Apps for the classroom

As an educator, I have two problems in my classroom.

I can’t remember the names of students for the life of me, and taking role is a pain in the tuchus.

I have tried a variety of means of matching faces and names, but it usually comes down to which students catch my attention. Excellent students who are involved in class, I learn their names fast. Students who annoy me via distraction, not following directions, etc, they also make the cut for my memory.

Next up, I usually take role by putting out an attendance sheet for students to sign in on. That works most of the time for most of the students, but some students forget to sign in, and I have to keep printing up new sheets.

Enter the iphone app Attendance. (iTunes store link $4.99) Thanks to one of my colleagues for suggesting the app and to the Chronicle for reviewing the app (and featuring it a second time). Their recommendations were key to my purchasing the app.

With this app, I can scroll through the class roster, with pictures and through this, I have managed to learn the names of most of my 80+ students in my three biology courses in a few short weeks, and I notice not only when a student is absent, I know the student’s name!

Other users have found the “random student” feature is useful for students who want to quiz themselves. I haven’t used that function very often as I found that I was learning student names at an acceptable pace without it.

Setup takes moderate knowledge of how to use a spreadsheet program, and depending on the nature of your school’s bank of ID photos, adding pictures can take a while. I had to download each individual image and upload them to my iPhone in a folder. Since many of my students have changed their appearance since their freshman year when photos are taken, replacing ones that don’t match up is a good idea. This is very easy to do, as you can just take a picture with the iphone’s camera.

It requires a couple of modest tweaks after installation to be useful in courses that meet multiple times in a single day (lecture/lab) and to show the student pictures. Under the main settings tab, scroll down to Attendance, and switch on the “Show Picture” tab and the “Multiple times per day” tab, and you are set.

One of the most useful features, though is that you can sync and backup your roster, log and pictures to dropbox.com. (If you don’t have a dropbox account, get one, and feel free to use my referral link. You will never have to carry a thumb drive again.)

I have also found it useful to record class lectures with the HT Professional Recorder app ($4.99). It is relatively common for me to have at least one student that would be helped by having access to a recorded lectures. This app does a very decent job of capturing the lecture as a wav file, and a recent update lets me use the iTunes interface to sync the recorded files to a folder on my desktop. It is then a simple manner to use a free MP3 converter to condense the wav files to MP3s and then upload them to the class website for anybody to download. This also is a big help to students who have to miss classes due to illness, family emergency, etc. They don’t get the entire experience of being in the class, but at least they don’t miss everything.

Neither of these iPhone apps is free, but they have been well worth the price I paid for them. To my knowledge, they are are not available for other smartphone OSs.

Have you found any apps that are useful for the  classroom? Please share.