Sunday, 10 November 2013

What they don't tell you about BYOT

Hey.  I like the idea of students bringing their own devices/apps/tech-understanding to class just as much as the next teacher.  Well...more actually.  I like not thinking I have to book the computer lab every day.  I like the back channel going on when I teach.  I like students communicating with each other online, solving problems, sharing knowledge.

And I like the variety of tech each student brings.  But I want to be realistic: a multi-platform environment brings its challenges.

How do I hand in my file?
Where is the text reader on my Surface RT?
In what app should I take my notes, Mr. Robinson?
How does my Android tablet get onto the school's wifi?

These kind of questions are commonplace.  And although I like to have a good healthy portion of "you figure it out" in my classroom, a teacher needs to have a good healthy portion of answers as well.

True multi-platform-ness
Oh how single-minded I have been.  In February, I posted Iphone Utility Apps and shared some of my favourite and most useful Iphone Apps.  I ended the post with:

Notetaking, scanning, printing, accessing files and blogs, and Sharepoint access: all taken care of. So readers. . .what am I missing? 

I know now what I was missing. 

Everything.  Everything for Windows users, everything for Android users.

I was missing the point.

So my penance was to purchase a Google tablet.  (I love having great excuses for tech purchases :))My penance was to spend more time on my Surface RT.   And my penance was to learn more about each platform and share.

So here is a post for BYOT teachers struggling with the plethora of platforms and devices in their classes.

Now, it is not hard to find sites that talk about multiplatform apps.  A great one is here: Apps and Sites That Work on All Devices for BYOT by @Edu_thompson.

But if you are looking for some device-specific help, here is some need-to-know BYOT info.  This post will start with the in's and out's of the Android platform.

Android Devices can be your friends
The Buttons

picture from Engadget found here
Variety being the spice of life and all, you'd think that the many iterations of buttons on Android devices would taste like a Sichuan Hot-Pot.  But for a teacher bleary-eyed from device overwhelm, the sight of a new button configuration might lead to running through the halls like decapitated poultry.  To simplify, there are five main things to look for in your Android device.  Here are three:

Now while the back button can lead to a variety of places it invariably goes...back.  Very important when you find yourself stuck at a dead end.  The home button will take you to your start screen while the Multitasking button will show you what apps are running. These apps can be deactivated typically by flipping them off the screen.  But wait...there's more.
Don't miss this one.
It is the menu button.  It can bring up all sorts of app specific options.  If it feels like you are stuck in an app with no options, look for it.  You might even have a physical button on the device.

And finally there is the search "magnifying glass".  The search looks through apps but can also search through the web. 


Now, Android devices are a plenty and so are their ways to get on the net.  A good tip, though, is whenever you see the 4 bar pie shape, the wireless menu can't be far away.  For instance, a simple tap on the time/WiFi button above will get you to a pop up that will lead to the WiFi settings page.
If that won't work, click on an app that says Settings.  There will be one in the app list.

Managing Files
While each Apple app manages it own files and Windows devices have a unified file system (remnants of the My Computer icon of old), I found that I needed to get an app to help me navigate the Android ecosystem. For me, ES File Manager, is that app. This free Android app is a must. If you want your Android device to access a network and retrieve files this is the first app you should download.  It can be found on both Google Play and Amazon App stores.

Word Processing
Of course your Windows devices have MS Office.  Apple has Pages and Documents to Go but an app that has come to the forefront is Quickoffice. It is a free way to access your Google Drive that has 'open in' functionality--meaning you can create, edit, then open up your docs in other IOS apps.  This is very useful when you employ a learning management system.  For Android, Kingsoft Office Suite is my 'go to' app.  Kingsoft has a free word processing Android app.  Use it in conjunction with the ES File Manager and you can create, edit, manage, and store documents, presentations, and spreadsheets.
Playing Around is Key
Well those are some of the basics: navigation, WiFi access, filing, and word processing.  Because Android devices are so prevalent, it is hard to nail down specific 'step by steps'.  But getting a hang of the commonalities will give you enough knowledge to say your students "you figure it out" with confidence, knowing that in the end, you could help them find what they need...if you wanted.