IT | Features

6 Must-Have Apps for Tech Leaders

These tablet tools will help technology directors and coordinators make the most out of their mobile devices.

Apps for TCs

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A school’s technology staff is always on the go, so they need a mobile ecosystem that is as flexible as they are. Following up on last month’s article in which we asked principals for their mission-critical apps, we sought out mobile-savvy technology directors and coordinators and asked them to share the applications and mobile-friendly Web tools that they use to work with teachers, manage technology and schedule their days the smart way. Here’s what they had to say.

1) Evernote
Susan Bearden, who has worked in various technology roles throughout her career and is now the director of IT at Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy (FL), said, “I use Evernote because I can access my content wherever I am.” To Bearden, that compatibility is important, as she’s liable to switch among four different computing devices on any given day. “I can create notes on the fly and you can add other content, like audio or pictures,” she added. Bearden frequently uses the app to take notes in meetings, document the state of her school’s technology and share files with others via Dropbox. It also serves as her daily to-do list via a built-in “checkbox” feature.

2) Notability
Allen Miedema, the director of technology for Northshore School District in Bothell, WA, relies on this note-taking mainstay, which he originally picked because it scored top marks in syncing up with the file-sharing sites he uses. “I also like that Notability gives me a couple different ways that I can take notes,” he said. “If I want to type some notes, which I normally do, I can, but if I want to do some drawing and put in some audio I can do that as well, without it getting too complicated.”

3) Hapara
This tool works with desktops as well as mobile devices. Miedema’s district has come to rely on Hapara, whose name was taken from the Maori word for “daybreak.” The program acts as a layer over Google Apps for Education, letting users organize their documents by subject and move them around. Students, for example, can complete work, alert their teacher and drop it in special “completed” or “homework” folders. Teachers can check on students’ progress from an iPad through a “remote control” feature and can even control student devices if they wish. “Our classroom teachers use it all day long, whether they know they’re using it or not,” said Miedema.

Hapara also links up with other district systems to automatically enroll and drop students as they come and go. In a district like Northshore, which has a high mobility rate, this feature creates significant time savings. “Say you’re a secondary math teacher and you have 150 kids,” Miedema said. “You can create those folders, but managing those folders as kids come and go can be a huge problem. Hapara ties into our Active Directory services and our student information system. As a kid enrolls in your geometry class, it creates a folder in the right place, so the new kid has a Google Apps space before they walk into your classroom, and it all happens automatically. I know if we took it away from our secondary teachers they’d stop using Google Docs. Their class lists would just become unmanageable.”

4. Twitter
This invaluable social media platform is useful for any educator, and technology leaders are no different. Bearden said, “In terms of trying to stay abreast of ed tech trends, there’s no better way to do it.” She tweets frequently using iPad apps like HootSuite and TweetList, the latter of which helps her organize her followers into lists separated by interest or topic. When the iPad was first released, she connected with other early adopters to swap tips and app ideas. Lately, she’s been following developments on Google Classroom, Google’s bare-bones LMS, and chatting with beta users before a general release.

In addition to using Twitter to manage and expand her personal learning network, Bearden moderates and participates in a number of weekly chats. For those in technology, she recommends #edtechchat, which takes place on Mondays from 8 to 9 p.m. EST and which she co-founded with other tech directors around the country. “We were very much interested in how to bridge the gap between IT operations and educators, so #edtechchat is a great way to stay abreast of education trends and connect with other tech directors,” she said. “If you’re interested in specific technologies, there’s a #BYOTchat that meets at 9 p.m. EST on Thursdays and a 1-to-1 iPad chat, #1to1ipadchat.”

5) Simple In/Out
Miedema and his team frequently use this free app as a sort of digital upgrade to the cluttered, stationary whiteboard that he once used to track his team’s schedules. Through a GPS technology called “geofencing,” the app lets users plot out the boundaries of their office or school campus. As members of Miedema’s team pass in and out of the geofenced zone, they’re automatically checked in or out of the location, and their status is accessible to everybody else.

“We have a staff that moves around a lot,” Miedema said. “Especially during the summer, they’re working in four to five locations. It’s always been a hassle for us to know exactly where, say, Tim is going. Everybody says they’re going to let you know, but no one ever does.” While it may make the most sense to load the app on a smartphone, Miedema says his school’s buildings often suffer from poor signal strength, making a WiFi enabled iPad a better fit. “If you’re on our network, it can pick you up with this application. Even if we can’t call them, we can still go and track them down.”

6) iTunes U
For an app most commonly associated with student courses, iTunes U actually has a lot of potential for professional development, according to Lucy Gray, an Apple Distinguished Educator and consultant who often works with tech coordinators. As Gray explained, “iTunes U is a section of the iTunes store that has completely free material.” K-12 offerings include videos and books, and educators can use their iPads to organize their collections with a tool called iTunes U Course Manager. Courses can then be shared with the general public through iTunes.

Previously, Apple required courses to be built with a Mac, but recent updates have put everything right in the iPad app. Gray said, “Internally, it is a mechanism for organizing and pushing out stuff to your faculty and your students.” She added that schools like Lake Forest Academy (IL) and Kansas’ Blue Valley School District, which share their PD with others, are often considered among the leaders in that area. “I think for tech coordinators, a big part of what they do should be researching and thinking and searching on their practice,” she said. “It’s not just about the technology, it’s also the philosophy that goes behind it.”

5 Tech-Friendly Collaboration Apps
Students and teachers aren’t the only ones who need to collaborate on a daily basis. Technology leaders often find themselves documenting what’s happening in a classroom, sharing with teachers and colleagues, or creating materials to present at meetings. Here’s a selection of apps to lean on when working with others.

Haiku Deck is a slideware app that lets users create presentations and then share them on the Web. According to Lucy Gray, an innovation coach and consultant based in Northbrook, IL, Haiku Deck “incorporates Creative Commons licensed images and cites it at the end of the presentation, so it makes it really easy to make something copyright-friendly.” Free.

Collaboration tool combines classic brainstorming elements like sticky notes and X/Y-axis charts with Pinterest-like photo and video pinning — and it works with multiple users for simultaneous collaboration. Discounted subscriptions for educators.

Edmodo is not just for the teachers, Gray said. “If you dig around, there are different groups for different people, including tech directors,” she explained. Education companies may also maintain their own groups, where tech leaders can chat directly with reps. Free.

Messaging app Remind allows tech leaders to send out texts and reminders to individuals or groups, without having to trade your cell phone number with everyone. Free.

Part note-taker, part free sketch tool, Talkboard almost resembles an interactive whiteboard in that it lets users pull in images and share them to other devices. Free.