Using an iPhone scanner app to get marked work to students

The colleague that I share an AS Level English Language group with is off school at the moment, just as our deadline for submitting their coursework is coming up.

As I was leaving school yesterday for the weekend, I noticed that she had sent in some drafts that she had commented on. I’d asked the students to complete the coursework by this coming Monday.

What a pity that many of them would be handing in that coursework, or working on it further over the weekend without the benefit of those comments.

So, I’ve just spent a few minutes snapping the pages on my iPhone using the JotNot Scanner Pro app, and emailing them as PDF’s to the students directly from within the app.

(I just hope they heeded my injunction yesterday that they should be checking their school email on a daily basis, or – as I do, having it auto-forwarded to an email address they do check regularly.

A picture’s worth a thousand – erm – hours, probably, the way I’ve gone at it

I’ve made a monumental meal of this task, and I’ve still only done the first part of it, as the deadline swings round with assignment 2 already up and running.

My first thought was to bang it out quickly in a few moments before going to sleep by seeing what I could find in the way of vector graphic apps for the iphone. After I’d trawled through the options (I didn’t really want to pay what with not knowing what I was looking for, and being a bit of a cheapskate and all) I downloaded the ‘lite’ (ie. free, and – it turns out – pretty useless) version of miniDraw.

I sort of know what layers are, though not how to utilise them, but Bezier curves mean nothing to me. I thought that even though the iPhone screen is only small, that it wouldn’t be a problem for the simple shape-based graphic that was suggested as the outcome for this assignment, but it turns out I was horribly wrong. Maybe if you know what you’re doing with this kind of software and have an eye for design it might be OK, but I just found myself fiddling aimlessy with it for ages. I’d also had a quick look at  some of the keenies who’d already posted their assignment results, complete with sketchbooks and mind-maps and what-have-you outlining the ‘creative process’. I’m not mocking that, honest: I’d love to be able to plan something coherently and then get the damn thing done, but I’ve always struggled to work in anything like a systematic way.

So what actually happened was that I was playing about and kind of accidentally drew a line that curved in a way that reminded me a bit of  the sweep of a page of an open book, and I thought, well – I’m an English teacher: that’ll do.

I figured out how to copy the line, and then mirror it to produce a number of  ‘pages’ and then it all got incredibly frustrating. Once I’ve started something like this, though, I can’t let it go, even when it’s not really working. What I should have done is learned from the experience that the iphone wasn’t really working as a tool for this job, and transferred straight to one of the tools recommended in the assignment. I did actually try that at one point, but couldn’t quite replicate the curve of the line that I’d by now become rather attached to.

There followed several comedy hours where things happened that were a complete mystery to me. I couldn’t work out how to select multiple ‘objects’ so every line was completely separate when it came to wanting to recolour the image (though I could resize and rotate the whole thing). And somehow I’d created multiple objects on top of each other so I had to keep moving and deleting them until there was only one left so I could apply colour.  I guess it probably gave me a little taste of what many of my students must feel when I’m asking them to do something that to me seems obvious, but they just don’t get it (sorry, year 11 set 4, about all that ‘varying sentence structure’ stuff).

Also, being an English teacher, I couldn’t quite stick to the injunction ‘no words’, so by Saturday morning I had this:

after faffing about for ages on my iphone, this is as far as I'd got

I ended up having to pay £2.49 for the full version of the app just to export it in a format that the free Inkscape software could read, as it became clear that I was going to drive myself insane carrying on as I was. I did begrudge that £2.49, particularly as I’m unlikely to use that app again in anger (with anger, perhaps!), but then I reflected that I was paying about the price of a coffee for a piece of software that not so long ago would have cost tens of times more for similar functionality, so I stumped up, and then spent ages more trying to work out how the gradient editor works in Inkscape, and fiddling about with all those little lines.

Here’s what I wound up with in the end:

That's all folks!

I ‘evaluated’ it by showing it to my Y12 English Language & Literature class on Monday morning. It seems I’m the only person who sees that squiggle as the page of a book. After an embarrassed silence, one of them ventured: “Is it, like, train tracks or something, sir?”

Oh well.

After a little explanation of my thinking behind it (much of it post-rationalised, I have to say), one of my charges was kind enough to say, “Wow, that’s really intelligent, sir.” I don’t think she was being sarcastic, but I do think she’s easily impressed.

Having seen Nicola McNee’s contribution to this assignment, we appear to have experienced very similar frustrations, and to have been thinking along very similar lines, although I do think her sign is much more elegant than mine.


(I wonder if our idea behind the colour scheme was the same?

Ed Tech Creative Collective

I like the idea of being part of a collective. It’s a good, solid, wholesome word. I’m not a self-starter, so I’m hoping that being part of a collective will give a bit of focus and direction to my meddlings.

I like the euphony of ‘collective’ and ‘creative’.

I don’t expect that anyone has read through this blog thus far, and I certainly don’t expect anyone to do so now. But if you did, you’d see that I’ve blown hot & cold, and hither & thither with it. I also have other bits of online projects scattered in various bits of cyberspace. I want to be a bit less of a flibbertigibbet and a bit more of a getupandgetit.

To be creative, I think I need constraints, as well as cues. So, a collective it is then.

(I just hope, and – as far as I am able – intend, that this will be, for me, not just another kind of failure.

The Relief

There must surely be some way of combating those back-to-school feelings I wrote about, given that for the best part of two decades I think I’ve only once or twice had a start of term that felt anywhere near as bad as the anxiety that presaged it.

This last week has been fine. I even got some positive feedback, in response to setting up the @McAuleyEnglish Twitter feed:

The Fear

For days, that familiar cloud has been hovering and last night, as I tried to sleep, it unleashed its torrent of black rain.

I'm back at school tomorrow and have been chastising myself (as always) for not getting the work done in advance that I wanted to do. I also intended to start, or re-start a number of other projects such as blogging properly, and – as so often – have composed a number of posts mentally that I never got round even to starting on the keyboard.

Even as I'm typing now, my mind is screaming "give it up: you got up later than you wanted to; you still have breakfast to make; you've at least got to get some marking started" and on, and on, and on. My mind is full of all the people I've come to admire and, yes, envy, for their ability to blog and tweet cogent and interesting material on a seemingly daily basis and be successful careerists with a range of interesting hobbies, and my feelings of inadequacy and and self-chastisement at not being a patch on them are cresting a wave again.

However, a few moments ago as I drew the curtains, having told my daughter I wouldn't have time to play Mario Kart with her as I just have too much work to do, the sun streamed in and she just said, "Happy day!", so I'm trying to think, "Why the hell not?" And it's most likely to be a happy day if I'm doing things I should be doing (albeit that it will never be enough), rather than wallowing in fear & loathing.