume the content in a different way than just reading.  Students can read about a concept and then watch a video of that concept in action, or they can look up the definition to words they don’t know without changing apps or even getting out the dictionary.  Through the iPad and a variety of other tools we are able to think differently about the things we are doing in the classroom with these tools  Creating and curating your own is much more powerful than reading a traditional textbook.  Both the process of creating the content, as well as how it is consumed is going to change the way students are learning.

So this is both a content creation and content consumption app based on its use.  iBooks is free and Pages for Mac is only $10 so the buy-in is pretty low.  This is the path that I believe teaching and learning is headed and I hope more and more schools, teachers, and students begin to engage in these kinds of projects.  While learning is an activity, there is still a large amount of consumption that takes place that serves as a foundation to build upon and this is one step towards making this happen.

Here are some screenshots from iBooks and here is an ePub on how to use the iPad as a camcorder and sharing that video.  Something I’m actually using in the field with TQP.

#iPad app of the week: Camera App

Today was the first TQP Technology Support Group meeting and we talked about the camera app for the iPad.  This app is one that comes with the iPad and is just what it sounds like.  It is the interface for taking pictures and video on the iPad.  The App is pretty easy to use.  There are just a few features to know.

Switch from the front camera to the back

The first thing to know is which camera you are using.  In the top right there is this icon  (above) that allows you to switch between the front and back cameras.  Just press the button and the camera will change views.  If you are planning to use the camera app to record a testimonial or something where you really want to be able to hear the audio as clear as possible, make sure the camera is set to the front of the iPad since that is where the microphone is located.

Slide to switch from the camer to the video camera

In the bottom right is where you switch between still pictures and video.  Just slide the slider to the appropriate format and you are ready to take pictures.

Press to take a picture
Push to record

To take pictures, press the button in the bottom middle of the screen.  For stills, it will be a small camera, and for video it will be a red dot.  When making a video, simply press the red dot button again to stop recording.

Tap and then slide to zoom

If you want to use the digital zoom, just tap the screen and slide the zoom slider.  To focus on a certain area, tap the screen where you want to focus and then take a picture.

Press to see pictures and videos you have taken

To review the pictures and video you have taken, press the icon in the bottom left and it will let you review everything you have done.

Where the power of this app will emerge will be in the uses of the pictures and video that you create.  Looking at the role video and images may have in a future teacher performance assessment, this app could be the most powerful app on the iPad.  To be able to show teachers and student teachers footage of their teaching they can then use to improve upon, that lays the foundation for making real change in the way teachers teach.  This footage could also be taken, with the right permissions from people in the video, and shown to other teachers and pre-service teachers about model practices.  Too often great teachers are left to operate in isolation, so why not share their knowledge and skills with others so we can all improve.

This app is clearly a content creation app, but it also allows other users to consume the content that is created, especially if used with other teachers to help them improve their practice.  There is no cost to this app since it is included with the iPad.

#iPad app of the week: iMovie

This week I took a look at the iMovie for iPad app.  This is a new app for me as I just bought it about a week ago.  I don’t make too many movies anymore, but I do predict that I’ll need the ability to do this on the fly, which is why I invested in the app.  I’ve used the full version of iMovie for years now and I love that application, but the app for iPad is a very stripped down version.

The first thing I noticed about the app was how easy it was to use.  Pictures, video, and music are easily added, and you can create voiceovers and take new video very quickly through the user interface.  There is a basic timeline, just like in the full version and to move forward and backward in the timeline you just use your finger to drag the contents back and forth.  Very intuitive.  I also liked the sharing features this app is integrated with as well.  You can share to your Camera Roll, YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo, CNN iReport, as well as send your movie to iTunes to sync with your computer when you dock your iPad.  Movies can be exported in three different sizes, Medium: 360p, Large: 540p, and HD: 720p.

After playing with the app and creating a low end video, I found that some of the features I like weren’t available.  The biggest one was not being able to change all the times of the stills at one time.  There are handle bars for each picture that need to be changed for each picture.  I also didn’t like that I was forced to use the Ken Burns Effect.  I tend to like the effect, but there are times, like today, when I don’t want to use the effect.  However, I found that if I tried to match up the start and end spots that it would be okay.  Another problem I found was the inability to zoom out on a picture beyond its width.  In the movie below I wanted to show the whole picture, but had to settle for the width of the picture and adjust my view accordingly.  The transitions were a little difficult to modify, but I eventually figured out the double tap system, which applies to a variety of features in the app.

All in all, this was an okay app.  I’ll likely use it when I am at conferences and take a quick video using the iPad and post it to YouTube or something like that.  Truly a content creation app and quite affordable at $4.99.  I’d probably recommend it with the caveat that it doesn’t have all the features as the desktop version.  If that’s what you’re looking for, this isn’t it.

Here is a sample video I created using the app:

You can find screenshots here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dmourlam/6009300872/

#iPad app of the week: Keynote

It’s that time again, which means another iPad app review.  This week I’m looking at the Keynote app, which is the iPad version of the desktop application.  The Keynote app is part of the iWork suite and is a nice presentation creator for the iPad.  Overall I like the app, even though I don’t like doing “PowerPoint-ish” presentations, there are some decent features which make this a handy resource when travelling and presenting.
  When you first open Keynote, you see all the presentations you’ve made or synced with your iPad.  If it’s your first time, then there is a Getting Started guide that really goes into depth with the product and how to do some basic tasks.  I actually found the guide quite helpful, which is surprising since I’m used to those guides explaining how to do everything in very detailed steps, leaving a guide about the length of War and Peace.  To create a new presentation, there is a + symbol in the top left you can push and a number of themes appear making it easy to create a decent looking presentation with little effort.

The layout is pretty much what you would expect.  The slides are listed on the left side, there is a simple toolbar at the top and the play button is in the top right.  Keynote has the ability to insert a variety of media, such as: images, sound, video, tables, charts, and shapes.  Editing text is also very simple.  All it takes is a double tap to on the text box and the keyboard appears.  There are a variety of slides, such as title slides, the standard bulleted slide, pictures slides, etc.  There is also an undo button, which can also redo if you press and hold.  While the picture above doesn’t show it, there is a way to edit the fonts, which is using the info button.  All the standard features are there, such as: font size, color, lists, arrangement, styles, etc.  There are also animation and transitions, as well as the ability to share your presentation to iTunes, email, etc., in either the native Keynote format, or in PowerPoint or PDF formats.  Keynote also has the ability to open your PowerPoint presentations that you sync via iTunes, which truly is handy.

Another useful feature is the laser pointer feature.  I never use them, but I suppose it could be helpful for some.  To activate it press and hold during the slideshow and a little red dot will appear.  You can then move your finger around to different parts of the slide as necessary.

And finally, the best feature, in my opinion, is the ability to organize your presentations into folders.  This is especially helpful if you teach multiple subjects or even if you just want to keep your presentations organized by topic.  You can have as many presentations in a folder as you wish and you can personalize each folder’s name.  Again, pretty basic, but truly essential for those who do a number of presentations.

All in all, I like the Keynote app.  Looking at how I plan to use the iPad, this will certainly make travelling to presentations throughout the state much easier since I won’t need to lug my laptop around everywhere I go.  This app costs $9.99.  This is certainly a content creation app, but I still want to stress the need to not make presentations that “PowerPoint people to death!”  Remember, people can read and they really want to hear what you can say.  For more tips on making a more effective presentation, check out this post.

Attached is the presentation I created using the Keynote for iPad app.  Unfortunately, WordPress will not allow me to upload the Keynote version of the presentation, but here is the  PowerPoint version: Video Conferencing in Methods Classroom.

#iPad app of the week: Handwriting Apps

I’ve been playing around with different handwriting apps lately thinking this would be a great way to take notes when I’m in a meeting or just for the quick note on the go.  I experimented with the following apps: Penultimate, Bamboo Paper, Draw for iPad, and iDraft (sorry couldn’t find the link in the app store anymore).  While these apps have similar features, such as: sharing to Twitter, different colors, ability to edit previous notes, etc., experimenting with each of these apps has led me to ask this question: What is the value of doing something on an iPad that could be done just as easily and more efficiently using low tech options, like paper and pen?

Why I thought I could write better using the iPad and any number of different apps is beyond me.  My handwriting is bad enough as is and is even worse using a virtual pen/my finger.  Having gone through an exercise in futility, I am asking the question, why do we (myself included) continue to perpetuate older/traditional ways of thinking using new tools?  This isn’t a new question, nor am I the first to ask it, but it’s necessary to continue asking this question since, and I’ll speak for myself here, I tend to fall back on what’s comfortable, what’s safe.  I think this is why some late adopters have problems adopting new innovations, because they have a mindset grounded in the past rather than taking the opportunity to think differently about a task or operation.  This isn’t to say that a person’s experiences will be useless to them as they adopt or attempt to adopt new innovations, but innovations imply change in some aspect, which I believe needs to result in a change in how we think and act.  If we don’t change those two aspects of ourselves when adopting an innovation, then the intervention will surely fail.

Of the four apps I tested, I wouldn’t recommend any of them.  While they all allow you to create content, they don’t serve a practical purpose unless you spend time practicing your handwriting using a specific app.  It’s possible they would be useful if you wanted to sketch an idea or blueprint during a brainstorming session.  Beyond that, these apps are no more than a perpetuation of old ideas on new technology, ignoring the true potential of the iPad as an opportunity to think differently about everything we do.

Here are some screen shots from the various apps.