Tag Archives: content

The iPad: a tool for teachers

When the iPad was first announced I posted some brief thoughts about its potential for education. Since then, it’s been released and I’ve had the chance to spend some time playing with one. It’s been an opportunity to see to what extent the device itself and the software available would be a useful tool for supporting the work of teachers and lecturers.

My initial impressions that the iPad functionally resembles a giant iPod Touch have been confirmed. Still, I use my iPod Touch all the time, so all the advantages of a bigger display are very attractive. The key question for me is to what extent the bigger display makes the iPad a great device not just for consuming media but also for generating content.

The iPad is a great device to view content – it’s fast and the display quality is impressive. And of course there is a huge number of apps available for it,  given that it’ll run existing iPhone / iPod Touch apps as well as apps developed just for the iPad.

But as a working teacher I also want to generate content. And it has limitations here:

  • Want to edit online content such as Moodle or mediawiki pages? Results vary – you’ll almost certainly need to use HTML or wiki markup since the iPad is unlikely to work with wysiswyg editors. I don’t mind that – in fact I prefer to use HTML or wiki markup – but many teachers will find this a real drawback. And things are worse if you’re one of the many educators using the PBWorks wiki- at the time of writing it was impossible to edit a page with the iPad.
  • You can’t print. So you’ll need to rely on a desktop or laptop computer for this.
  • Using Google Docs? At the time of writing you can view but not edit using an iPad.
  • Want to create media resources?  There are useful apps becoming available, but the lack of native support for accessing the iPad file system and the use of proprietary file formats is likely to be a barrier. My two-year-old grandson loved using the built-in mike to make that cursed animated cat speak funny – but there is no obvious way just yet to record audio to standard file formats that can be moved easily to a desktop, edited in other applications and published.

In my mind, Apple has focused too much on the entertainment aspect of its portable devices and neglected their use for real-world work. I’d like to see both, and I don’t believe they need to be mutually exclusive. The iPad is not quite ready to meet my needs as a working teacher – can’t wait to see the next version.

Image: Glenn Fleishman

Presenting content in Moodle: Files

moodle-logoOne of the problems facing teachers using Moodle is how to present content when there’s a lot of it. Typically they have a set of weekly or topic blocks and start adding links, files and page into the blocks. Pretty soon they have a long list of resources and it becomes off-putting and hard for the student to find anything. The ‘hide block’ buttons can help but for various reasons I won’t go into here they are less than ideal.

My approach is to move as much clutter off the front page as possible. The best way to do this depends on the nature of the content involved. In this post I’ll look at ways to manage content which is based on files: eg PDFs, text documents, etc. These files might be readings or templates for project work. Ideally, the process would be something like this:

  1. If you’re really well organized, you can create a directory structure on your hard disk with all the course content files in a directory structure. All the files should have meaningful names and the directory structure reflect the topic structure of your course. If the files belong in a certain order, start the file names with a number: eg 01-project-plan-template.doc. The directory structure could all be inside a folder called (say) XXX-course-files where XX is the Moodle short name of the course.
  2. Next, create a zip archive of the whole directory structure – in Mac OS, go to the parent directory and right-click on XXX-course-files. Choose Compress “XXX-course-files” which will create a zip archive of the whole directory structure inside that one folder.
  3. Upload this file into the files area of your Moodle course. If you have lots of files inside the directory structure, this may take a while.
  4. When the zip file is uploaded, click the unzip link next to its name in the file list. This will unpack the directory structure.
  5. Now you can create links in the course topic areas to individual files, or better still use Display a Directory in the Add a Resource popup menu to create a link to the subdirectory which matches the topic you’re editing.

Using Display a Directory means you can avoid having long lists of files on the front page of the course. Students are generally familiar with files within directory structures, so provided the files are well-named (see above), they’ll have no problem accessing them. And the front page of your course will look much more user-friendly.