Category Archives: apple

Should I buy an Apple TV for my classroom?

Apple TV

I noticed the following tweet on the Twitter over the weekend and was inspired to reply.

https://twitter.com/digitalmaverick/status/310515754636279809

This kind of response is just as short-sighted and blinkered as those by people who would say “buy an Apple TV”.

I agree with the sentiment that if we work within education, then we shouldn’t waste public money, but to assume that going down the Apple TV route is a waste of money, makes too many assumptions about the context.

So why all this “fuss” in the first place? What is the significance of AirPlay and as a result the discussion over Air Server and Apple TV.

One of the features that Apple have had for many years is the ability to stream media across your wireless network to a device on that network.

You could stream your iTunes audio to the original Airport Express, which was then connected to speakers (usually better speakers than the ones on the Mac) or speakers in a different room. This was known as AirTunes.

The name was changed to AirPlay in 2010 when it could be used to stream video content from your Mac. In 2011 with the release of the iPad 2 it was now possible to stream (mirror) your screen using AirPlay.

What then excited people in education was the ability to mirror your iPad (and now your Mac desktop) over the wireless network. This meant you didn’t need to worry about cables and you could hand round your device without needing to come up to the screen.

Additionally everyone with a device could use also use the technology could use it, so if all your learners had an iPad they could all stream their screens.

Though initially such a technology was restricted to Apple devices, it wasn’t long before developers came up with solutions for other devices.

Your PC could, through the use of Air Server act as an “Apple TV” and allow devices to Air Play or mirror their screens. Software such as Air Parrot allows older Macs and PCs to stream and mirror their screens to Apple TV.

So what was initially an Apple centric solution now didn’t need a single Apple device.

So what about that tweet?

https://twitter.com/digitalmaverick/status/310515754636279809

Well if you already have a classroom setup, there is a PC, a projector then I agree an Apple TV is probably not the cheapest solution, I would also suspect that the projector doesn’t have an HDMI connection. In this instance and context then Air Server is the cheaper solution.

However this is not the only context and to say the Apple TV is a waste of money is not correct.

When equipping a new room, or replacing equipment, if you consider the cost of a PC, a projector, an IWB or an iPad, then compare that to the cost of an iPad, a TV and an Apple TV then the Apple TV solution would be a much cheaper solution. Add a wheeled stand to the TV and suddenly you have a mobile solution.

The important consideration when purchasing any equipment is not to favour one solution over another, but consider the context, what do you have already, what do you want to do, where are you going to do it.

In my libraries we have large plasma screens with a Mac mini underneath, in this instance we have gone down the Air Server route to allow us to stream through AirPlay. However if I already had the iPad and the screen, to buy a £499 Mac mini would cost a lot more than a £99 Apple TV.

It’s not about the technology, it’s about the context. Be informed and think about solutions.

MacBook Retina and HDMI

Left ports on MacBook Retina and HDMI

One of the features I really like about the MacBook Retina is the fact it comes with an HDMI port. Okay what I really like about it is the fantastic screen… but back to the HDMI port.

The Mac mini has had an HDMI port for a while now and we have been using them at work to power the plasma screen in the library. Self-contained it means we can show a whole range of different things on the screen, from movies to YouTube playlists, presentations and a browser. Very useful in the library for news and information and a great presentation tool to take the library out into the college (in the dining room or Freshers’ Fayre).

I demonstrate a fair bit of stuff at work and it has always been a bit of pain to connect my Mac to a projector, so much so it was often easier to bring in my own projector than use the one in the rooms I was presenting in. I would have used the Mac mini and the screen (as the screen was on a stand with wheels) however the problem was that I couldn’t see the screen and therefore would have had my back to the group.

Now that my Macbook has an HDMI port, I can now face the group and they can see what I am doing on the big screen. It has been pretty seamless and worked well… until recently.

I had my Macbook upgraded to Mountain Lion, in the main so I could use AirPlay to stream the screen to a TV via AppleTV. Alas though that worked, the HDMI port stopped working properly. It works fine with some screens with HDMI but not all.

I had hoped that the update to 10.8.2 would fix it, but it hasn’t. It is rather annoying.

What was happening was, you plugged in the HDMI cable and I then expected the screen to refresh as it changed resolution to match the external screen. What in fact was happening was that the screen would go all weird and wonky. Even restarting, with the HDMI cable plugged in, wouldn’t fix the issue. The MacBook starts off acting normally and then the screen goes “black” and stops working… it doesn’t change to the 1080p resolution that it is suppose to.

If you power cycle the screen, this has no impact. If you turn off the MacBook and turn it back on again, well the login screen “works”, but then after logging in, it no longer works as it should. I managed to get it to work once… but never again.

Hadn’t realised how much I had depended on it for delivering training. Of course HDMI on laptops is not a new thing, various PC laptops have had it for a while. For many classrooms I have found that unless you have a high powered projector then a screen is brighter and clearer for the audience. Some of the classrooms I work in also have very noisy old projectors, in these cases the screen works better too.

At this time, the only real solution appears to be replacing the screens!

Finally…

iOS devices

One question I get asked again and again by colleagues in the sector is how should institutions purchase apps for their iOS devices.

The easiest solution before, was to move the entire institution to the USA, buy the apps using the volume purchasing programme and then move back…

What most people did was either:

a) rely on free apps only, which was a pain if there were apps you wanted to buy or relied on in-app purchases.

b) spend their own money on apps, easy to do, but not everyone wanted or could afford to do this, and certainly wasn’t a practical solution on shared devices.

c) give users iTunes gift cards which were then used to buy apps. This did rely on trusting the users to buy the apps and not go out and buy music and films.

d) breach their iTunes agreement, buy an app once and then load it onto multiple devices. You can do this with your own devices, but according to the iTunes agreement wasn’t a viable option for educational devices.

So I am finally pleased to see that Apple have launched their Volume Purchase Programme in the UK.

The Volume Purchase Programme allows educational institutions to purchase iOS apps in volume and distribute them to students, teachers, administrators and employees.

Apple Volume Purchase Programme

It is worthwhile reading the FAQ to see how this works.

The process looks quite simple, a nominated individual in the institution (and there can be more than one) buys apps in volume using a corporate credit card.

The institution then  gets a series of codes which can be redeemed in the iTunes store for the app purchased by either staff or learners. Mobile device management (MDM) software can also facilitate this distribution.

This ensures that the institution is staying within the terms of the iTunes agreement, that staff and learners don’t need to spend their own money on the app and that the users also have direct access to the app.

What is useful to know is that for app purchases, education institutions have the option of redeeming one app code per iTunes authorised computer, or “sync station,” and retaining the rest of the codes as proof of purchase. So they can then do the d) option, buy the app once and load onto a series of devices.

One limitation is that the programme does not cover in-app purchases, this was often a way of upgrading free lite versions to the full version, but now you can buy the full version.

I am pleased to see this programme finally in the UK and it should support those people and institutions rolling out iOS devices in their colleges and universities.

Thinking about iTunes U

Thursday in New York, Apple gave a presentation which announced three new products and services for education, iBooks 2, iBooks Author and an iTunes U app. I’ve already written about iBooks 2 and iBooks Author, so what about iTunes U.

Before today, iTunes U was in the main a marketing tool for universities and colleges. It was a way of showing prospective students great content and give them an idea of what they may expect to experience if they went to that institution. There were some institutions which used iTunes U as a delivery mechanism for their learners, it was even possible to “close” or “lock” down iTunes U so that only authorised users could access the content.

The key though was that iTunes U was a content delivery system and was not about interactive content, communication or collaboration. It also wasn’t a total content delivery system, as iTunes U was in the main focused on delivering audio and video content (and in some cases PDFs).

Most of the main UK Universities and Colleges were not using iTunes U to deliver all their content to their learners and certainly though there was some excellent content, it was just one delivery mechanism for learners. I would hazard a guess that in most institutions, once the learners are there, most of the content would be provided through the institutional virtual learning environment, a tool such as Blackboard or Moodle. These tools do allow for communication and collaboration and interaction. What was always lacking, until very recently, were usable and decent mobile access to the institutional virtual learning environment. Both Blackboard and Moodle now have either a mobile app, or a mobile optimised stylesheet, however these really don’t “work” as well as they could, as both products were designed to work in a standard web browser on a computer.

Apple have “upgraded” iTunes U to allow much more diverse content to be delivered to learners through iTunes and a new iTunes U app for the iPad. With iBooks 2, interactive textbooks can be “purchased” alongside the planned delivery of video and audio. iBooks Author allows teachers and lecturers to create their own “books” that either can be given or sold to learners (through the iBookstore). This means that much more varied content can be delivered through iTunes U.

What Apple have done with iTunes U for the iPad is design an app for the delivery of curriculum from a mobile perspective. The learner will be “given” a complete course that they can then use on their iPad complete with textbooks, video, audio and other content.

What iTunes U lacks is the social interaction, communication and collaboration tools that an institutional virtual learning environment can provide. Learners would probably say, “so what” as we interact and communicate using Facebook and Twitter. So though iTunes U fails from a two way student engagement perspective, there are other ways in which learners will talk, discuss and communicate, whether that includes the practitioner, that remains to be seen.

Will iTunes U replace Blackboard or Moodle? A lot depends on what we as consumers do. It’s true that iTunes has had a huge effect on the music industry and digital downloads. So there is a precedent for Apple changing an industry, the same can be said about the iPod or the iPhone. However we also need to consider Ping and iWeb, not everything Apple does has that golden touch.

Of course you can’t just use iTunes U, firstly your institution needs to apply to be on iTunes U and that isn’t a simple process, and it isn’t something an individual does, you will need to get management in your organisation on board. However I suspect this will be easier once more institutions get enrolled and you could argue about it from a competitive perspective.

Though a lot of stuff on iTunes U can be viewed on a computer, to take advantage of the real potential of the new iTunes U, the learner is going to need an iPad. You can’t read the new textbooks or books created with iBooks Author on a Mac or a PC, only on an iPad. So if you do put content on iTunes U for use with the iTunes U app then you will need to be sure that either a) all your learners have an iPad, or b) you provide the content in a different format. The latter will be challenging as the export functionality in iBooks Author leaves a lot be desired, the alternatives to the iBook format are PDF and text which don’t utilise the use of media or interactivity.

If every learner in your institution has an iPad, then iTunes U is a great way of delivering content to your learners, if every learner doesn’t… well I wouldn’t bother with iTunes U.

Get iTunes U in the iTunes App Store.



iBooks Author

A new free tool, iBooks Author, from Apple that should mean creating content for iBooks on iOS will be much easier.

Today in New York, Apple gave a presentation which announced three new products and services for education, iBooks 2, iBooks Author and an iTunes U app.

I wasn’t too impressed with iBooks 2, on the other hand, iBooks Author I think has real potential for practitioners in allowing them to easily create content that will work on the iPad. Practitioners have been wanting a simple tool that allows them to create simple content with added bells and whistles. This will I think have a greater impact than the textbooks for iBooks 2.

Why?

Well practitioners now have a tool that allows them to not only easily create content they can give to their learners, it also gives universities, colleges and schools the ability to convert and create content, that they can they give away within iTunes U, but also sell in the iBookstore to learners, not only in their institution, but also sell to other students across the world. You will also see individual practitioners creating and selling educational content that before was only mainly done by publishers and software companies. With iBooks Author there is now a tool that is not only free and simple to download, it is also very easy to use. Practitioners who are using Keynote and Pages (or even Powerpoint) will find that it is relatively simple to reuse or convert content, publish and sell it on Apple’s iBookstore.

Having given iBooks Author a try, in a similar vein to iWeb if you don’t mind following the Apple template then the app will work just fine. If you want to go out of the box? Then at this time the app isn’t a solution and you will find it very frustrating.

The export options are limited to iBooks, PDF and text. The PDF option is horrible in that it exports the “pages” in frames with a watermark underneath each one, and none of the media work, even though PDFs can support video and animations. There is also no ePub export option available either. It was rumoured that Apple would be using a ePub3 standard with HTML5 extensions that would allow the use of interactivity and media. Now that may very well be the case, but they are using their version of it which means that firstly any book you create will only really work on the iPad, and won’t work on other readers such as the Sony Reader let alone the Kindle. Secondly if you didn’t want to use iBooks Author to create an iBook then you probably wouldn’t be able to create (easily) an iBook using the ePub3 standard with HTML 5 extensions.

So there is no easy way to export as ePub or import ePub. From the perspective of the average practitioner this isn’t going to be an issue, but for some learning technologists this will probably create some real headaches if they are trying to reuse or repurpose existing content.

I can certainly see a lot of practitioners and institutions deciding to create and sell content using iBooks Author and as a 1.0 release I think it has potential, however it currently reminds me too much of iWeb and not enough of Keynote. For “normal” people I think it will be “awesome” and “magical” for everyone else it will be iWeb.

Get iBooks Author in the Mac App Store.

“Reinventing” Textbooks, I don’t think so!

So has Apple reinvented the textbook?

I don’t think so.

Today in New York, Apple gave a presentation which announced three new products and services for education, iBooks 2, iBooks Author and an iTunes U app.

With iBooks 2 it is now possible to read e-books that also contain media and interactive content

I have to say to Apple and all those sites out there that are saying iBooks 2 has reinvented textbooks, I don’t think so. I felt a little underwhelmed by the textbooks that were announced by Apple. They are for all intents and purposes digitised textbooks with some fancy video, slideshows and other effects. There are already apps within the iOS App Store that provide a similar experience, the Dorling Kindersley releases for example. I have already reviewed some of these in my review series, and I think some of those, such as Eureka, are much more innovative and exciting.

Don’t get me wrong, the use of video, animations, slideshows, 3D diagrams, interactivity can be so much better than the diagrams and photographs in a paper book. We mustn’t though forget that interactive doesn’t always mean engaging. Sometimes something very uninteractive and be very engaging, likewise in the past many interactive textbooks (we called them CD-ROMS back then) did not engage learners. It takes a lot of skill and thought to create engaging interactive content, and clever animations and video is only part of the picture.

What is missing is the Apple magic in the user interface. iBooks and devices such as the Kindle work for “normal” books such as novels and non-fiction where the reader moves from one page to another in a linear fashion. From a user’s perspective, the experience is comparable.

However this is not how academic textbooks are used by learners. Learners rarely (if ever) read an academic textbook from page to page. No they are more likely to flick through the pages to the relevant chapter or section, flick back to other parts of the book as they make notes, sometimes on the book (annotations) but also on paper (or using a word processor). Now you can do that in iBooks 2, but not nearly as easily and smoothly as you can with a paper book.

In May 2010, I wrote about how the Seattle Times outlined how student at the University of Washington did not like using the Kindle compared to using printed books.

There were some interesting results and comments from the pilot. 80% would not recommend the Kindle as a classroom study aid for example. However 90% liked it for reading for pleasure.

Though I hazard a guess that maybe a slightly lower percentage would not recommend the iPad as a classroom study aid, I said back then:

This is a lesson that educational publishers need to recognise when publishing content to platforms like the Kindle and the iPad. Though novels are linear and as a result eBook formats can “work” like a printed book, educational books are used differently and as a result eBook versions need to work differently. Students need to be able to move around quickly, annotate and bookmark.

Creating a digital copy of an academic textbook for a lot of learners is not going to work, as it doesn’t allow them to use the digital textbook in the way that they would use a paper copy. There needs to be a paradigm shift in understanding how learners use content, so that the advantages that a device such as the iPad can bring to learning are fully exploited and learners are not left thinking that the digital version is a poor relation of the paper textbook.

Those advantages that Apple outlined in their presentation that the iPad is portable, durable, interactive, searchable and current are just part of the story, digitising content misses out on the other advantages that the iPad brings to the desk. The touch interface offers so much more than just highlighting and flicking backwards and forwards in a linear fashion. Magazines such as Eureka and Wired have started to understand that, I am surprised that Apple haven’t.

There is also a complete lack of communication and sharing within iBooks 2. Learners are unable to share their annotations, copy their notes to their peers, discuss the content. All that is missing from iBooks 2, it is about consuming content, individually and then probably writing about it using Pages or creating a spreadsheet in Numbers.

The new textbooks in iBooks 2 make the mistake of creating a digital equivalent of the paper book with a few added bells and whistles and does not take advantage of the iPad interface and connectivity that could add so much. Textbooks need a new way of thinking, however this time Apple are not thinking differently enough.

What do you think?

iPublisher or iBooks U

Tomorrow there is going to be an announcement from Apple in New York.

As you can see from the invite the event is about education. The word on the street (well on the rumour sites) is that this is something to do with electronic textbooks, as major publishers have been invited to the event. This wouldn’t be too much of a surprise as it was hinted at in the Steve Jobs biography.

In terms of academic e-books I think we may see either a new way of looking at e-books with much more media within them, or possibly a new way of selling them, by chapter for example as demonstrated by Inkling.

We use to buy music either as albums or singles, now with the iTunes Store or Amazon we can buy individual tracks from albums. I am sure similar changes will happen with books, with e-books just been the start of this process.

One thing I have said is that publishers need to move away from the traditional approach of selling the whole text book as an e-book and start thinking about selling individual chapters to users, in the same way that we can buy individual episodes of a TV series.

I have said we should move away from digitised versions of print books and take advantage of the digital medium with interactive content and media.

We may also see an iBooks for the Mac too; at the moment you can only read iBooks on an iOS device. So if you have an iPad or an iPhone, great you can read e-books from Apple, however if you have a Mac then you can’t. It would make sense that if there are going to be lots of academic e-books for iBooks, and many students will only have a MacBook then there will be a need for iBooks for the Mac.

So what about the creation of content for iBooks? There has also been a lot of discussion and rumours about a possible Apple e-Book publishing tool announcement. At the moment it is quite difficult to create nice looking e-books, yes you can do it in Pages, but it’s not easy or perfect. So the rumour is Apple may announce something like Garageband or iWeb, but for creating e-books. If they announce support within iBooks for the EPUB 3 standard then within iBooks it will be much easier to view and engage with interactive e-books; then we will need a new tool that allows us to easily create EPUB 3 e-books.

This new app, which I guess could be called iPublisher, would allow people to easily create and edit e-books that can then be read in the iBooks app or any e-book reader that supports EPUB 3. There might even be an iPublisher Pro that enables Publishers to create more sophisticated e-books.

Part of me hopes that we will see an “iPublisher” app, but part of me thinks if that was going to happen then why would Publishers (who would be threatened by such a tool) are invited to the event. So as a result I am slightly sceptical that we won’t see an iPublisher tool, but hoping that we will.

Something else we might see tomorrow is iBooks U in the same way the record companies have iTunes and Universities can have their own iTunes U, I wonder if as well as an iBooks academic store, we also have an iBooks U where Universities and Colleges can publish their own iBooks to the EPUB 3 standard, complete with multi-media and interactive content, something that in the past we may have called a learning object.

iBooks U wouldn’t exclude an iPublisher app, if we look at music or audio, we have iTunes Store for commercial content, iTunes U for academic content and within iTunes we have podcasts for other audio content, to which people like me can publish using a tool such as Garageband.

So if we have an iBooks academic store, iBooks U for content from Universities and Colleges, we could also have a “place” for content created by people like me, using a tool that may be called iPublisher…

Well that’s what I am thinking, what do you think?

Think Different

Steve Jobs for Fortune magazine

Steve Jobs has spoken and written at various times about design and innovation.

What can we learn from people like Steve Jobs and companies like Apple?

Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.

Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.

Apple are an innovative company in terms of taking existing products and ideas and turning them into success stories. There were mp3 players before the iPod, but the iPod has become the ubiquitous music player. However how many out there remember the Cube? Though thought as a wonderful piece of technology design, however as a product success. There was also the iPod HiFi which failed miserably.

When we talk about innovation in education there is often an assumption that innovative practice has to always result in success. However innovation in education (as with technology and business)  means taking risks and management need to be aware that innovation is risky. However management are not the only group that need to know this, learners need to be aware of the risks of innovation too. They need to be aware but also be aware that the process of innovation is one that contributes to their learning and does not impair their learning.

Another quote from Steve

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.

For many people the reason they like products like the iPad the iPhone is not the way it looks or even the functionality, but the way it works for them and meeting their needs. I know that for example that the Galaxy Tab has a camera, but the user interface on the iPad and the way it works, works for me.

When we design courses and educational materials, too often we focus on how it looks and how it makes people feel. We maybe should be concentrating on the way it works.

You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.

It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.

Both of these quotes from Steve demonstrate the risk you take by (just) asking customers and building what they want, and the importance of showing end products.

It is important that we listen to the Learner Voice and the student surveys that organisations like JISC and the NUS have done. However we must ensure that these feed into our course design and delivery rather than lead them. Learners come to institutions to learn, if you ask them what they want then by the time you have got there, they’ll want something new and different and you will need to start again. Likewise  if we can show learners course design and delivery they may decide that this is more what they need than if you just ask them. Two examples come to mind, if you ask learners before the come to college whether they want to use wikis and discussion forums, unless they have used them before I suspect that most learners will say no. Show them how wikis and discussion forums can be used for learning and they may then want to use them. One question though, how do we design our courses and delivery systems?

New iPod touch

Apple have announced their Fall (or Autumn) line up of iPods for the holiday season. In what is becoming a traditional annual announcement, Apple showed is their new iPod shuffle that looks like a second gen model (it has buttons), a new square iPod nano that has got smaller, lost the camera and video playback of the previous version and a new iPod touch that now has many of the features of the iPhone 4G.

The new iPod touch probably has the biggest interest for education users and as it now comes with a camera as well as a much nicer display will be much more useful for various educational activities. Moving from the iPod touch to an iPhone eighteen months ago I was totally impressed with the impact having a camera had, though the iPhone 3G camera was pretty weak as cameras go, it allowed me to do so much more than just having the older iPod touch. The cameras on the 3GS and 4G iPhones are even better and are great for shooting video or taking images. I am looking forward to using the new HDR feature on the iOs 4.1 upgrade available next week. However the new camera on the new iPod touch is not in the same league as the iPhone 4G camera or even the original iPhone 3G camera! It will be okay for shooting video and taking low quality stills. However this is probably going to be okay for most education users. You can always use a proper digital camera for taking photographs, the iPod touch is so much more than just a camera.

iOS 4.1 does make the iPod touch more than just a camera or a media player, with all the apps available, wifi and the web at a touch of the button, there is so much about the iPod touch that makes it idea for enhancing and enriching the learning experience. For some learners this will be their “main” computer.

The new model has increased in price with the base 8GB model now at £189, though it should be remembered that the previous 8GB model was the previous generation (i.e second generation) and was re-introduced alongside the third generation iPod touch in September 2009. This new 8GB model is the fourth generation iPod touch; maybe that accounts for the extra £30! Over that 8GB model it has a lot more memory, 512MB compared to 128MB, a faster processor and a better battery life.

The key really is will learners be buying this device? Probably.

Publishing an e-Book

Apple have just updated their Pages word processing application to enable you to export your publication in ePub format.

The ePub format is a standard e-book format that works within Apple’s iBooks apps on the iPad and the iPhone.

It is also works on many other e-book readers, though not on Amazon’s Kindle!

Apple have released some guidance and help on choosing between ePub and PDF.

There are other ways of creating ePub publications, but if you already have and are familiar with Pages then it does give you a very easy way to create an ePub e-book.

There are many different e-book formats which makes life challenging for anyone who wants to create e-books or resources in an e-book format for their learners.