Showbie…an incredible iPad tool for $100 per year

Last summer, Larry Petersen from Huron, South Dakota, e-mailed me to ask about Showbie.  His district, which was going 1:1 iPad, had selected Showbie as a classroom management system.  I didn’t know anything about Showbie at the time, but I wanted to check it out.

At the time, Showbie allowed you to make classes, make assignments, and then upload materials into those assignments, such as a PDF.  A student could then work on that PDF, directly within the app, without having to open it in another app.  This is a key component, because many classroom management systems–including Google Classroom–require you to open documents in other apps, such as Notability.   Kids sign up with a class code, and can enroll using their GAFE e-mail address, if your school is a GAFE school (Google Apps for Education).  There were other features as well, such as students could upload just about any kind of file into Showbie, and you can also save those files out of Showbie.

I was hooked.  I immediately began using Showbie for my students to do daily journal questions (note: I later found it was best for my time to give a packet of questions and correct a number of questions in one sitting), and it wasn’t long before I used some of our choir account money to purchase a full subscription.

The full subscription adds a number of features, (now) including a palette of different pens for teachers and students, different “type-entry” fields, longer audio recordings, unlimited assignments (for teachers), and now, the ability to add an audio recording to another document.  Showbie keeps improving and adding features, and even though our school is going to use Schoology next year (which has some of these features), I will keep using Showbie as well.

Let me talk about some of the ways I used Showbie this year:

  1. I have students scan into class using a QR code and the app Attendance2 on one of our iPads.  I uploaded one of Attendance2’s generated QR Codes to each student in an assignment.  Admittedly. this took a while, but I only had to do it once for them, all year (and for any incoming students).
  2. I used Showbie for the the aforementioned daily journal questions.  As we moved into S-Cubed as a sight singing method, I prepared a packet (generally 5 days worth, or about 2 weeks of class in our A/B schedule) and students completed the packets in Showbie.
  3. I distributed music via Showbie, putting it in an assignment (making it due at the end of the term), and then students opened the music into another app (always an option) such as NextPage (a simple PDF music reader).
  4. By the middle of the year, I decided to use Showbie for ALL of their music.  They opened music in Showbie, and turned pages from there.  They were still able to annotate music.  This way, I was able to have them “locked” into one app (using our MDM, Casper) the entire hour, without having to deal with multiple apps.  This was quite successful.  This year, I will be able to attach a rehearsal recording to the songs!  Additionally, “collecting” music was as easy as archiving the assignment.
  5. It is quite easy to drop students from a class or to add them, as long as you have the class code handy (the code is for joining the class).  I would keep a list of your codes on hand, so you don’t have to look it up each time.  Then again, I teach in a some what transient community.  I learned to have one Showbie class for each class of my own…putting all my 6th Grade students into one class was not a good idea.  As a side note, Showbie allows you to “copy” assignments from one class to another, which makes my life much easier.
  6. I used Showbie for assessment.  I had students record a section of music, pointing the iPad’s microphone at their mouth.  They all sang together, and made 3 recordings of the same section of music.  I then had them choose their best, and had them delete the other two.  I listened to each, grading on a rubric.  Here is where it gets fun…with a second iPad, I was able to be in the same Showbie account, listening to the assessment on one iPad, and then grading the rubric with the other.  This worked incredibly well–but will be EVEN BETTER next year, as students can record audio on the rubric page, and then i can listen to the assessment that is embedded in the rubric page.  With no lesson time, these assessments were very important to help me get to know each voice.
  7. I had the students make a video at one point in the year, and they uploaded their video in an assignment.
  8. I made some videos for a sub-section of a class, and uploaded them into an assignment, so they could watch those videos from Showbie.  I did not have to send anything to YouTube.
  9. At one point, I had an annotation process for students where they were writing solfége in their scores.  They took a screen shot and submitted it in Showbie as proof that they had done the work.

What I am looking forward to next year is to have the ability to embed audio in a Showbie document, have students play that audio back, and then record themselves while doing so.  As it stands, I cannot do this, as you can record an audio note in Showbie, but you can’t drop an audio file that is pre-existing into a document (I have written asking about the ability to do this).  However…if you are a band and orchestra teacher, and not a choir director, you can simply upload a playing assignment (literally a PDF of the music), and students can open Showbie and record themselves playing, and then you can listen back to those recordings.  You could even have a rubric on the PDF, or you could annotate the PDF while listening to their recording to give them feedback.  Think of it as “SmartMusic” human–you are the computer assessing the performance…but still using technology to do so.

I could also see band/orchestra directors using this feature for auditions.

They have made some progress on multi-platform versions of Showbie, but for all the bells and whistles (including annotation), you need an iPad.  I know they are working hard to address this, as Showbie would even be useful on a Chromebook!

Sure, there are negatives to Showbie, as with all apps.  For example, at the moment, there is no grading feature (it is coming).  I also didn’t like that I couldn’t move students from class to class–they had to join a different class (I wanted to migrate them), as student schedules do change.  I would like to be able to scroll while annotating (two fingers, like in Notability) versus having to switch tools to do so (annotation and scrolling are two different tools in Showbie).  Finally, we had a few days where Internet was not working correctly in our building, which caused many issues–at the same time, all of us were a bit stranded without Internet in a 1:1 iPad school–and that isn’t Showbie’s fault.  We did have a few lost assignments, which Showbie was able to track down and repair–and fix in case it happened to others (it occurs when a student doesn’t click “DONE” after they are done.  It is surprising how often this occurs.  But as you look at those negatives–they are VERY FEW.  And my wish-list keeps shrinking!  As much as I know Schoology is a good product (as I mentioned, our school decided to adopt it for all teachers next year)–I’m not willing to leave Showbie!

As you can see, I like Showbie a lot.  It has a lot of features for free, and even more features for a very low cost per year.  With over 300 students in my program, we’re paying less than $.33 per student per year for the app, and it is worth every penny.

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