As an English teacher I have spent many years considering how we manage to create a paperless classroom in a subject that still needs us to use pens. No matter what our opinions on the need for handwriting skills, it’s there in our global curriculum and it is still a skill that is required. For some learners, there is no denying that writing with a pen helps us to process what we’re learning. Add to that the need to move away from computer rooms and to support students and teachers who still feel more comfortable writing and expressing themselves with pen and paper (I’ve said a number of times that it’s dangerous to assume that all young people want to use computers all the time) and there is still an opportunity for someone to develop a tool which bridges the gap between digital, paperless classroom and the more traditional version we often see today.
Over they years I’ve explored things like WACOM’s Inkling and many other USB devices. The problem with something that requires you to run via USB is that you need to have a way to get the information students have created from the device and store it somewhere. I imagined 30 USB hubs, a massive storage area on a server somewhere and a fair bit of time being taken away from learning. In 2010, I was also very excited about the original KNO tablet, but it was very expensive and, in the end, sold out and became an iOS app instead! Since then, nothing has really caught my eye.
Introducing Happy Bird
It would seem the solution to the problem might have required two young entrepreneurs from different sides of the globe. One began considering the power of visual learning whilst he was studying Law at Murdoch Uni, the other a young man from London with a curiosity as to what drives people’s passion. They wanted to create something that would combat the high prices of both technology and textbooks and motivate people to learn. A little like the guys at the original KNO startup they wanted to:
replace.. “heavy backpacks with digital backpacks would not only put an end to the deforming back problems faced by millions of young people, but also make learning more fun, effective and cheaper for them”
These two guys have managed to achieve an awful lot already. They’ve got further than KNO ever did and since their launch in January 2014 and people are snapping up their device all over the world. In fact, they’re currently so popular, they’re out of stock!
(more than 2,200 units) sold out within 72 hours, a sign that innovation appeals to students
A quick stop at their website and I can see purchases being made in Paris, demos being given to tutors at UCL and enquiries from Kings College London. Even the BBC have given them a mention! I love how this device has been born out of the frustrations that a learner was having and has been powered by ‘the crowd’. They’ve given learners a voice and asked them to help promote something that able to take learners’ frustrations about cost, connectivity, space and practicality and offer a solution. Maybe, this is what I’ve been looking for a very long time?
Here’s the original Crowd Source video that got people interested enough to help it become a reality.
Having got quite excited by the prospect of Happy Bird, and started chatting via Twitter with the team, I recently had the pleasure of having a chat with co-founder Jackson Anni about his device. He showed me the tablet over the webcam and has since agreed to send me one to have a play with.The video focuses on many of the same issues that Kno tried to address but I’m keen to see what I can make it do, practically in the classroom!
What does it do?
It’s an Android based device so you get the benefit of the apps available from that store. What’s different is the handwriting input method. That part looks a little like things I’ve tried in the past with the added bonus of its ability to talk straight to an Android tablet. There’s no need to save data to a USB stick and then find a way for 30 students to plug that in somewhere and save it to a network area. Using a tablet device allows the possibility for cloud storage and maybe even collaboration?
It works by clipping a small device to the top of your pad of paper (any paper – no special pads required). There are two options as to how the device communicates with the tablet. One model uses a USB connection, the other uses Bluetooth. It reads, interprets and sends what you’re writing (or drawing) in real-time to an app called iNote. At the moment, this is the only app that can work with the handwriting device and so I’m keen to explore its potential. Innovative hardware needs innovative software to enable us, as teachers and learners, to apply our pedagogically knowledge to help enhance learning. If we could get the device to talk to any app in the Android store…. well just imagine! I hope this is something that is being considered? 😉
What About the Price Tag?
The good news is the price tag. In a budget conscious Education world, it’s truly inexpensive. It was designed to fit a market of students who want (or are expected) to have a mobile device to work with for their studies but who do not have the budget to afford a more expensive option. Without the perceived ‘bells and whistles’ of something like a high end iPad, the team at IamHappyBird hope to have created an effective and innovative alternative. As this is such a new product and Jackson (originally from WA) and the team are about to launch in Australia, they are looking for up to 1000 UK and Australian schools a £/$1-FREE trial of HappyBird for a 1-month period. If you, like me, would like to have a look, to see what you can get this device to do, if you’re interested in innovative ideas, or a way to get reluctant technologists (students or otherwise) on board, get in touch with him and he’ll get you all set up. We can experiment together 🙂
I love iPads. I have one and I use it all the time, I’ve published a fair few things to the iTunes and iBooks stores. But it can be restrictive in many ways (cost not being the only issue) and I have a deep concern for those who buy class sets because iPads are ‘what are expected’ at the moment. There are heaps of other alternatives out there; Surface and the many Android tablets for example. If we’re avoiding being techno-centric, and choosing technology based upon its potential to promote and provide deeper learning opportunities, we need to be considering the wider picture and making sure that the devices we select are being chosen because of the opportunities they afford us and our students to integrate our teaching pedagogy and learning content with technology. If they’re not enhancing learning and teaching, then don’t buy them.
Let’s See What This Baby Can Do
I’m really excited to see what Happy Bird can add to the mix. Once I’ve got it, I’ll share some videos and experiments with you 🙂 I want to give it a real run for its money. I’ve got a lesson ideas I’d like to see how it would cope with but if there’s something you’d like me to try please feel free to share! I’m happy to make this a community test drive! In fact, if you’re in Adelaide, and you want to have a play too… let me know! 🙂