Thursday, May 5, 2011

iPads were Everywhere! Connected Teachers and their Tools

The Association of Independent Schools in Maryland (AIMS) just held its annual Technology Retreat. This event brought together 134 librarians, technology educators, division heads, heads of school, IT staff, and teachers for two and a half days of collaboration, discussion, and networking on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. As a member of the planning committee, I have seen the retreat change over time. Once upon a time, we asked people to leave computers home, with the idea that we were taking time out from our usual behavior to retreat together. In the last couple of years not only did we see more laptops at every session, but our keynote speakers requested them, so that we could learn to interact with each other during the talks. Last year two attendees created quite a stir when they arrived with their new iPads.

This year marked a whole new era for the Tech Retreat. At every session it seemed as if one third to half the group set up their iPads or iPad2's. Many of us are preparing to integrate them and have taken a similar vow: use the iPad for everything to see if it can do it all. Leave that laptop in your room (or at home) to force yourself to practice using the iPad.

Another new aspect of the Retreat was the authentic integration of our AIMS Ning site as a note-taking and sharing tool, and the use of Twitter to communicate our discoveries with the outside world and to share our learning with our colleagues in the room. All this was done from my iPad2, using the virtual keyboard and no other accessories.

My experience using my iPad at the Retreat was very positive. The iPad picks up networks well, so access was seamless. I used Evernote to record my thinking during sessions and have it synced to my laptop. I had HootSuite running on the iPad, along with the iPad Twitter App in order to follow the action on the #AIMStech11 stream along our more permanent hashtag #AIMSchat. Sending tweets was quick and easy - although HootSuite does not remember hashtags while the Twitter app does. Guess which one I ended up using! I appreciate the way Safari saves your pages and was able to keep all my usual resources open and find them quickly (webmail, Facebook, the Ning, my blogs, etc.)

Those who were posting to the Ning during sessions still found that a laptop was a better tool, however. The process of grabbing a URL to copy/paste it to a discussion is much more direct on a laptop, unless we are missing something about the iPad set up. I also find that my habit of following a Twitter stream and dropping in to select an interesting link is inhibited on the iPad by the fact that I then step out of the stream to be transported to Safari. In Safari I have not successfully linked my Diigo account, so while I can use the Diigo app, I can't easily bookmark a link directly from Safari. (I believe there is away through Web Highlighter, but it didn't set up correctly the first time.) And while I'm doing all that, I'm missing seeing the Twitter stream!

We held sessions about iPads and we made many connections with colleagues in local schools who are launching pilots similar to ours. Now there are plans to meet regularly to share our experiences. I look forward to where it will all go from here!

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