Five Ways that a Mac can Make a Teacher's Life Easier
by Nick Acton
1) Instant Alpha
If you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself creating most of your own teaching or learning resources. I’ve found that I can spend a lot of time searching for worksheets that fit my Learning Objective. Or I can create my own professional looking and completely bespoke worksheets in half the time. I can say this with confidence, due to little functions within Keynote, Pages and iBooks Author. One such function is called ‘Instant Alpha’. This handy tool enables me to select backgrounds on images and cleverly delete them. This results in a ‘PNG’ version of the original image. In other words, with minimal effort and no real computing skill, you can effectively ‘Photoshop’ an image without using Photoshop at all. This small feature has saved me countless minutes when I’ve been creating and formatting worksheets. Watch the video for a detailed explanation of how ‘Instant Alpha’ works…
2) Saving Webpages Offline
Schools can be unpredictable places. Unfortunately, the unpredictability can spread to the technology as well. One of the most detrimental technological foibles is the dreaded eventuality of the Wifi failing on you. For some school’s, the lack of internet connection can derail entire lessons. Thankfully, Safari has a nifty solution to this problem in its back pocket. By adding webpages to the Favourites or Reading List on Safari, you can then opt to ‘Save Offline’. This means that whatever is available on the page you have saved, will be operational even if there is no Wifi available. Nowadays we have plenty of Web Browsers available to us. Some are better than others. Some are almost identical to each other. Not all of them have the capabilities that Safari has. I would say that the feature of easily saving entire webpages offline, is enough to convert any teacher that has suffered from Wifi dropouts in the past. Watch the video to see exactly how you save webpages offline…
3) The Backdrop Feature on Photo Booth
Apple are well known for their creative sensibilities. They have always tried to instil some awe and wonder within their devices. Photo Booth is a good example of their dedication to technological wonderment. To most, Photo Booth is a fun app to have a play around on. It uses the webcam on the Mac and enables you to put a whole range of onscreen effects over your photos. The fact that the camera is always pointing directly at you, means that you are the centre of attention on every image (like a Photo Booth). So how does this relate to education? Well, one of the effects available is called ‘Backdrops’. This does exactly as it sounds. It enables you to use any image as a backdrop for a photo or video. The potential for creative and engaging teaching resources are endless with this effect. You can put yourself in front of the pyramids for a Geography lesson, or make it look like you’re in space for a Science activity. The filming element means that you can record facts or create an intro video to a unit of work. It essentially gives anyone the means to do some ‘Green Screening’ without a green screen. See how effective it is by watching the video guide.
4) Working with Time Machine
Is there anything more dreadful than accidentally deleting entire reams of work? Of course there is, but you have to admit, it’s pretty annoying when it happens. Especially if you are a teacher. You don’t have any time to waste in the first place. You certainly don’t have time to completely re-write an entire set of reports! In moments like this, a Mac can really save the day. It can retrieve work and/or multiple windows of work via the ‘Time Machine’. This feature comes as standard with every Mac. Essentially, it works a little bit like an in-car dashcam. Whilst you work away, the Time Machine is saving snapshots of your interaction with your Mac. Should you need to, you can scroll back through your day and find the moment ‘when it all went wrong’. The moment when you accidentally hit the wrong button and deleted your seventy- page document, or lost the webpage that you needed, or dropped that file in the wrong folder, or mixed up the name of your presentation. You get the point. Time Machine can be a lifesaver. See it in action by watching the video guide.
5) Mission Control, Launch Pad and Siri
When it comes to the busy life of a teacher, the workflow is everything. Making sure that you are performing tasks in the most efficient way can be the difference between a ‘work-life balance’ and a ‘work-life battle’. For my money, the Mac provides it’s users with intuitive and easy-to-use interfaces that communicate beautifully with the hardware and result in frustration-free technological experiences. Mission Control, Launch Pad and Siri are all brilliant examples of this seamless workflow. Mission Control, simply separates all of the windows you have open and arranges them on the screen in an easy to digest fashion. You can then find the window you’re after in no time at all. Launch Pad displays all of your apps on the screen in a way that is reminiscent of an iPad or iPhone. Again, it means that you can see all of the apps and their icons on the screen together. This helps you to navigate from one application to the next but it also means that, if you forget the name of the app, your memory can be jogged by the icon. And finally, Siri is available on all Macs. This voice-activated assistant can help with an endless list of tasks. See how much these little features can impact on day-to-day workflow by watching the video.
It’s always going to be difficult jumping from one piece of technology to another. I admit that I am fully indoctrinated in the ways of Apple at this stage. I would find it difficult to get my head around the equivalents of the aforementioned features on any other non-Apple device. However, I would still encourage anyone to try out a Mac and see how they get on. I cannot say that about many other devices out there. I believe in its power so wholeheartedly, that I have even converted my parents over to Apple devices. Anyone who has ever trained any of their family upon anything will know that that can be a painful experience. For teachers, however, I think it’s a no brainer. Teaching is a profession that relies on creativity, efficiency, admin expertise and collaboration amongst other skills. The Mac can undoubtedly support all of those aspects of teaching. Not only that, it can help to enhance all of those areas. If you own an iPad or perhaps an iPhone, think about how multifaceted and intelligent that device is. Now consider that the Mac is more powerful than the two of them combined. The Mac has made hundreds of positive impacts in the classroom, but above all, it’s made life easier.
Nick Acton - ICT coordinator at Maldon Court Preparatory School