Have You Considered Twitter?

One of my strengths, as well as one of my flaws, is my continual attempt to integrate new technology into my life…which means my teaching as well. There has been a lot of discussion about Twitter lately, which basically allows you to broadcast short, 140 character messages to the world. People can “follow” you on Twitter (or you can make your account private, which defeats the purpose).

I’ve long been a proponent of having a web page for your music program. Parents and students need a central location for documents, calendars, and so on. But are they going to check that web page for up-to-date news? What if you have to cancel a concert?

I’ve spoken about the power of using cell phones for reminders…with services like http://www.txtblaster.com, but Twitter fits the bill quite well, too. And you can do both with just a few clicks on your keyboard (and using copy and paste).

I created a Twitter Account for my new high school choir program. Check it out: I think you’ll be able to see the potential:

www.twitter.com/ERHSChoir

And to make this even better, you can access Twitter from just about anywhere…on the web, in special add-ons for your desktop (widgets, Firefox Plug-ins), Cell Phones, etc. As I say on the ERHSChoir webpage at ClassJump, I want every possible way of staying in touch with parents and students…Twitter is a great application for this. I urge you to consider using it, too! And then tell your students about Twitter!

Need to know more about Twitter? Check out this video by David Pogue!

A plea to all my fellow educators…

I want to take the time to make a plea (or several pleas) to my fellow educators, particularly with the growth of Web 2.0 applications. Don’t let this advice fall on deaf ears!

  1. Use technology to communicate with students, but do so only through official channels, such as school e-mail. Make that expectation clear with your students.
  2. Do not allow students to be friends of yours on Facebook, MySpace, or any other Web 2.0 application. Just don’t go there. Once students have graduated, it doesn’t matter. But as long as a student is under your teaching…don’t do it.
  3. Remember that everything you post online is ultimately available for all to see. Be cautious about what you write and leave online, even if your Facebook page or MySpace page is “locked” to anyone but your friends. Remember that all someone has to do is capture an image of your page from one of your friends, and your statements are open for all to see. This also goes for Twitter or even if you have a “traditional” webpage.
  4. Remember that most of us teach under a code of ethics…either in our district or in our state. For example, here in Minnesota, we have this code of ethics. Failure to live to the code of ethics can result in justified termination. Can you see how your posting in any digital format could lead to the breaking of this code in several areas?

Standards of Professional Conduct*

  1. A teacher shall provide professional educational services in a nondiscriminatory manner.
  2. A teacher shall make reasonable effort to protect the student from conditions harmful to health and safety.
  3. In accordance with state and federal laws, a teacher shall disclose confidential information about individuals only when a compelling professional purpose is served or when required by law.
  4. A teacher shall take reasonable disciplinary action in exercising the authority to provide an atmosphere conducive to learning.
  5. A teacher shall not use professional relationships with students, parents, and colleagues to private advantage.
  6. A teacher shall delegate authority for teaching responsibilities only to licensed personnel.
  7. A teacher shall not deliberately suppress or distort subject matter.
  8. A teacher shall not knowingly falsify or misrepresent records or facts relating to that teacher’s own qualifications or to other teachers’ qualifications.
  9. A teacher shall not knowingly make false or malicious statements about students or colleagues.
  10. A teacher shall accept a contract for a teaching position that requires licensing only if properly or provisionally licensed for that position.

A New iPhone Case (and some good links)

I posted this on my personal blog, but it has some good information for anyone looking for a iPhone case or some good iPhone links, so I’ll post it here as well:

Today, my new iPhone case arrived. For the past months, I’ve been using the Griffin Elan form that I bought at AT&T the day I bought the phone. Mine was the black leather one, my wife bought the pink & brown case. The case was good looking, had a good feel (faux leather), and came with a solid screen protector that slid over the phone. I also picked up a three pack of cling protectors…but was never able to successfuly place them on the iPhone.

Lately, the Elan case has been giving me some issues. Two things have happened. First, the original solid screen protector has become scratched up (on my phone and my wife’s), and when I contacted Griffin to see if they would sell us a new set of screen protectors, they let me know that I could no longer do so, as they’ve abandoned that type of screen protector. They suggested a “cling” type protector, which I had clearly had issues dealing with before. Second, the leather is glued onto the plastic case…not permanently fused to the case. The leather, as of late, would start peeling off, and I’d have to move it back into place. Granted, the iPhone has traveled with me everywhere…biking, running, walking, on the job, on the road, in the Sauna. It has become my primary device for staying in contact with the world and my library. So it’s had a lot of use.

Now, admittedly, I read a lot of blogs about the iPhone, and there are a few that I follow pretty religiously. Those would be:

The iPhone Blog
The Unofficial Apple Weblog
Macrumors
Apple Insider
David Pogue
Gizmodo (sometimes not “appropriate” content)

Again, you have to be careful about these blogs (except for David Pogue, who is a columnist for the New York Times. I have a feeling of kindred with him, due to his past as a music person…but I’ll write about that some other time).

One of those blogs led me to the blog/webspages of Lisa Bettany, who is a photographer and video columnist for one of the Vancouver (Canada, of course) newspapers. You can look at the “about” section of her blog to see all that she writes about…but technology and geeky things are her strong point. She’s got a wacky sense of humor (check out this video to see my point), and I think my wife would enjoy her blogging about photography. By the way, my wife posted a wonderful blog using some of the pictures she took with our new Canon XSi camera today (I’m very proud of her blogging and her desire to get into photography).

In the linked video, she went to MacWorld this year and interviewed a representative from Speck Products, who talked about the Speck Candy Shell case for the iPhone 3G. The case sounded terrific, so I found it online at a reduced price and bought it.
The case lacks the “dockable” feature of the Griffin Elan, but honestly, I’ve never needed it. I’ve never docked my iPhone…I just link through a traditional iPod cable. The case came in the colors (close, anyway) of my new school, and it looked good. The only drawback…a “cling” screen…but I was able to successfully put on the screen…albeit cleaning the iPhone very carefully with both a Zeiss cleaning cloth (available in packs of 200 at Walmart or Sam’s Club) and then using the enclosed Microfiber cleaning cloth and applicator card. The case is going to work great. The iPhone is securely stored, the screen is protected, and the phone looks good, if not quite as classy as the faux leather Griffin Elan. It turns out that Griffin (or whoever makes the Griffin) is sold under several other manufacturer names.

So I’m rather pleased with the case so far. I’ll certainly mention how it holds up over time. Furthermore, Speck Products also offers special “covers” for Macbooks, and I may buy one to hide the damage on my Macbook (my unibody Macbook crashed at some point and is damaged on the right hand corner [top and bottom] of the computer).

How do you pick an Application?

To this point, iPhone App developers have not been courting me to write reviews for them. I know that many of the App Blogs are offered Apple Store gift cards, or demo versions of software, to encourage bloggers to write. This is a minor blog with a limited audience, so this blog will never generate the kind of traffic to attract such offers, nor would I want it to. I simply want to contribute to the profession through my own experience.

As such, although Apps are cheap, $1.00 to $10.00 apps can start to add up after a while. And although we have downloaded a lot of apps in my family (many free), we’re still (I’ve still) spent quite a lot on various apps over the past months. A quick look at iTunes shows that we have downloaded and kept 175 Apps. Not all are being used, but we do keep them in case we want them again. And of course, a lot of these are games, but a lot of them are not, either. If you haven’t noticed, I keep a sidebar with a list of my favorite apps on the side of this blog.

So how do I choose an App, particularly when there is more than one to choose from, and I’m spending money? The first step is to do a search at the AppStore and see what programs hit various search parameters. Depending on your search terms, you will generate a very specific, or a very general list. When I know who the major competitors are for a certain kind of App, I’ll then read through many of the ratings. You have to be careful with ratings, because competitors are known to either hire people to write good things about their own program, or to write bad things about other programs…and all of the writing can be untrue. When you have read enough of the AppStore ratings, it is a good time to do a search on Google for the program, looking for reviews by major blogs, such as The iPhone Blog (TIPB), The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW), iLounge, or AppVee. Granted, these are biased blogs (for example, one of them has an author who rants against Ocarina every chance he gets…which tells me, as a music educator, that he doesn’t “get” the program…or the potential for the program), and these blogs can also be paid (again in iTunes Gift Cards or demo programs) for their reviews. As a side note, sometimes it is the reviews alone from these blogs than picques my interest in an App, and later I’ll buy it or download it (for example, the game Fieldrunners).

By this point, if the program has been written about, you’ll have the information you need to know to make your decision. For example, I bought the decibel meter SPL based upon the reviews that I read. In other cases, I’ll find out just enough to know that I can’t make a good decision, and as long as programs are affordably priced, I’ll buy two or three different programs to decide which to keep…particularly if I’m thinking about writing a review on a program. This is why I bought Touchpad Elite, Pointer, and iPresenter. In the long run, I still think that Touchpad Elite is the best of the three. But I wouldn’t have been able to tell by myself if I had not downloaded all three (plus the demo of another program).

Even with 20,000 Apps on the AppStore, there is still room for improvement in the kinds of software that is available, particularly programs with music notation, music theory, music history, and education (in general) in mind. Authors will continue to write these programs as the platform continues to grow…and all indicators seem to show continual growth (and mobile Internet dominance) of the iPhone/iPod Touch format…and the ability to weed out the best programs from a flood of applications will be increasingly important. Again, even though programs are cheap compared to other venues (traditional computer software or handheld devices and gaming systems), money is still money, and for most of us…particularly as educators, our resources are limited.

Attendance

As I’ve mentioned before, I bought a Macbook with the intention of creating some iPhone programs, one of which was to be an attendance program for the iPhone. I’m learning how to program with only basic programming skills, so it is taking me a while to get around to creating the programs I want to create…and it is fair to say that the school year is underway as well. It surprised me that the AppStore existed six months before someone released an attendance application. In January, “Attendance” hit the AppStore.

Attendance is a program created by a teacher, which allows a teacher (or boss) to take attendance. The program isn’t visually advanced, but it doesn’t need to be. You simply choose the mode of the program you want to use by selecting the appropriate tab at the bottom of the page (take attendance, edit classes, choose a random student in a class, send an e-mail of grades, or check the instructions for the program.

Once you create a class, you can then add students to that class, using your contacts menu (something most K-12 teachers won’t do) or typing names in. At this point, there is no way to actually delete a student, as they are moved to a list indicating “dropped” (although if you need to add another student you can revise an “entry error” student into a functioning student). Additionally, there is no way to import an existing class into a new class, such as moving a choir roster from Term 1 to Term 2.


When you take attendance, you simply touch the button in front of the students name repeatedly until the correct attendance code is present. It would be nice if you could set the default status and order of absent codes (at the moment, students are automatically marked absent), as well as what the absent codes are, as institutions have differing terms and policies. You can later e-mail yourself a CSV e-mail to import into a spreadsheet.


Again, the program works and isn’t flashy…but it doesn’t need to be. My own attendance program (in my mind) would work similar to this program, but with a few more bells and whistles. I don’t want to describe those, in the case that I ever do complete my programs. I find that I’m able to go through role call very easily on the iPhone, and it does save me time as compared to a written list (sometimes just because I don’t need to actually find the list), and attendance has always been one of the big time-wasting procedures in my music classes, as I am sure they have been in yours.

Most of us have to take attendance on a school computer system…but if your school is like mine, other people have access to school records and change things from time to time, so your best bet is to have a second record of attendance. At $2.99, Attendance is a good value, and it is a great tool for teachers…and it is the only pure school administration program available on the AppStore at the time of writing of this article.

After my MMEA Mid-Winter Conference Presentation

First of all, let me thank all the participants/attendees at my presentation today. I had a great time, and I hope that some of the thoughts or ideas were useful, practical, or thought-provoking.

Some thoughts following the presentation:

  1. The most embarrassing moment: blowing into the speaker of the iPhone instead of the microphone for Ocarina. I was a bit nervous about playing the song. It would have worked SO much better had I done it right.
  2. What I would improve on most: talk more slowly. I’m a fast speaker…and in these cases (and even in my classes), I tend to speak fast…lots to say, little time to do it. If there is anything you want me to clarify for you, please e-mail me. I’ll try to go more slowly.
  3. Least professional moment: Nearly swearing when giving the example of teaching students how to use cell phones with proper etiquette and ethics (talking about cell phones going off in the movie theater).
  4. Most important messages that came up but were not in the planned presentation: Communicate with your students through official school channels, such as e-mail. Only allow students to be Facebook friends after they graduate. Have a webpage for your choir program. Save your MIDI files in a standard format (I suggest mp3 files).
  5. Most controversial topic: using cell phones in school, taking advantage of that technology.
  6. Items I wish I had discussed in the presentation: ClassJump as a free option for teachers wanting to start a web page, but not ready/willing to spend lots of time maintaining the page. I also should have tried to play one of my Finale-created practice files.
  7. What annoyed me the most: No wi-fi in a convention center? As I mentioned in the presentation, why would anyone ever want that? Also, the 1/8″ (mini-stereo) hook-up provided by the convention center wouldn’t work…thus making the possibility of playing anything off the computer or iPhone ineffective for such a large room.
  8. Things I would want to talk about next year: SMARTboards, Moodle, ClassJump, more about iPods in music education.

Here are some links from my presentation (discussion or PowerPoint) that may be useful for you:

  • Some people had not heard about the Freehand Tablet, which I see as the future of sheet music, for so many reasons. The technology of the Kindle makes me know that this is a future reality for the entire profession (instrumental and choral).
  • A history of the iPod on Google Video…a great summary of the growth of the iPod from Fall 2001 to 2006. The iPod shouldn’t have made it…but it did…and it is now the most ubiquitous mp3 player on the planet.

Thanks again to all who participated! I really had a blast presenting to you!

PowerPoint Remotes

One of the big news items from the recent Macworld Conference was an Apple-sponsored remote for Apple’s PowerPoint program, Keynote. A quick search in the AppStore revealed several existing programs that offer the same or similar functions for PowerPoint, Keynote, or more. I examined four programs, three of which still appear on my iPhone. Those programs would be i-Clickr, Pointer Remote for PowerPoint and Keynote, iPresenter, and TouchPad Elite.

i-Clickr is a PowerPoint tool for Windows and Mac which offers a full version ($9.99) as well as a “lite” version. Apparently the Lite version works exactly like the full version, but only works for presentations of 15 slides or less. I downloaded the Lite version, and tried out the software. The program requires you to install a program on your personal computer, and then to connect to that computer through your iPhone via wi-fi. The program works, but I felt there was a significant “lag” in the amout of time it took a slide to load on the iPhone. Perhaps this is the result of a graphical interface between the computer and the device, but since you have to load a program onto your computer, you would think that the program would somehow be able to pre-load a slide, so that it showed up on your device and your computer (presentation) at the same time. I also couldn’t get some of the buttons to work in landscape mode. As a person that owns a Mac and PCs, and works in an all-PC educational environment, dual platform programs make a lot of sense. But I wasn’t sure that it was worth spending $9.99 on the full version of this program when there were so many other choices in the AppStore, so I moved on.


PointerRemote for PowerPoint and Keynote ($0.99) is a program that acts as both a remote and a pointer for PowerPoint and Keynote, but only for Mac OS 10.5, and not for Windows. As such, unless I use my Macbook for presentations at school, this program is not useable in my PC-Only place of employment. However, the price tag and feature list caused me to buy the program and put it on my computer. You must install a program on your computer, just as with i-Clickr, and when that program links to your iPhone, you can control a PowerPoint or Keynote address over wi-fi. The selling point are the three pointers you can use to interact with your presentation…two laser-like red images, and a customizable PNG image as a third image. I converted our school’s logo to a small pointer image, and used that pointer in class, and the kids were blown away by that. Ultimately, it was $0.99 spent on an “shock and awe” factor, and I think it paid itself back. Sometimes the response time lagged slightly (for example, when leading sight-reading off of solfège symbols, but it worked well enough. Still, I was looking for a PowerPoint remote that interacted with Mac and PC…so I kept looking.


iPresenter for Microsoft Powerpoint ($3.99) was the next program I investigated, which, unlike Pointer Remote, is only for PC (not for Mac). iPresenter is one of the oldest PowerPoint controllers, having been released in October 2008. Once again, a program must be installed on the PC for the program to work through the iPhone, and it works reasonably well. There is a similar lag as with iClickr. You can see your present slide as you talk, or you can see the next slide in your presentation. This software, if memory serves, was once over $10, so it seemed logical to purchase this before the full version of iClickr. This program isn’t helpful to me if I want to run a PowerPoint presentation on my Mac, but for school (PC Only) solutions, seems to be a good option for $4.


TouchPad Elite ($4.99) was the most visually bland, yet most flexible piece of software that I downloaded. The program works natively with Mac (no software install required, although you can install a program which gives you greater media control) and works with PC with the installation of a program. Basically, this program turns your iPhone into the touchpad of a computer (like a notebook computer, or like the new Macbook). In other words, you are not limited to ONLY PowerPoint or Keynote. You can use the iPhone keyboard to type, or switch to a presentation control. Like the many types of tablet controllers, you cannot see your computer’s screen on your iPhone as you move around the touchpad, but as many of us are accustomed to using a touchpad on a computer, the interface is easier to navigate than with a full-size tablet controller. Like all the other programs, the interface is provided through a wi-fi connection.


In summary, the most important thing to note is that you need to have a wi-fi connection for all of these program to work, although some do allow for peer-to-peer (computer to iPhone) connections. The interface is not irDa (infared), so if you own a current clicker or even the Apple wireless remote (with a Macbook), this may be a better solution for you. However, those clickers are usually $20 or more. If you have wi-fi where you work, one of these >$10 PowerPoint remotes may be the thing for you.

At $9.99, i-Clickr is the best solution for PC and Mac if you want PowerPoint control, and PowerPoint only. iPresenter offers the same options for PC as i-Clicker, for $5 less. For $0.99, PowerPoint Remote is a nice “surprise” for users of Macs with the use of a customized pointer. However, the best application for all-around use (PC or Mac, and any program on your computer) is TouchPad Elite for $4.99. The program interacts seamlessly with the Mac, and is the most flexible of the group of programs reviewed here.