Don Bryn

Go Completely iPad in the classroom

Blog Post created by Don Bryn on Oct 15, 2017

While there are still a few steps to have a truly seamless teaching experience solely with an iPad and a projector, much is possible already.  I no longer carry textbooks, use applications on slow-moving shared computers, and have minimized the amount of paper I give to and receive from students.  As an added bonus, a portion my grading time has been reduced by moving any assignments than can be auto-graded into Canvas.  This is an overview of the components I've used to far to make this happen.  I'm still looking for ways to streamline and improve, so please share your ideas!


First step: iPad

You'll need an iPad.  I happen to have two for my other work, one being an iPad Pro, which I really like using in the classroom.  Having two iPads is not essential, but a good plan in case one loses battery or doesn't work for any reason.


2nd Step:  Projection.

I guess not every teacher will need this, but I find it essential.   I project textbook pages, Canvas pages, Youtube Videos, and other odds and ends.  It's very useful for leading students through technology, like using Canvas.  It's great when a student says, "that page wasn't in Canvas" and I can just hit a button and display it on the screen!   No more lame excuses. . .


This step took some work because the projectors in our class are not airplay compatible and the school is not going to buy new ones.  Our IT department has shown me new teacher podiums with all the latest tech that can project using an AppleTV, but the quote to upgrade our podiums was $12K.  So that is not going to happen soon.  And it doesn't REALLY make it simple because you still have to have the Apple TV in between.   Epson makes some projectors that are advertised to work with iPad, but so far reviews are still sketchy.  It seems they don't actually support airplay so you still have to sign in to them as if you were logging into a remote server.


ANYWAY, the solution we came up with was to install AirServer on all our teacher podium PC's.  It still means I have to boot up and log into the school's snail-pace PC, but once it's running using Airserver is a snap.   I tell Airserver to show a UPC symbol, launch the Connect app on my iPad and scan the UPC code and then I'm set.   All during class anytime I want to display anything on the screen I just swipe up on the iPad and select airPlay.    Just turn it off again when I'm done.


The other great thing about this is that it's a mirroring app--it can display anything I can display on my iPad.


3rd Step:  Textbooks

Thankfully most publishers are catching on to the eBook idea.  The still-annoying catch is that they like to use different formats and apps.   So I have most of my textbooks in the VitalSource Bookshelf App.  A couple others I have as ePub or pdf and those are in my iBooks app.  At least I don't have to change apps during class.  It's very useful to display examples from textbook pages to students in class.


4th Step:  Canvas

This is where it gets interesting and useful.  I use Canvas as the backbone to my entire course.  Both myself and the students live by the course in Canvas.   That means that everything I need to teach the course is built in Canvas, including lesson plans, assignments, quizzes, due dates:  everything.


This is what a typical module looks like to me:

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And this is what it looks like to the students (This is still grayed out because they haven't completed the pre-requisite):


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So my lesson plans are unpublished so that students cannot see them.   They are all dated and in date order with assignments.  I create an assignment group worth 0% of the final grade and put all the class outlines in there.   I number the class days so that when I copy the course to future semesters I can adjust them in the Calendar. (That process is still not easy in Canvas, but that's a different topic for discussion here:  Dealing with Dates in Canvas needs some love).  It also helps me keep track of where I am in the semester.  If I get a little ahead or behind I always know where I am in terms of number of class days left.


The great thing about these lesson plans is that I can walk into class, open my iPad to Canvas in the browser, and look down the dates to see where I am.   I open the lesson plan and know what I need to cover today, then just click next to see what's next for the students. I can also embed anything I might need to teach that day, like a video (or a link), or sometimes even a page out of a textbook.


The assignments and quizzes are all published and assigned dates.  I can make it easier for students to see by using indentation to separate instruction pages, ungraded assignments and graded assignments.


I have another course in which the exercises are all online on the publisher's website, but the instructions are not.  So I have created instructions and explanation pages that the students can see and to which they can refer when they are working on assignments at home.  Besides some page titles being cut too short in the list (see this discussion:  Allow wrap-around text for content items in a module), it's easy for students to see which pages are instructions, which are practice assignments, and which are graded assignments, as well as due dates.


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The main point being that just about anything that I use to teach can be embedded in a page in Canvas.   I no longer have to carry books, papers, or remember links.   Publishing allows me to control what students see, so I can include pages just for myself as well as pages for students to see.  The down-side is that an assignment category--even worth 0% of the grade and unpublished--will appear as an assignment group in the gradebook.  That means students see an empty 0% column called "Lesson Plans".


HINT:  if you want to display a complete pdf in a page, you can store the pdf on a server somewhere (Your own or Amazon), and link to it in an iframe.  If you set the size of the iframe to the size of the pdf, it will display as a complete page and won't be loaded in the "panda box" when you just link to a pdf in the course files.  I've found the Panda Box to be too small and you have to scroll around too much.


I can also give the students hand-outs without actually having to hand them out.  This is an example of a page that is a reference for piano students.  I do not have to hand this out in class anymore.   They can see it in canvas and have the option of viewing it there or printing it out.


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5th Step:  Assignments and Quizzes.

This is the step that still needs the most advancement in technology.   There are many types of quizzing that are still either difficult or impossible in Canvas.  I have hopes that some of these will be made possible in the new quizzing engine, but because I teach music which is a very specific discipline for the way notation is used, there are still limitations on the overall technology available.   That's a topic for another blog post.


Still, I have placed as many types of questions as possible into Canvas.  Anything that can be answered with a select (drop-down) I have managed to put into question banks.   I've resorted to creating online apps for ear training for intervals and dictation, as well as banks of theory questions in Canvas so students can practice as much as they want.


For quizzes, I have even put some of the in-class aural quizzes into Canvas in an unpublished state so I can give the quiz from my iPad.  In the past I would have printed out the teacher version of the quiz and played the examples myself or from a youtube video.  Putting the quiz in Canvas means it will sound exactly the same every time, and I can administer from my iPad.  I've also put reminders in Canvas to remind myself to send student quizzes to the campus printer a week before they occur.


I guess this took a lot of time and effort to prep, but because courses can be used over and over, I have save myself a lot of time and effort in the future--both preparing material for students AND grading.


My goal is to use technology to make courses as straightforward and sleek as possible, for both myself and students.  I want to be able to reuse resources and use technology to handle any tasks that don't require intuitive brain work:  like grading questions with exact answers.  I also want to be able to reduce the amount of natural resources used (paper), expand the opportunities for students to learn and study, and make it interesting and as enjoyable as possible for students.  And ultimately, I don't want to carry books around anymore!


If this helps anyone or if anyone has more suggestions to accomplish these goals, please post!