Tag Archives: iPad

Explaining Explain Everything

Dr. Reshan Richards is one of the developers of the iPad screencasting app, Explain Everything.  On October 20th he will present and deliver the Keynote address at the LEARN-RÉCIT Technology & Learning Summit at the Sheraton Laval on October 20th. In the lead up to the Summit, Dr. Richards and his co-developers, Piotr Śliwiński and Bartosz Gonczarek agreed to talk about their unique partnership.

Screencasting has become a popular tool for educators. Whether for “flipping” the class, or as a tool for students to demonstrate their learning, screencasting allows people to create rich visual media to support teaching and learning. There are a variety of different tools to create screencasts, both on computers and on tablets, but one of the standouts is Explain Everything for the iPad. Released only three years ago, Explain Everything is one of the more popular, full-featured screencasting apps available on any tablet platform. The app combines whiteboard functionality with audio recording and animation to create full-featured screencasts.

Application-icon-Explain-Everything-TM.pngExplain Everything is the result of a Trans-Atlantic partnership between Reshan Richards, an America educator, and two software developers based in Wroclaw, Poland: Piotr Śliwiński and Bartosz Gonczarek of MorrisCooke. The concept of the app grew out of MorrisCooke’s work in animation software and Reshan’s interest in screencasting as a useful classroom tool.

Reshan is an Educational Technology Administrator in New Jersey, and a doctoral researcher at Columbia University. His interest in educational technology began early in his teaching career. As a new teacher working in a New York City school, he was assigned a Grade 5 math class.

“They figured I was young and could also be giving tech support even though I had no background in technology or experience in giving tech support (or teaching math for that matter!),” said Reshan in a recent interview. In the process of supporting the school in everything from changing printer cartridges to plugging things in, he became more interested in the teaching side of technology.

“I went back for my Masters interested in the pedagogical and curriculum side more then the technical side.”

Almost a decade ago, Reshan was introduced to desktop screencasting software. He started using it to record writing on his interactive whiteboard and create mini-lessons for his Grade 5 and 8 math students. In the course of using screencasting software with his students, he soon found a much more effective way to use it.

“The most exciting thing was getting students to use it, because it revealed a lot about their thought process as I was having them solve trivial or boring math problems. It brought the problems to life, because it is not about the static answer. I am able to see more clearly the steps, and the process, and the times they self corrected or paused. ”

Despite its usefulness, Reshan found the setup for making screencasts “clumsy.”

“You would need an interactive whiteboard. You would need it to be connected to a computer, and you would need a USB microphone because desktop computers didn’t have one built-in. And if you had a class of 16 or 20 students, only one or two students could be creating a screencast at a time.”

Still, Reshan thought that the benefits were worth the effort. It led him to think about the instructional design of the exercise. He also had to plan how to set up his classroom to keep students engaged in the planning and storyboarding process leading up to when they were going to record. He describes it as a “cool experience.”

At the time, Reshan used Jing, a free recording software, to record SMART Notebook® or The Geometer’s Sketchpad® on a SMART Board®. According to Reshan, The Geometer’s Sketchpad® is more “open-ended” design tool, and “you can take the stuff you generate in Sketchpad and make it come to life through a screencast or making a movie.” Early on, Reshan also used Windows Movie Maker quite extensively. He says, “I always wanted to put students in the position making their own media.”

Reshan structured his classes with an outline of how media production works with recording as the last step in the process. The students would be put in random groups and select a problem. Together they would solve the problem and then decide how to articulate the solution. The group would then assign roles such as the writer, narrator and “media control person.” Through the process, they would switch and take on different roles in the production process. Reshan found it rewarding to see this approach applied to different disciplines at the school.

The introduction of the iPad changed things — somewhat.

“I saw the touchscreen and the microphone, so I thought it would take the clumsiness out of the screencasting process and make it easier to do,” says Reshan. But early iPad apps didn’t live up to his expectations.

“Everything was focused on making things pretty,” he says, “and education was limited to ‘skill and build’ apps.”

Meanwhile, Piotr Śliwiński and Bartosz Gonczarek of MorrisCooke, bored with developing business software exclusively, were focused on creating animations and cartoons out of podcasts that they had created. They were similarly dissatisfied with their available software options, and decided to focus on making their own animation software, first for the Mac and then for the iPad. According to Piotr, their first animation app, PhotoPuppet, was released about six months after the introduction of the iPad. Still, says Bartosz, while they knew that animating objects on the iPad screen was powerful, they were not sure exactly how they could use — until they met Reshan.

In his own quest for quality educational software, Reshan had begun blogging and reviewing apps that he encountered. He found PhotoPuppet and reviewed it. The review prompted an email exchange that quickly led to the three men discussing what they could create together.

“Reshan made a tweet, and I wrote him an email and afterwards we began to talk about what we could do together,” says Piotr. Within months they had come up with a concept that married Piotr and Bartosz’s unique skills with Reshan’s vision of a screencasting app for education.

The development of Explain Everything was rapid, with the app being released only three months after Reshan, Piotr and Bartosz embarked on their partnership.

The unique challenge of Reshan Richard’s partnership with MorrisCooke is distance, but looking back he does not see it as much of a challenge at all.

“We work over videoconference, and we did not meet in person until 3 years after we signed our agreement,” says Reshan, “Explain Everything was built and launched without meeting. Technology helps people with complimentary interests come together, but it is also possible to come together and generate something without being in the same room.”

Initial reaction to Explain Everything was positive. The iPad had only been out for about 18 months and apps for producing content were still relatively rare. The partners contacted bloggers, while Reshan used his own network of technology integrators and educators to get the word out. According to Reshan, there were two aspects of Explain Everything that caught on quickly. First, the app is open-ended, so it does not force people into using a particular system for creating or hosting their content. Content can be exported and used in whatever context the user wants. Secondly, the relative scarcity of media creation apps meant that there was some built-in demand for their app.

Bartosz says, “We launched the program at the same time as other creation apps were being released. It was a window of opportunity that opened at the time.”

The app is now three years old, but is still being updated frequently to add features and to squash bugs. According to Reshan, the app is still evolving.

“We have been taking idea and feature requests from day one,” says Reshan, “and we have built a queue and made a list of what we can do, what we should do and continue to be scalable without overwhelming the users. We are not at the ceiling of what was created by Piotr and Bartosz.”

The men hope to add collaboration features to the app to allow multiple people to work on the same project. Reshan’s classroom strategy for working with students to create screencasts plays into the development of new features. And Reshan is excited by how their creation has been used.

“In the hands of students is the most exciting, but teachers have also created amazing things. From a mechanical workflow standpoint, one of the design features is the ability to create a project that can be shared with a colleague or student who could be able to interact with it and work off of it.”

Reshan sees a shift in focus from numerical grades to understanding, and views tools like Explain Everything as opening new possibilities for assessment or a general re-examination of assessment.

“Screen shots and screencasts are the two most powerful tools in any technology-enabled classroom,” according to Reshan.

“Even if you are on a computer, taking a screen cap takes a snapshot of any time, and you can make an artefact of learning. You can capture these moments easily, and it is exciting. These screen shots can be imported into Explain Everything and then talk to it, and preserve it for the teacher and student, so that they become more reflective about their learning.”

The use of Explain Everything has extended beyond K-12 education, with users in business and healthcare using it for training. “(Screencasts are) easier to build than on a laptop,” says Reshan.

Along with his partnership with Piotr Śliwiński and Bartosz Gonczarek, Reshan’s recent work has also focused on organizational leadership. With his colleague, Steven J. Valentine, he is the author of Leading Online: Leading the Learning, Leading by Learning. One of their approaches to leadership is an attempt to make meeting time more productive and efficient. For Reshan, his partnership with Piotr and Bartosz feeds into this.

“We challenge how meetings are done,” says Reshan, “The working formula that led to Explain Everything just goes to show that you do not need to be in the same room to get things done, but you can also be thoughtful of when the time is needed to be having a real time conversation vs. what can we sort out in email or a Google Doc.”

Reshan will be at this year’s  LEARN-RECIT Technology and Learning Summit 2014 on October 20th in Montreal to deliver the Keynote entitled, What do you really mean? Articulating definitions of learning, teaching, and assessment. He will also be animating two workshops, Explaining Everything: Instruction, Assessment, Collaboration, & Multimedia Creativity with Screencasting, and Education and Technology Leadership: Plan for Today, Plan for Obsolescence.

  • Dr. Reshan Richards is the Director of Educational Technology at Montclair Kimberley Academy in NJ and the founder of Constructivist Toolkit, LLC. Reshan is one of the creators of the Explain Everything app and co-author of Leading Online: Leading the Learning, Leading by Learning. An Apple Distinguished Educator and member of Mensa, Reshan has an Ed.D. in Instructional Technology & Media from Teachers College, Columbia University where he also has co-taught a course on Design Thinking and Educational Technology. He has an Ed.M in Learning and Teaching from Harvard University and a B.A. in Music from Columbia University.
  • Piotr Śliwiński is the co-founder and the CTO of MorrisCooke. He was a K12 foreign exchange student in Longview, WA. Has an MS from the Technical University of Wroclaw. Between his studies and co-founding MorrisCooke, he has been working for SAP for a number of years in progressive technology development positions. His hobbies include sci-fi and cyberpunk MP3 podcasting – along with thinking following the path of most resistance. This has led him to the invention of the animation engine used by Explain Everything – and further allowed to transform his hobby into a full time job (and do something more fun and rewarding than business programming).
  • Bartosz Gonczarek is the co-founder and the CEO of MorrisCooke. Bartosz has a B.A. in mathematics and M.S. in Computer Science and Management from Wroclaw University of Technology, and Ed.D in progress on impact of innovations and their valuation. He was an advisor to the board members of several companies in the EU. After joining efforts with Piotr, he has found that using his background in business consulting is much more rewarding when working for his own company. He’s passionate about using knowledge and science in overcoming existing barriers – both in business (innovation) and sport (triathlon).


Just Do It? Reflections on Perfection Paralysis

Irene’s work with her students is so inspiring. But when asked to share it with others, she declines, saying that it’s not really that great.
Dan is excited about making a movie with his students, but he feels that he needs to really master the latest software, and also learn more about sound editing before he tries. So no movie this year.
Elsie wants to try a new literacy approach, but there are so many facets of it that it seems overwhelming. Maybe next year, when she has read more and made a better plan, she’ll try it.

What do these stories have in common? They are all about people afflicted with a malady of our time: Perfection Paralysis. In fact, many of us are afflicted with it. Ironically, this blog post almost didn’t see the light of day because of it.

What is “Perfection Paralysis?” I would define it as the inability to let go of a work out of fear that it is substandard or imperfect, or to avoid trying something because our mastery of it is inadequate. It is a personality trait that many of us share, but it is also learned when we set unrealistic expectations for others as well as ourselves. For some, our natural fear of failure has escalated to a fear of imperfection.

A few months back, a newspaper article prompted a conversation with a colleague about the concept of perfection, and how we put enormous pressure on ourselves to be perfect to the point that it becomes paralyzing. The letter provoked some deep thinking.

By Marcus Quigmire from Florida, USA (Perfection  Uploaded by Princess Mérida) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Marcus Quigmire from Florida, USA (Perfection Uploaded by Princess Mérida) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Over the years much of the focus of much of my work has been to assist educators with the implementation of technology in the classroom. As I’ve worked with teachers to introduce technology over the years, often heard refrains have been:

“I’m not good with computers”;
“It’s not ready to share with others”; or
“My work isn’t good enough to share.”

The sentiment is understandable. We want to put our best face forward, and what we do not know well is often intimidating, or even threatening. But I am often left with the impression that many people feel that they must possess either a high level of expertise or a natural aptitude in order to be able to use technology.

When I attempt to introduce a professional educator to something new, and the first line of response is, “Before we begin, you should know that I suck at this,” then what should my reaction be? Comebacks like this make work for people like me much more difficult, because they imply defeat.

This frustrating starting point is not exclusive to technology, but the curious way that people perceive computers and technology has preoccupied and driven me since I entered education 20 years ago.

Computing devices are unfeeling, precise, calculating, and unforgiving of error. Perhaps the perceived threat is that if we are not perfect, we are somehow inferior. There is a social aspect to it too. No one wants to be caught out looking less than competent in front of his or her students and colleagues. Considering that students are steeped in technology these days, it is still hard for many teachers to accept that they are not necessarily the experts in the classroom when it comes to technology.

So how do we address the problem of “perfection paralysis?” Is the solution to lower our standards?

I think that when we look at the work of our colleagues and students, we tend to be too pedantic. The result is to focus on minutiae rather than taking overall quality into consideration. If a teacher has used technology with their students to produce something, and we focus on small details rather than the big picture, it takes away from the fact that the teacher has moved forward in their use of technology. It puts the pressure on individuals to focus on those details and cultivates perfection paralysis.

Let us celebrate progress and encourage engagement rather than resorting to pickiness.

The strategy that has worked best for me over the years has been to create a non-threatening atmosphere in which teachers can experiment and explore without repercussions as they become more familiar with technology tools. The key is to cultivate a climate of discovery and experimentation as opposed to one of judgement and unattainable standards. After all, we don’t expect our students to be perfect the first time around. We encourage them to experiment and take risks. If everything had to be perfect right away, we’d never get anything done!

It’s about time we give ourselves the gift of ‘just fine’ as opposed to ‘best’. The gift of ‘try and see’ instead of ‘has to be perfect’. One thing is for sure: we’ll all be moving forward and our students will benefit from our spoken and unspoken lessons of experimentation.


To read about another educator’s struggle with perfection paralysis check out this blog post by Vicki Davis from Cool Cat Teacher Blog.



Brand New Tool, Same Old School?


This is a guest post by Marc-André Lalande, a consultant with the RÉCIT Provincial Service in General Adult Education. It was originally published as part of the online newsletter Online PD Monthly.

photo by Sean MacEntee Creative Commons License
photo by Sean MacEntee
Creative Commons License

Can you remember this? The first iPad was sold in April 2010; that’s only three and half years ago. I say “only” because these devices, the iPad as well as other tablets, are already somewhat ordinary today, part of the scenery. I recall very strong skepticism regarding the success of the iPad the first few months before and after its launch. “Who needs a big iPod touch?” many said. If you’d like to wax nostalgic, you’ll find some of these old remarks in this post by Thessaly La Force in The New Yorker (Arpil 5, 2010). You can also read how it made Steve Jobs feel in this Apple Insider piece: “Steve Jobs was ‘annoyed and depressed’ over initial reaction to iPad launch”.

Embracing the Once Shunned

Today, some schools and centres are very proud to announce their “one tablet per pupil” programs. The real question for me is this: “Are we looking for a brand new tool to do the same old school?” I hope that we will be leveraging the tablet for the great advantage of having ubiquitous access to information in all its glorious forms more than for apps that offer electronic versions of what used to be done in activity books. For that to happen, I believe we need to change a few things about our vision of school and of pedagogy. But change is scary…

Change Is Scary
Marc-André Lalande, 1:58
A short, light-hearted conversation starter on the place of tablets in the classroom.

Connection Is Power Is Connection

The real power of the tablet lies in having it always available so learners can look up info as need be, squiggle notes, take pictures and movies, communicate, create, collaborate, you know, the whole kit and caboodle of what really matters for learning. In my view, having the tablets sit in a cart until the teacher decides what activity they’re going to be used for, everybody at the same time, defeats the purpose of a tablet. And that makes access to Wi-Fi a priority before buying anything else… unless you want to move your class to a coffee shop.

You Want Your Own

If you already have one of your own, you know that a tablet isn’t really designed to be shared. You’re logged in to everything all the time and all your personal media is accessible as you flick the thing open.
Principals often ask me how they should go about managing their tablets in their school or centre. My answer is “Don’t”.  Let the students and staff bring their own and lend as many as you can to those who can’t afford one… long term; let them take it home. Get a waiting list going if need be. But I’ll bet you’ll see a change in Christmas lists happening in no time. The best thing is to have learners and staff manage their own device so they can install the apps they want and need; having someone else manage your tablet is a huge inconvenience … so avoid it if you can.

On BYOD and how the classroom is changing


Sam Gliksman: BYOD – Bring your own device from EDtalks on Vimeo.

So there you go… All set and ready for change: a change in how we use technology and when we use it, a change in device management, and most importantly, a change in pedagogy. So yes, all of this can seem a little overwhelming at first. Change is scary. But the status quo… now that is truly terrifying!


You can find out more from Marc-André on his PD Pinterest collection.

iPadding… upstream! How do you manage it?

Ambitious, or is this boat just overloaded?  Recently I dared to venture away from my consultant’s desk and enter the classroom again, to help a teacher, my good friend Mr. Matt Russell, with an ambitious project on immigration experiences for his Secondary 4 History course.

IMG_5713Our project, our idea,  to boldly explore immigration experiences throughout Canadian History.  The process, a historical method of course, where we start with a question: “Was it worth it, their Canadian dream?”.  Then we had them hypothesize, research, organize information and interpret it.  For one of the final tasks we had students script and produce a green-screened video project, an interview with an imaginary immigrant while key images of the times were projected as backgrounds to the texts of their journeys. And all that, pretty much each step, was accomplished on iPads. (The whole LES, how we did it, and loads and loads of materials are all posted here!)

Our process, our successes and our failures were all part of a workshop at the Tablet Summit in October. We learned a lot, and worked a lot to make it happen. But in the end, one remark Matt made afterwards continued to scratch at my brain, until it finally bore its way out and into this blog entry. He said, “You know, I couldn’t have done all this alone without your help.” Now, most of the time one would take that as a compliment, but in this case I think both of us saw it as a criticism, or at least a caution, about our whole project, about the use of iPads or any technology in the classroom at all. The problem was just that: it was a ton of work! But does it have to be?, was my inner response –  And how can it not be? was my question.

Hot on the heels of these reflections, I asked four questions to several teachers in a survey I sent out just last week. About 20 teachers graciously responded, and I thought sharing some of their responses would be a good way to see what is possible, to see what can be done in a manageable way.

Who sets up and configures your iPads for you? Is this something a teachers normally do alone?  Many respondents referred to help from the board, and technicians, but not all. About half mentioned groups of teachers who collaborate on finding and installing applications for use in all classes considered. About a third of teachers mentioned they only use about five or six iPads, and they were willing to do it for their class at home, one teacher with the help of her 12 year old daughter!  Teamwork seemed essential, good technical contacts yes, but also a willingness to put time into the configuration process on your own. But teachers weren’t complaining at all.  The tone:  it was just par for the course.

But how are the students with technology? How much technical instruction (modelling, guides, etc.) is required? Can students figure out things on their own? I asked this question because creating tutorials, instructions, and taking part of the class to model how to use the application’s features took a lot of time and was not always as successful as we hoped.  Several students just got it.  Maybe if we just stayed out of the way? Indeed, most of the teachers I surveyed indicated students learned the applications very quickly, with only minimal guidance.  8448122632_6461070b83_c“The kids are really quite good. Often we need to just show them a little and they figure it out or say I know how to do this!”  “They are really good at figuring it out on their own as well and pretty fast.”  Like us, several teachers had a way to project their iPad onto the screen, so they could model a the task, but not necessarily in great detail.  “Very easily. I can model once and they are off and running.”  Actually only one teacher mentioned producing instruction sheets, and that was more about the pedagogical task than the tool, while another teacher emphasized time spent time on safe use.

What about getting students to do things at home? Can some of the work with iPads be offloaded to students? (Full disclosure on this question, I asked this because I personally believe it was our error to try to do it all in class time.) Well, most teachers that responded said they didn’t expect or want students to do work at home. Many said it was because they didn’t have either the iPads or Internet there, or couldn’t be expected to. In part, I think this was because most were elementary teachers, and also that the school doesn’t let students bring home the devices. And also, I think the question might have been misinterpreted too.
7950148048_f0b78b3ce7_cI was trying to find out whether some parts of the process (research, writing, even filming or recording using a cellphone for some of the media work) could be done by students on their own. After looking over my responses I talked a bit with Julie Paré whose excellent article iPad en classe de FLS: mission possible! had inspired me to respond with this entry.  Though she didn’t actually have her students do many tasks at home for that particular iPad project, for another recent project she did require them to research and learn about a multimedia presentation tool (Powerpoint, Prezi, etc.) on their own, and on their own to put together a presentation at home.  Secondary level for sure, but still, they weren’t privileged well-off students by any means, and it at least speaks to the fact that 1) students are capable of learning technology by searching for tutorials and instruction, and 2) there is enough internet and technology outside the classroom for students to be expected to use it on their own time. (Yes, that might mean going to a library, something that “in my day” I had to often do in high school for research projects. What happened that kids who are on computer all the time at night aren’t regularly expected to use them for school?)

But how can you manage it all? My last questions were to ask iPadding teachers to “share ways to manage the distribution of iPads, their shared use in class, the way students backup or send work.” None of the questions were mandatory, but no one missed this one. They all had interesting gems of advice.

“In pairs” and “they share use in class.” It sounds obvious, but for us too it was key that only two students use an iPad. Three meant one person was always apart and distracted, two meant one could work the iPad while the other took notes or read instructions or other texts.

“We’re not authorized to print… but by using print screen every work can be a jpg we can put in the portfolio. Another said “teachers email the work to themselves for printing… screen shot then email it”. Though one teacher indicated saving of files right on the iPad, most expressed our reality well: that we had no time to go and plug in iPads to get their projects off them for backup or evaluation. The LES package we created describes how we got (perhaps too) creative. We used iCloud for sharing links and uploading photos and screenshots, Dropbox for syncing the research and film work, Mail for sending a copy (blocked! never mind), we saved copies to iTunes, and to get work back to students the next day we used folders on Google Drive.  For the few stragglers we got at the end of each class we used Disk Aid to manually copy out their work.  It was work for us setting it up, yes, but it meant we didn’t loose their assignments… much.  Couldn’t any of that, couldn’t all that have been the responsibility of the students?  Wouldn’t lightening the boat by distributing the load have benefited all?  Well, of course, at certain grade levels, yes.  Because that is exactly what they’ll need to learn how to do anyway, as a class to use the school’s networks, but also on their own, with their own devices or their own cloud-based accounts.

But finally, what are your tricks…. for using, handing out and retrieving the iPads themselves. “It depends on the subject…the teacher decides when to take them out.” Obviously, using iPads doesn’t have to mean using them for everything! “Keep a list and work my way through class.” A brave adventurer, rapids ahead!  “iPads are used in one specific physical location in the class.” The waters are calmer there.  And  “they have numbers…I call them up one by one to the cart and they are to keep ipads face down at their desks until instructions are complete. They are asked to bring them back the same way…if they do not comply the ipad is removed for the class.”  Splash!  That’ll wake you up to reality.  Let’s face it, these devices are….easily lost, easily taken, easily broken devices worth a lot of dollars.

For our LES process Matt and I adapted a few tools passed on, again, from Ms. Paré!, including sign out sheets, parent’s letters and permission slips, also available as part of our package. And, for sure,  after a few days we also started to develop a routine. But one thing was for sure, until you get this routine down pat, nothing is routine about it. The devices were new to us, even to hold and carry them in a pile was new.  And they were new to the students too, every class a new configuration of apps because they weren’t on the same devices each day, sharing meant you couldn’t touch one for a week, etc.  Still, all that being said, I expect that for classes who do use them regularly, and in which rules and routines are well set out and clear, management of devices like these are possible, even once the time finally comes when students start using their own devices and not just the school’s. It is all a question of organization and expectations and consequences.  It all about how you manage the ebb and flow of what’s ahead.

As to the teachers who responded, I would like to thank them all for sharing their thoughts and ideas, and welcome them, and others, to comment on anything said in this article.  If anything, I have noticed that teachers who are able to and who dare to take the plunge and start using mobile devices in their classes, well, these are also teachers who appreciate the sharing of experiences and strategies with other teachers.

So what do you think? Can mobile technology’ like iPads’ be done, up river?  Can some of the work to implement technology be offloaded to students? Can even the next generation of students, who will be bringing their own devices into the classroom be managed, so that the subjects we teach can get taught? Please, add your thoughts to the comments below!

Photo credits:
Matt Russell for Greenscreen Mystery Guy!
Flickr user flickingerbrad for all classroom photos





iPad en classe de FLS : mission possible !

Cette année, j’ai décidé d’intégrer les iPad dans mon cours de FLS. Dans cet article, je veux vous faire part de ma démarche, de mes questionnements, de ma planification de leçons, du travail des élèves et de leurs commentaires.

IMG_0132 - copie

Ma réflexion.

Avant de me lancer dans cette expérimentation, j’avais plusieurs questions, interrogations. Les questions en rafale :

  • Pourquoi utiliser un iPad en classe ?
  • Quelle est la valeur ajoutée ? Quels sont les avantages ?
  • Qu’est-ce que les élèves vont apprendre ?
  • Quels sont les apprentissages visés ?
  • Quelles sont les connaissances antérieures de mes élèves quant au contenu enseigné et aux connaissances technologiques ?
  • Quelles sont les compétences visées ?
  • Quel est le lien avec le programme de FLS ?
  • Comment vais-je évaluer mes élèves ?
  • Quel est mon but ?
  • Quelles applications vont le mieux répondre à mon intention pédagogique ?
  • Comment intégrer le iPad en m’assurant qu’il contribue à l’apprentissage ?


Des pistes de réponse…

Afin de m’aider dans ma réflexion, je me suis inspirée du site de Judith Cantin et Nathalie Frigon  ainsi que de l’article Apprendre : iPad et Taxonomie de Bloom publié le 19 novembre 2012 par Pierre Couillard dont voici quelques extraits pertinents :

« Avec l’avènement des technologies, on se fait souvent demander si l’ordinateur, le tableau blanc interactif, le dictionnaire en ligne ou toute autre nouveauté va améliorer l’apprentissage et augmenter les résultats scolaires. La réponse est et sera toujours : Ça dépend de ce qu’on en fait. »

« La taxonomie révisée de Bloom nous suggère une gradation des processus cognitifs. Selon cette taxonomie, plus un élève maitrise un concept, une notion, mieux il pourra l’appliquer, puis s’en servir pour analyser une situation, évaluer un problème, choisir une solution et être créatif (ve). Cette taxonomie peut nous guider. Pour analyser une situation, j’ai besoin de maitriser les faits… c’est peut-être avec ce type de situation que je permettrai à certains élèves de solidifier leur connaissance d’un concept. » (CC BY-NC-SA 2.5 CA)

Voir cette vidéo pour une explication de Judith Cantin.

Voici un aperçu graphique interactif de la taxonomie de Bloom.

Voici un tableau d’actions possibles avec une tablette et une liste d’applications iPad classées selon Bloom. (CC BY-NC-SA)

Ces informations m’ont permis de mieux comprendre pourquoi et comment je devais utiliser le iPad pour mon cours de FLS. Intégrer le iPad en classe est une mission possible, avec des efforts certains, tant et aussi longtemps que notre intention pédagogie dirige nos choix d’activités ainsi que les applications.

Mon contexte de classe.

J’ai décidé d’utiliser les iPad dans mon groupe « at risk ». Niveau : 4e secondaire, programme de FLS base. Ils ont 6 cours sur un cycle de 9 jours, donc 2 de plus que les élèves réguliers. Ce groupe de 18 est un joyeux mélange de différents élèves. Il y a 4 élèves qui sont codés avec des troubles de comportement et de personnalité. De plus, 2 d’entre eux proviennent d’autres pays (Grèce et Kenya). La compréhension du français est différente d’un élève à l’autre. Quant à l’intérêt pour le français, il se situe entre très peu ou aucun.

Défis logistiques.

Afin d’intégrer les iPad, j’ai dû relever plusieurs défis. Et encore une fois, en prévoyant et en ayant des plans A, B et C, c’est une mission possible.

 Que faire avec seulement 10 iPad pour toute la classe ?

  • Je dois mettre les élèves en équipe de 2 pour tous les projets. Cela me permet d’évaluer en même temps la compétence transversale « travailler en équipe ».
  • Je recommande un maximum de 2 élèves par iPad. Autrement, la gestion de classe est plus difficile.

Comment avoir une connexion Internet, car je n’ai pas de Wifi dans ma classe ?

  • Routeur branché dans le mur avec un fil.
  • Clé Rogers.
  • Mon cellulaire branché sur mon ordinateur qui devient un routeur.

Comment et où sauvegarder le travail des élèves ?

  • En plus de sauvegarder directement le travail des élèves sur le iPad, j’ai créé un compte iCloud et un compte Dropbox directement sur le iPad.
  • En faisant ainsi, le travail des élèves était sauvegardé sur le Nuage et dans Dropbox. De plus, les élèves devaient m’envoyer leur travail par courriel.

Mes leçons sur les séquences textuelles.

J’ai décidé de faire de courtes leçons sur les séquences textuelles en lien avec la thématique exploitée dans mon cahier d’exercices. Ce thème est l’amour : un peu, beaucoup, passionnément. Ces sont des idées qui peuvent facilement être adaptables à un autre thème.

Idée générale de la leçon portant sur la séquence descriptive :

L’enseignant présente 2 à 3 photos d’un couple et fait la description de chacune des photos. En équipe, les élèves choisissent des photos de couples parmi la liste fournie par l’enseignant. (Attention aux droits d’auteur.) Ils choisissent des images du couple (2 à 3 photos) et les décrivent en quelques lignes.

  • Application utilisée : Pic Collage (gratuit)
  • Application suggérée : VoiceThread (gratuit)

Idée générale de la leçon portant sur la séquence explicative :

L’enseignant présente l’expression Avoir un cœur d’artichaut ainsi que sa signification et il donne un exemple de l’utilisation de l’expression dans une phrase. En équipe, les élèves cherchent le sens des expressions remises par l’enseignant (liste d’expressions à fournir). Ils expliquent, dans leurs propres mots, le sens des expressions. Ils écrivent des phrases en utilisant correctement les expressions.

  • Application utilisée : Prezi (gratuit)
  • Application suggérée : Explain Everything (2.99$)

Idée générale de la leçon de la séquence explicative :

L’enseignant présente l’histoire de Cendrillon. Après la lecture ou l’écoute du texte et avec l’aide d’un schéma narratif vierge, l’enseignant modélise la déconstruction du texte (situation initiale, élément déclencheur, actions, dénouement et situation finale). En équipe, les élèves, à l’aide d’une situation initiale et d’un élément déclencheur de l’histoire de Celle qui ne voulait pas se marier, planifient le schéma narratif. Ils écrivent ensuite l’histoire de 150 mots à partir de leur schéma narratif.

  • Application utilisée : QuickVoice (gratuit)
  • Application suggérée : Book Creator (4.99 $)

Idée générale de la leçon de la séquence dialogale :

L’enseignant présente la partie dialogale de l’histoire de Anta et Mamadou. Il demande aux élèves d’identifier les personnages, de surligner ce que dit chaque personnage, de souligner les verbes d’incise (dire, répondre, etc.) et d’entourer les signes de ponctuation. Il fait ensuite une correction collective et fait une affiche sur les verbes d’incise et une autre sur les signes de ponctuation (guillemets, tiret, etc.) En équipe, les élèves, en reprenant le synopsis de leur séquence narrative de Celle qui ne voulait pas se marier, doivent inventer le dialogue entre des personnages.

  • Application utilisée : Puppet Pal (gratuit)
  • Application suggérée : Strip Designer (2.99 $)


Les résultats.

Je présente ici quelques exemples des productions finales des élèves. Elles sont originales et contiennent des erreurs.

La séquence descriptive avec Pic Collage (cliquez sur la photo pour agrandir l’image) :PIc collage

pic_noname pic_Lucas


La séquence explicative avec Prezi (cliquez sur l’image pour voir le Prezi) :prezi


amy_good  prezi_debbie

La séquence narrative avec QuickVoice (cliquez sur la photo pour entendre les élèves) :QuickVoice

Elaina     Adam_Nick


La séquence dialogale avec Puppet Pal (cliquez sur les images pour voir les vidéos) : puppet pal

puppet_athina          puppet_brandon



iPad en classe de FLS : mission possible !

Cette expérimentation s’est avérée un succès, et ce, malgré les embuches. Je prévois même réutiliser les iPad pour un projet d’écriture collective en collaboration avec l’enseignant d’arts plastiques. À suivre !

Bref, je peux dire que l’intégration du iPad en classe de FLS est mission accomplie ! Et qui de mieux que les élèves eux-mêmes pour décrire leur expérience !

Les commentaires des élèves :

Comm_amy Comm_christina Comm_spirp comm_fotoula Comm_devon




3 a.m. blogging, and why social sciences (/school) should be social, and public!

Father as Multitasker by Stephen Poff
Father as Multitasker by Stephen Poff

First I will partially explain the title, as NOT being because my new baby boy woke me up earlier at 2 a.m.  It’s about what kept ringing in my head afterwards, and the fact that it continued to ring at all. In part it was because I knew I was going to be writing this blog entry for others, for public consumption.  That’s what made it important enough to keep me awake, to drag me out of bed, again, to seek out tea and cookies and finally a keyboard. And likewise, it certainly was not because I was being marked on it, or because my job depended on it.  It was instead because I had an idea I thought was worth sharing. And also, it was because something of me was about to end up “shared” on the web, and I wanted that something to be made up of my ideas, or at least in this case my slant on a lot of other people’s ideas.  I wanted to represent myself.

These two profound ideas resurfaced for me recently during a highly inspiring workshop I attended by Tanya Avrith, a Digital Citizenship Teacher for the Lester B. Pearson School Board, and a pioneer of their Digital Citizenship Program. On the one hand, she helped me reflect on why my other (teenage) son’s school assignments always ended up in the garbage. They were for marks, nothing more.  And as to the other idea, she alerted me to something very important that I hadn’t ever considered, to the fact that my older son already had an extensive digital/internet footprint, mostly made up things he wouldn’t be proud of, and more often than not of things others wrote about him, pictures he didn’t take, etc.  Not an ideal situation for someone searching for schools and jobs, whose college registrars and future employers would be Googling my older son’s unfortunately uncommon name.

For a Better Online Reputation, from LifeHacker
Better Online Reputation @ LifeHacker

The question is, why does this happen to him and so many others, this accumulation of embarrassing memories? It’s not for lack of information, not because he hadn’t been warned about the risks and told about the complexities of  life online. It was because, and I agreed with Tanya on this, that no knowledgeable adults regularly followed him there, to guide him and set examples.  And also… it was because none of his good work, his school work let’s say, followed him there either, to offset all the questionable traces left by others.

Already 5 a.m. and my work day about to begin, so that brings me back to thinking about my main dossier at LEARN, and if and how ideas like this might apply to the Social Sciences (History, Geography, Economics, Ethics in some programs, etc.). These subjects are “academic disciplines concerned with society and human nature” and as such they do serve to engage past and present events and issues, but usually from within the school walls. Obviously you can see from what I presented above I don’t think avoiding the internet during student activities is fair to our students on a personal and on a career-related level, but more than that, I think it is especially ineffective and inappropriate in the Social Sciences.

The Social Sciences Perspective

Bansky via Flickr user Ruben LC
Bansky via Flickr user Ruben LC

Let’s start with what I mean by ineffective. In the social science competencies we examine, establish and balance the facts, we interpret realities then we learn ways to voice our opinions. For me these basic skills read like a list of things one cannot do effectively, not in this day and age, by avoiding the digital, social and public space that is the Internet.

Examining what? Balancing exactly what facts? When it comes to subjects like history and geography, are we really talking about facts in textbooks alone? Are we meant to avoid current sources and interpretations, meant to ignore the news and the myriad opinions of the non-experts, the young and the old, and the stories from those who “were actually there”?  Sure, the number of sources in our digital world is vast, and many are even unreliable, but is that a reason to filter them out or avoid them altogether? Shouldn’t we be teaching students how to sift through them, how to use search engines effectively, how to compare online sources?

Interpreting, but how?  Voicing our opinions, but how, where, and for whom?  When we talk of creating good citizens, do we really mean to create citizens who avoid interpreting events, past and present, based on current representations of those events? Do we want to form students who can only write their opinions in a laboratory, for their teacher’s eyes only? In the real world, modern historians … Okay, I will get to that one a bit later, for now let’s say…people. In the real world people balance and reflect on all kinds of sources. They might read the Gazette, catch a clip from CNN, then watch a feature documentary on CBC. They might actually look it up in a library. In Quebec even Anglophones check out La Presse occasionally, or watch half of  Tout le monde en parle on Sunday nights.

From flickr user cliff1066™
Fleeing Kosovo. Flickr user cliff1066™

The world has opened up, and mobile devices help.  BBC and Al Jazeera now offer great English-language news services on devices like the iPad, and following a link from any of the above sources can now lead you to unexpected places, to bloggers and tweeters on the ground in Israel, Africa, China or Iran, to powerful and personal images shared via Flickr that scatter a thousand words worth of information across your screen in an instant.

Okay, not all people balance and reflect. In the real world, people also read short articles recommended by friends on Facebook. Are those documents the best sources of information too? Maybe, and maybe not. But either way this is one way people, probably even academics, get information, by sifting through even these social sources, through all sources.

So, given all that, then where do people, or let us now say citizens, effectively voice opinions?  Perhaps not on Facebook, which doesn’t lend itself to “reasoning historically” and doesn’t encourage one to really develop an articulate argument. But maybe, maybe even on Facebook, and that possibility is key here to what I am trying to say. What guides educators should be this:  any forum that allows and inspires students to articulate their opinion, and encourages and allows them to examine, establish facts, compare, accept and understand difference, any forum that does that is good.

For whom?

Okay, now it is a few days later and I am in the café across from my local, public library, and I am thinking about a conference I went to mid-April, which had also been what had inspired me to stay up all hours blogging this all down. To write, for whom?  That was the question.  For you, of course, is the answer! But also and in general terms for the larger public domain, to scratch out thoughts that inevitably become a small part of a larger history, that might take part in a dialogue, or that might completely disappear (but that’s okay, really) like the slow fire of so many old books printed on acid paper. Now, I am indeed talking about a kind of historian, and the conference that inspired me was the National Council on Publish History’s annual meeting in Ottawa, and in particular a workshop series I attended entitled “Connecting Communities: Social Media and Public History Practice.”

What is public history? Okay, I am going to swipe this one from the NCPH site directly:

“Public history describes the many and diverse ways in which history is put to work in the world. In this sense, it is history that is applied to real-world issues. […] Public historians come in all shapes and sizes. They call themselves historical consultants, museum professionals, government historians, archivists, oral historians, cultural resource managers, curators, film and media producers, historical interpreters, historic preservationists, policy advisers, local historians, and community activists, among many, many other job descriptions. All share an interest and commitment to making history relevant and useful in the public sphere.”

Relevant, useful, local.  Archivists, curators, and jobs!  I really like those words.  In my eyes, this conference was about social science students (albeit life-long students) actively being citizens by “doing” history, and actually making a difference in the real world.

Here are a few quick examples I caught at the conference:  University students develop content for a mobile application that maps the history of Cleveland, process repeats for Spokane and other cities, regular users of the application can submit their stories and history becomes on-going and active. Facebook is used to disseminate unidentified photos of a ghost-mining town, so as to identify the places, people and experiences in them.  Twitter is used to present the diary entries of an individual farmer and soldier during the War of 1812, in daily entries that coincide with the same dates in 2012, in order to better represent the timing and sequence of events that occur in actual economies of war today.  Tumblr is used to reflect on historical ideas themselves, and on how social media techniques and popular culture are used to disseminate information in public life.


Public life=my students’ social world,  the community, their small tribe as connected to other small tribes, along paths I absolutely need to dare to cross.

And that’s it.  These are some of the many reasons why in the middle of the night I woke up thinking that school really should be more social, and that social sciences (and maybe all subjects) should be more public, and why now, finishing up this blog entry over a cold coffee across from the library, I might just walk across the street to see what that cryptic exhibit poster in the window really means to me, and what treasures I might find there to take home and read, contemplate, pass on.



In the Eye of the Beholder: iPads, Smartboards and Visual Impairment

Philip Edmondson, Creative Commons Attribution

I recently had a request from a resource teacher in a remote school.  She has a young student who has vision problems and great difficulty seeing what is on the Smartboard from anywhere in the room.  The student has an iPad and the teacher was wondering if there was a way that the image from the Smartboard could be sent to the iPad so that the student could view it up close and if need be enlarge the image.  In fact the student was recently diagnosed with severe Hyperopia (farsightedness).  Getting a better view from up close would be a more effective strategy for someone who is Myopic (nearsightedness).  However, in this case any way of seeing what was on the board in a closer view would be an improvement.

Exploring the possibilities

The first step was to see if there was an app for that.  Because they were using a Smartboard I started with Smart Technologies. It turns out they have recently come out with a product (Bridgit conferencing software) that seems to come close.  It is actually to interact with the Smartboard remotely from the iPad but you can see what is on the Smartboard on your iPad in order to do that.  The problem is the cost.  2700$ for the software license and the need for a server to run the software.  Not a simple or budget solution, but this led me to the search for other remote access apps.  There are quite a few out there and many are free.  Beware, you have to read the fine print.  In many cases the app is free, but to make it work you need special software for the computer that is being controlled remotely by the iPad.  That is not so free.  The software licenses cost anywhere from 200$ to thousands,  and like in the Smart solution, some require a dedicated server for that purpose as well.

Hitting on a viable solution

mochvncThere are a few remote access apps for the iPad that are free that do not require additional hardware or costly software.  One such app is Mocha VNC Lite.  It worked out really well.  Mochasoft does make a full version that costs 5.99$ but for the needs of the student in this case, the added features are not required.  Also needed is another piece of free software for the PC that runs the Smartboard.  It is used to set up and use VNC.  The one that is recommended is the free version of  Real VNC.

Using the VNC (Virtual Network Computing) settings of the host computer, the one running the Smartboard, the iPad can connect to and show what is being seen on the board.

With iPad gestures, one can enlarge the view and move to sections of the screen to see them.  Moving things on the iPad does not affect what viewers of the Smartboard see.  Being the Lite version, scrolling does not work, which in this case is a plus.  In addition, in the settings there is an option to disable mouse clicks so there is no danger of the student clicking on a link or opening a shortcut to other software on the Smartboard.  It really works as a “viewer” for the user.

The school board will be installing the app and the software shortly and I hope to have feedback as to how it is working for this young student. Hopefully, it will be helpful to others as well!

Below are links to both the app and an explanation of how to setup and use RealVNC.



“MacGyvering” Low Cost Alternatives to Assistive Technologies

“Necessity is the mother of invention” may be a highly overused phrase, but that is probably because in practice it is often true. When presented with challenges and obstacles, we often come up with surprising and innovative solutions. Sometimes, the fix is a “Plan B.” In some instances, however, it opens doors to new ways of doing things, as I found out on a recent trip to the Lower North Shore of Québec.

St. Paul River, Québec
CC image “St. Paul River” courtesy Robert Costain

This year part of my work is to provide part-time RÉCIT services to the Littoral School Board. For those unfamiliar with Littoral, it is a “special status” school board whose remote geography and sparse demographics make it one of a handful of school boards in Québec not defined along linguistic lines. About a dozen schools both English and French are home to a total of about 570 students. The schools are in small villages spread out over 460 kilometers along the Lower North Shore of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, from Kegaska on the western end to Blanc-Sablon in the East near the Labrador border (as well as a school in Port-Menier on Anticosti Island).

The focus of my mandate for this year is to support the use of interactive whiteboards and assistive technologies in the classroom. I am based in Montréal, but have visited seven schools so far to provide face-to-face accompaniment. The visits provide an opportunity to get to know the staff and culture in each school, and to perform an informal needs assessment that guide the support I provide upon returning to Montréal.

One major preoccupation of schools is supporting students with special needs. In small communities with limited resources and access to support services, schools often rely heavily on technology to help students with learning or physical disabilities. The finer points of this approach are open to debate, but the fact is that assistive technology has been added to the Individualized Education Plans (IEP) of many students.

One assistive software program that has made its way into many schools is WordQ. Although originally intended to assist with writing, WordQ is often used for its text-to-speech functionality in the place of dedicated software like Natural Reader or Kurzweil for students who have great difficulty reading because of a visual impairment, dyslexia or dysgraphia.

A common practice is for a teacher or class helper to use a flatbed scanner to digitize pages or selections of printed text. Then, using an optical character recognition (OCR) software such as OmniPage, ReadIris or FineReader, the scanned page(s) are converted into readable text that can be read aloud by WordQ (or another program).

Each step in this multistep procedure must be working for the student to have access to the text. The process is too complicated for many students, especially those who need it the most. The OCR is imperfect and requires careful proofing. Furthermore, technical glitches are common. For example, in one school I recently visited, the use of text-to-speech to help students read was brought to a grinding halt because the scanner had stopped working. As a result the teachers were stuck and unable to provide their students with texts.

CC image "Smartphone performing OCR" courtesy Robert Costain
CC image “Smartphone performing OCR” courtesy Robert Costain

It so happened that just before visiting this particular school, I had been experimenting with OCR options for my iPhone and downloaded a basic OCR program called ABBYY TextGrabber. The app uses the built-in camera on an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch to photograph printed text. It then connects to the Internet to perform text recognition. Since text-to-speech is standard in iOS devices, I wondered if this might be a stopgap solution for the non-functioning scanner, so I did a little experiment with one of the teachers.

We photographed a selection of printed text with TextGrabber. The app was able to extract the text from the photo with about 90% accuracy. With a little bit of proofreading, we were able to recreate the printed text. Unfortunately, TextGrabber itself does not support text-to-speech unless the selection scanned is copied or exported. However, we were able to copy and paste the text into the iPhone’s built-in Notes app and read the selection aloud using text-to-speech. The procedure is demonstrated in the accompanying YouTube video.

Another approach is to use TextGrabber (or a similar app) in conjunction with WordQ by emailing the scanned selection to a computer with WordQ software installed. Similarly, if a flatbed scanner is available, but OCR software is not, Google Docs can be used to perform basic OCR provided the source text is clear enough. WordQ, Natural Reader on Windows or the built-in text-to-speech in Mac OS X will read text from a Google Doc quite well.

What makes these procedures compelling is that iOS and Android devices are becoming commonplace, even in remote locations like Littoral. Students and their parents have access to the technology, the apps are not expensive, and as a result this relatively easy text-to-speech solution is quite accessible to many.

There are some caveats that should be noted when using text-to-speech with students:

  • The appropriateness of using assistive technologies is based on the needs of individual students. There is no “one size fits all” solution and each student should be evaluated carefully before an assistive device is assigned to his/her IEP.
  • Optical character recognition (OCR) is rarely 100% accurate. Scanned text MUST be carefully proofread before using it with students.


How are you Reading?

Photo by goXunuReviews, under a CC license

I bought an iPad in May and it has definitely changed my reading habits. While I am an avid reader and my house is filled with books, I have started to read books on my mobile device. Why am I switching?

I’ll be moving this year and am looking at the many books on my shelves. They take up an enormous amount of space. While I love to see them and remember the hours of pleasure they afforded me, I also think about how they will fit as I downsize. The books I buy now don’t need to fit on shelves, just on virtual shelves.

I like the pluses of electronic books. I can easily highlight sections, add notes and bookmark parts I want to go back to. I recently read Lorna Crozier’s biography, “Small Beneath the Sky: A Prairie Memoir” and reveled in her poetic language. I highlighted favourite passages and can easily go back to them. (I read this one with the Kobo app).

I love to read in bed and my partner loves to sleep! Now I don’t have to switch on a light to indulge in my simple pleasure. My current read is “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson, which has been revealing as well as a trip down memory lane as I bought my first computer in 1983 and have owned Apple products ever since. I am using the iBooks app that comes with the iPad to read this one.

I can adjust the font and font size to the way I feel most comfortable reading. This is great for students too.

Travelling becomes lighter as both the books I take to read while on holiday and the travel books themselves are all on the one device.

If you have students who struggle with reading, the iPad can read the text to them. They don’t have to be held back by their difficulty deciphering the words. And for those who read, but still need some words defined, holding down on the word opens a dialogue box. One of the choices is define and the word’s definition is readily available.

The biggest bonus comes when reading books that were written for mobile devices. They can be embedded with links, videos, animations. Then reading takes on new dimensions. I have been reading “Playing with Media: simple ideas for powerful sharing” by Wesley Fryer. It is a great way to learn about digital text, audio and video editing and where to post it. As I read, I can watch the videos which provide step-by-step instructions. This book is a great place to start if you are just getting into using digital media with your students as well as for the more tech savvy of you who want to broaden your knowledge.

Many libraries are now loaning ebooks. You can download the book and it disappears from your device after the loan period.

In a future post, I will share a bit about how your students can become creators of ebooks. Consuming and creation are two sides of the ebook revolution.

What are the downsides? I can’t pass my books on to my 93 year-old cousin who is still an avid reader. I am not patronizing our few local independent book stores as I buy the books online. With my choice of an iPad vs one of the less expensive ebook readers, I won’t be taking it to a beach to read.

Do I read everything on a mobile device? No – I still buy books which I want to share. I have a collection of children’s books and love to sit with a child to share the text and illustrations. Though, recently I came across an amazing children’s book that was created for the iPad, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. I still buy professional books. I like to take them to workshops and pass them around to inspire others – hard to do with a digital device.

How are you reading? I’d love to hear about how you feel about the switch to digital books. What device are you using? Would you recommend it to others and why or why not. Are you using eReaders with your students?

And, of course, share your favourite titles.

Susan van Gelder

Interaction or Interactivity? How we use IWBs and electronic tablets

L’original de ce texte à été publié en français le lundi, 3 octobre, 2011.
This is the English version. 

Interaction ou interactivité?

The current adoption of IWBs (Interactive White Boards)by educators, coupled with the growing popularity of tablet computers in schools brings up an oft discussed and sometimes hotly debated notion: interactivity. So ubiquitous is the idea of interactivity, and so apparently clear its benefits, that when asked about the inherent advantages of IWBs or tablet computers, the automatic response is usually “Why, it’s interactive!”

But what do we really mean when we call something ‘interactive’? Are the educational acts described when we discuss IBWs and other technological devices really an example of interactivity? Are there any real advantages to structuring learning that is interactive?

 “This tool is interactive!”

Often, listening to some teachers talk about their device of choice is enough to understand what they mean when they call it ‘interactive’. He or she might say that students can get up and go to the board to execute a simple operation (ex.: pressing on a specific section of the IBW to answer a multiple choice question). Interactivity, in this case, is limited to the fact that the student has manipulated the board in a way not much different from the way he or she would work with a good ol’ fashioned exercise book. But is this really a true description of interactivity with the technological tool of choice, or are we really talking about interaction?

Interaction and interactivity

There are many ways of defining ‘interaction’. However, the generally accepted one is the reciprocal action or influence between two entities.  Meanwhile, the term ‘interactivity’ is used to designate the degree of responsiveness between a person and a technology (be it device or software or both). In education, the term is also imbued with the idea that interactivity is beneficial to learning, because it implies a continuous exchange between learner and device. The table below illustrates some of the ways in which the terms ‘interaction’ and ‘interactivity’ differ when it comes to student learning.

These two categories of examples highlight some of the key features of interaction vs. interactivity:

Interactivity requires a more complex level of engagement on the part of the learner than that required by interaction. In an interactive situation, the learner is called upon to modify their behavior/responses based on the changing needs of the situation.

How can we make interactivity happen? Why is it important?

Interactivity is an integral part of the conversation around integrating technology into educational practice. As educators, we need to make the distinction between basic interaction with technology and the more complex processes involved in interactivity. In order for interactivity to take root, we must create the pedagogical situations that encourage and foster it. A student manipulating an IWB or an electronic tablet in order to answer questions or complete simple exercises is not engaging in the same kind of learning as a student creating a personal or collective work or solving a problem. The student who creates, composes, solves, produces and collaborates has more chances of engaging with the technology in a way that makes him or her the principal agent of his or her learning.

This is not to say that so-called traditional exercises are in and of themselves a bad thing. It’s just that, in my opinion, putting aside the all-too-short-lived wow-factor (and who, exactly, is being wowed?), it isn’t necessary to use an IWB or an electronic tablet to complete them (I am NOT talking here about the particular or special needs of students that make the use of differentiated technological tools necessary and justified).

Overall, I think that getting the most pedagogical value out of the interactivity promised by the new technologies at our disposal in schools is a sure way to get the most bang for our buck. We need to also keep uppermost in our minds the real value of interactivity, what it means for our students, and how to make it happen for them. For their benefit, but also for our own.


Kish Gué
Pedagogical Consultant

Translated by Sylwia Bielec, ed.