Tag Archive for Student Skills

Image-Enhanced Notes: Beyond “Just Typing” with Mobile Devices

Using OneNote, I took pictures and handwrote notes during an observation.

I recently observed a teacher lecturing for a period in order to watch students and their notetaking. In our Upper School, students are required to have a touchscreen device as well as a laptop– most often, either a Windows 8 hybrid device or combination of MacBook and iPad. Part of the reason that our faculty requested this was because of the difficulties in translating much of our academic content into keyboard-only notation (e.g. scientific and math notation). Having the touchscreen devices, then, should translate into students being able to include non-text (or at least non-QWERTY) input into their documents and products. At one point in the lecture, the teacher drew a graph on the board to illustrate a concept. I watched as the student in front of me switched out of Word (where she was taking notes) to a browser, did a quick Google image search for the concept being discussed, and pulled a generic (and similar) image off the web into her Word document. It was very fluid and competent use of her tools, but problematic from a content point-of-view: she had no time to analyze the source of the image for validity, and the image of the graph had completely different labels, axes and scale than the example that the teacher was referring to. Was that repurposed graph from online really helping her capture the content of the lecture?

Being able to include non-text input into notes is a major advantage of touchscreen devices. Advocates of paper-based notes frequently mention the importance of being able to use symbol notation to underscore important points, draw connections between topics, concept/cluster map, and illustrate visual points. All of these are possible with touchscreen devices using a hybrid notetaking approach that also includes the digital benefits of organizing/searching, linking to external resources, speed of typing and security of backup/storage. There are two ways that I’d suggest this student capture the graph on the board while typing her notes as she preferred, using the stylus and the camera.

The Pen Is Mightier

Reflecting the dual nature of our program (BYOD, laptop and touchscreen required), OneNote is a notetaking program which processes both typed and hand-written input. Students can organize notes into notebooks or categories and import documents or files. In short, it does what we need out of a notetaking tool, and has two major additional advantages for our program– it’s cross-platform, meaning our students can access it on Mac OS (no stylus input, obviously), Windows and iOS, and it can sync to OneDrive for cloud storage, meaning students with multiple devices can access their notes across all of them. Most importantly, it’s fast– while pen input is available in Word, switching from typing to pen input requires a couple of steps and is hard to do on the fly. If this student was taking her notes in OneNote rather than Word, she could have drawn the graph in question directly into her notes.

I believe that stylus input is the biggest advantages of OneNote at this point. I have been a huge Evernote fan for years and have collected volumes of my notes, writings and information in that program to this date, and I’m extremely disappointed with the lack of stylus support. As a result, I’ve been trying out OneNote this year to conduct all of my observations and am very excited about the capacity to produce hybrid notes both by typing and drawing as well as by handwriting all notes by freehand.

Pictures and 1,000s of Words

"Take a Photo" to insert a camera image while working in Notability (iOS).

“Take a Photo” to insert a camera image while working in Notability (iOS).

In our Middle School, students use iPads. While many have a stylus in their bags, most students don’t have them out and accessible during notetaking, and drawing graphs by hand while moving quickly may not be the most effective or efficient use for them. The other common way of getting images into a document involves using the camera present on mobile devices. The key here is to ensure that a student has a camera on the back of their device (facing the board). Students throughout our school using iPads, as well as most Upper School students on Windows hybrid machines, would have such a camera. Students using only their MacBooks for notetaking do not have the rear-facing camera (which eliminates the MacBook as a possibility for either of these methods).

Most apps or software in iOS or Windows 8 have the built-in capacity to insert an image from the camera. If our student were typing on her iPad or a Windows 8 hybrid device, she would just have to lift up the device and click the “Insert Image” button in her notetaking program (whichever that may be) to insert a capture of the image on the board as the teacher has drawn it. In this scenario, Evernote becomes an option again, as do other document apps.

Keep It Embedded


Using OneNote, I took pictures and handwrote notes during an observation.

Using OneNote, I took pictures and hand-wrote notes during an observation.

Conferences are full of well-meaning audience members taking pictures of every slide on their tablets and phones, and some students have tried taking pictures of every lecture slide as a notetaking strategy, only to find that they never revisit their Camera Roll to do anything with the assorted pictures. Similarly, it would be possible for this student to take a picture of the graph with her phone or tablet, send it to her MacBook later, and integrate it into her notes, or access it on the original device when it’s time to review/study, but this strategy seems doomed for failure of follow-through. I believe the key is to make sure that the image, whether hand-drawn or photographed, is embedded directly into the larger notes both for context and for ease of access later.

How About You?

Have you worked with your students on note-taking strategies that involve either mobile cameras or touchscreen input? What have your students found or reported about the experience? Please share in the comments below!

Using Guided Access to Minimize Distractions in iOS

Mobile devices often end up loaded with apps designed to push notifications out to users. Games, social media, communication tools and personal organization tools like Calendar and Tasks are all designed to grab a user’s attention when something needs to be noted. When trying to concentrate on work, this becomes a constant distraction pulling away from the task on hand. It also creates a challenge for people trying to use these devices in presentation settings, as notifications about personal items such as communication or appointments can end up being shared on screen with a class or audience, and audio notifications can interrupt a presentation or playback of audio or video. Thankfully, there is a way to suppress all notifications when you’re using the iPad in a visible setting using Guided Access.

Guided Access is a feature of the iOS settings which allows you to do two major distraction-managing steps: eliminate notifications, and lock yourself into a particular app to help resist the pull of a quick game or social media checkin. Once the feature is activated, you can’t leave whichever app you’re in until you deactivate it (which can be configured with a passcode for more security). It also has a feature where you can specify parts of the screen that won’t receive any pop-ups. If you have a free app that pop-ups up with advertisements from time to time, for example, this could help eliminate those distractions. Finally, while it’s turned on, no aural nor visual notifications will occur from any other app. This includes:
  • Calendar
  • iMessage
  • Mail
  • Addictive Games of your Choice
  • Anything else which Pushes Notifications (Social Media apps, etc.)
You can, of course, disable many notifications permanently in the Settings app. Guided Access gives you the opportunity to temporarily disable them while you are sharing the iPad in the classroom setting and then have it go back to normal mode once you’re done, as well as to force yourself to stay in a mode such as writing, reading or drawing. To activate Guided Access, first turn it on in the Settings app under General->Accessibility->Guided Access. Here, you’ll specify if you want to use a passcode in order to turn it off once it’s activated. Once Guided Access has been activated, go to the app you plan on projecting or playing and triple-click the Home button. You’ll be notified that you’re in Guided Access mode (and, as a bonus for those of you projecting, you can lock the rotation here so that you don’t accidentally rotate your image while sharing). When it’s time to leave the app, triple-click the Home button again to disable Guided Access and return to normal use.
Parents and teachers may initially jump at the option to lock students into a particular app (an e-reader, notetaking app or school LMS, for example) by specifying a passcode which they control, then activating Guided Access before handing the device to the student. In this case, the student would then be unable to leave the app. There may be situations in which this is appropriate (test or controlled writing scenarios, for example), but most use cases for the iPad involve switching between multiple apps. In this case, the teacher or parent would have to enter the passcode every time a student wanted to switch between their electronic textbook, for example, and their notes program. Anybody planning on using Guided Access as a way to “put the blinders on” and focus on a single task should think through whether that single task also involves a single app, or whether a combination of apps is necessary thus making Guided Access a clumsy tool to fit the need. While not a long process, it does add an extra step each time you want to switch between apps to have to de-activate Guided Access and re-activate it in the new app.
Our interviews and conversations with students reveal that they are extremely mindful of how distracting notifications and other apps can be, and are often looking for ways to help manage their devices better to support focus. Coaching students to use Guided Access when appropriate can give them a tool to use when they notice that they need it and when it fits the nature of the task. Similarly, for anyone giving presentations or sharing multimedia in class, using it can ensure that notifications don’t interrupt and cause a potentially embarrassing distraction.

ISTE Macro: Genius Bars, Student SWAT Teams and Student-Led Tech


(img: Flickr/BerkeleyLab)

One of the great advantages of being at a large-scale conference like ISTE is seeing which ideas have begun to generate critical mass of action. This is one trend that I observed across multiple poster sessions, discussions and presentations.

A recurring theme of our device program is the desire to teach students the “intentional and mindful” use of technology– using the right tools at the right time for the right task. This goal cuts across multiple disciplines and silos of information: technology usage and operation concepts, digital citizenship, information literacy, study skills and time management, and school policies are all wrapped up in the idea of intentional and mindful use. As with many issues of technology, a central question is where the responsibility for this body of knowledge lies. While device programs push technology in schools from isolated computer labs to integrated classroom use, there is still a need to support teachers and students with expertise and resources, especially when 1:1 and BYOD programs shift the use of technology from programmatic and sequential to “just-in-time.”

While we want to avoid the Digital Native oversimplification of “The students know this stuff already,” they have experience using devices and software across disciplines and scenarios that can directly benefit other students. In addition, there is incredible instruction and learning that can happen through students examining technology usage in a rigorous manner and becoming “coaches” for technology use. Many schools have grown rigorous and robust student-led technology programs to support teachers and students throughout the campus on a range of technology concepts. These are some of the programs that I saw at ISTE this year (and a couple of others that I’ve since stumbled across).

In addition, Jennifer Carey has written a post about a DIY Genius Bar presentation that she attended at the EdTechTeacher iPad Summit in February, and Burlington High School shared their program via the ISED mailing list this year.

While these programs differ in scope slightly (mainly in the amount of tech “service” they provide, e.g. hardware repair), they all offer some common threads: in addition to reactive service, they produce proactive media for their school and community about the tools and systems that the school offers. Many include digital citizenship education as part of that outreach. Some are during the day, while some operate during “non-instructional” time: lunch, open periods and before/after school. All work in collaboration with on-campus professional IT or Ed Tech staff, and they all publish their work online.

These programs channel the expertise, interest and leadership of students to the entire school community through the use of digital media. Students involved in these programs get experience in media production and communication, as well as experience with a higher level of technology usage than normal classroom applications might provide through repair/service experience, in-depth software usage, and coaching.

If you have other examples of Student Help Desks, SWAT Teams or Genius Bars, please share them in the comments below. I’ll add examples from the comments into the post as they appear.

Students Share Quiz Study Guides

Creating online study resources and sharing them via Schoology

Cross-posted May 20 at http://blogs.universityprep.org

Creating online study resources and sharing them via Schoology

Creating online study resources and sharing them via Schoology

Knowing that a test was coming up soon, two students in 6th grade Integrated Science created an online study guide using Quizlet and shared it with their classmates through the Schoology Updates tool. This was all student-generated: no teacher input or prompting. They also invited their classmates to contribute to the Quizlet deck so that they could all benefit from each others’ work. Collaboration and self-directed learning in action!

The next morning, 6 other students had already used the study guide

The next morning, 6 other students had already used the study guide

The Boss, 57 Channels, Sushi, and Personal Knowledge Management


I remember a conversation my parents had when I was a teenager about the television. I don’t remember the setup, but I do remember my mother bemoaning the fact that, in essence, “There was fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on.” Because the TV served so much garbage, she believed, the TV itself was garbage (I’m oversimplifying, but I don’t think mis-characterizing). My father’s indignant response: “We have the History Channel now! Discovery!” In essence, he focused on the needles of specialized, targeted content amongst the haystack of generalized, least-common-denominator entertainment.

I relive that conversation nearly every day in the context of the Internet’s role in schools and classes, and I believe it’s one of the most important critical understandings of learning in the Internet era. When teachers disregard the Internet as a source of learning, or only allow certain “pre-approved” sources of content, the reasoning almost always comes down to either fear of or experience with students:

  • Using weak sources
  • Wasting too much time trying to find good sources
  • Getting off-topic

I think the underlying assumption is that the Internet is a faster, bigger, louder and more obnoxious version of Bruce’s TV: “A message came back from the great beyond: there’s fifty-seven channels and nothing on.” If we follow this belief to the extreme, we get policy decisions which reflect a view of the Internet as 99% “low-grade” rather than 1% “high-grade” learning potential. Blocking YouTube, social media and limiting the ability for students to email outside of their school/district are prime examples. YouthBeat conducted a survey of their readers and revealed (unsurprisingly) a wide range of opinions about the usefulness of the Internet, but the part most interesting to me was how hard it was for parents to come to terms with the blessing and curse of student access:

With the exception of a few, most parents temper their critiques of the Internet with an acknowledgement of all the ways that the Internet has served their children well– helping them explore their passions, efficiently and effectively complete homework, play stimulating and challenging games, and more. And for many, it’s not a matter of being ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ but how they can make the most of it for their children…

–Youthbeat.com, “Changing the Conversation about Internet Safety

You know why the Boss couldn’t find anything on his 57 channels? He was flipping channels “round and round till half-past dawn.” Even the History Channel has gone weird in the middle of the night. Skills, context and guidelines matter for successful information management. Thankfully, they’re a whole lot easier with social web tools. Would Bruce have taken the .44 to his TV if he had On Demand and streaming video?

I’ve written before about a couple of the different models of Personal Knowledge Management that are floating around the education world. I believe that while they all phrase things slightly differently, looking at models of networked learning have three common threads:

  1. Input. An active gathering and filtering of information or expertise from diverse sources.
  2. Processing. Creating a personal knowledge construct based on those unique inputs, as processed by the individual learner.
  3. Output. Demonstrating the knowledge construct in order to a) prove understanding, mastery or skills, b) contribute to the further advancement and communal knowledge base, and c) subject ideas to the rigor of communal discourse and public review and ensure that they hold up (or continue to evolve them based on new input)

The metaphor often used to describe Information Management with online networked learning is “drinking from the fire hose”– the idea that there’s a deluge of information and you’re trying to capture some of it while not getting blasted down the street. I’ve started playing with a new metaphor:

Conveyor Belt Sushi (wikimedia.org)

At a Conveyor Belt Sushi restaurant, there is a constant stream of food moving past you. You observe what is being offered, make some intentional choices about what you want to eat (which sometimes involves trying something new which looks interesting) and build your menu around your preferences as well as the offerings available. Sometimes you can make a special request if you want something that isn’t coming around. All of this is happening within many different contexts: families having evenings out, dates, business travelers networking, and more.

The first time you go to a Conveyor Belt Sushi restaurant, it’s a little odd. It takes a little orientation to figure out how to do it. Sometimes, you eat too much, or you get frustrated waiting for something particular to come along. Sometimes you don’t know how/where a restaurant serves beverages since they aren’t coming on the belt. Eventually, though, you figure out the context of this different method of serving. Like I said– the metaphor is still under construction. The key message, though, is that if you walked in, sat down and grabbed the first three things that came down the line, you’d get a mixed-bag. You might not enjoy your experience very much. You might decide that these restaurants were a horrible way to eat. You might go hungry because you wouldn’t want to grab the next dish blindly, but you wouldn’t know where to go next.

You need Conveyor Belt Sushi Management Skills–the guidelines which help you operate successfully in that context.

Recently, Harold Jarche put out a challenge to show your PKM workflows. In the next few days, I’ll show my workflows and the tools that I use, but also discuss these three key stages (input, processing, output) and how to apply them to classroom settings. I hope to do so in ways that can be introduced to existing classroom structures without requiring radical curriculum/classroom redesign (although there are certain underlying assumptions about many classroom structures which PKM directly challenges. Some conflict here is unavoidable). Along each stage, I look forward to hearing the tools, processes or resources which are helpful to you in the same vein!


“The Students Will Figure It Out”

With both digital citizenship and digital skills– what’s the balance between direct instruction and experiential/discovery learning? A teacher asked me yesterday, “Don’t we want them to learn what makes sense for them?” I would argue that part of our responsibility as educators is to make sure that they’ve tried on enough hats to know which one fits. Otherwise, isn’t it the educational equivalent of the infinite monkey theorem?

Personal Knowledge Management and Student Process

@KimKierkegaardashian - A mashup of Soren Kierkegaard and Kim Kardashian. Demonstrates understanding of irony?

How do we learn and process vast amounts of information in the digital age? How do we practice filtering and deep thought in an information deluge? Why do we have such rampant disagreements on whether the Internet is a “good place to learn?” For many of us it’s an exciting time to be in education because of these questions. Pedagogues and thinkers from diverse fields are combining their expertise to form a new set of learning strategies that reflect both the myriad sources of information available via networking and the ease with which anyone can demonstrate their thinking and learning for examination, critique and sharing. Going by terms such as “connectivism,” or “personal knowledge management,” many attempts to build a framework of digital-age learning share common threads which highlight the essential skills and processes of a modern learner. Regardless of any particular preferred framework or methodology, these common threads reveal general stages that we can practice, develop, model and instruct. Read more

Building 1:1 Student Survival Skills

Almost one full quarter into our 1:1 RYOD (Require Your Own Device) model, we’ve started to be able to identify the skills that are necessary for our students in a 1:1 environment. Some of them are device-specific: with iPads in the Middle School and laptops in the Upper School, there are some different skill sets necessary. Double that in the Upper School with students bringing either Macs and PCs. Some skills are tool- or software-based, especially those that relate specifically to Schoology, our LMS. Finally, some are specific to our school as they have to do with how our network is constructed, including Wi-Fi and printer access. Beyond these, though, there are some universal skills that speak to universal computer or digital-age skills.

This list of 1:1 Student Survival Skills is not meant to serve as or replace a technology curriculum. We’re working on a much larger curriculum map which speaks to the digital-age curriculum which is both explicit (e.g. Computer Science, Robotics, Engineering) and integrated across the curriculum. I think of this list as the set of skills that a student needs to use during the course of the day here to survive and thrive in their “student tasks” within a BYOD/1:1 environment.

What would you include? What have we missed? Join the conversation below.