Meet Simon McKenzie!
Can you tell us more about who you are and how you got involved in EdTech?
I have been a secondary school teacher since 1981. During my 33 years in schools I have held numerous positions of responsibility. At various stages I have been Head of a subject department, a Year Level Coordinator, a Dean of Students, and an Assistant Principal.
Since mid-2012 I have held the position of Learning Technologies Coordinator at Aquinas College, a Catholic school on the Gold Coast: Australia’s most famous beach resort.
At age 55, I am a “late convert” to the digital world. My involvement really began when my wife won a first-generation iPad in a raffle. For a considerable time I had been looking for something new to help transform my History and English classrooms. I soon bought my first iPad (tech envy is a real illness!), put in lots of practice hours, and became the tech guru at my school.
What does it mean to you to be a "connected teacher”?
For me, connectedness is key: I chose @connectedtchr as my Twitter handle and similarly named my professional blog to represent that.
In many ways, Twitter has been my "professional salvation” and there is no better platform for becoming connected. It has given me the opportunity to become a frequent conference presenter, a writer for the Australian Teacher Magazine and a guest lecturer at the Australian Catholic University.
More importantly, I have been able to use it to connect my students with experts outside the confines of our classroom: other students, museums, universities, authors and even field archaeologists.
How has technology changed the way you prepare for and teach in the classroom?
I have never believed in “technology for technology’s sake.” My school has a 1:1 program which has provided all 1000 students with a MacBook. Regrettably, in many classrooms that laptop has become little more than a $1000 pen. A worksheet completed on a computer is still a (boring) worksheet. Technology has to open up new possibilities for students; it has to give them the opportunity to learn in a new way.
I consider it one of my key responsibilities to find, learn, and share as many web tools and apps as possible. The federal government funding that created our 1:1 program has now ended and in 2015 we will begin a BYOD iPad program for our Year 7 and 8 students. It goes without saying that I’m excited and have begun to provide professional learning opportunities for my colleagues. I want the whole school to open up to the classroom possibilities provided by iPads.
What type of documents do you usually work with?
For me, iAnnotate is the ideal tool for assessing and commenting on student drafts. My rule is simple; paper drafts are no longer accepted. Students now send me a PDF file as an email attachment, I open it in iAnnotate, make corrections and suggestions, and immediately return it by email. The most pleasing aspect is that the students genuinely benefit from this procedure. No waiting for hard copies to be returned on Monday morning. Sent by email they can receive it back the very same day, even if I haven't been at school.
iAnnotate also has great possibilities for my senior History students. I can display a source document (let’s say Herodotus) via Apple TV, we can discuss and annotate it together, then I can forward it to students via group email or by placing it in the class Edmodo library.
Have you recommended iAnnotate to anyone else in the industry?
I recommend iAnnotate at every possible opportunity: I’m frequently asked by colleagues (and my tweeps) for advice on the best available apps. My next university lecture for beginning teachers will focus on digital tools—and yes, I’ll be including iAnnotate.
What's your favorite tool or feature?
I really have to mention two features here: For me, the favorite is the ability to create and use custom stamps. How great it is to sign my name with a simple tap of the screen or to give every student an important reminder about submission dates without having to handwrite or type it out 30 times.
My students, on the other hand, are unanimous in their praise of the sound clip tool. As one student recently put it, “It’s awesome that you can talk to us and we can replay the advice until we get it!”
Anything else you'd like to share?
I’m sure that iAnnotate has many more possibilities that I’m yet to uncover. It is one of the few apps that I consider to be genuinely essential. I will continue to promote iAnnotate at every opportunity and I hope that my thoughts here will convince a few more teachers to get on board.