UPDATED: SIMS Teacher App – hands on and reviewed…

Many of you may have read my previous articles about the then forthcoming SIMS Teacher App for iOS; well now i’ve been able to get very hands on…literally, with the most recent release – and the one which is now available to all schools. Tablet computers are becoming an increasing part of the modern classroom, expanding SIMS in true tablet App form (beyond the already discussed Remote App) means that, some would say, SIMS is becoming modern.

Say hello… There is a lot to like here, the whole experience is very polished – right from the initial setup through to the day to day use. The download process, most users will be familiar with – and with the SIMS App, this is no different. Search the App Store, and there it is – it takes only a few moments to download and install.The next stage is to link your App to your school, which is by way of a one time unique code – which is handled though a simple wizard. A simple web console allows administrators to connect the App to their SIMS installation; and from here codes can be generated for devices and teachers authorised to login. Next up, you need to choose how you will sign into the device, Microsoft account (Office 365 integration coming soon) or Google account.

UPDATE 9th March 2015: A new version of the App is being released this evening which includes the ability to use Office 356 credentials to sign in.

The combination of your registration code and login option is how the App then knows who you are and pulls your timetable information from SIMS – live. In addition, if you choose – two factor authentication can also be used. So, once you are actually in the App, what is there to see? To start with, you will land at the class you are supposed to be teaching now (or next when it is break etc). The App understands your timetable, and a pull down (using the swipe gesture) of the timeline for the day will show you the week.

There is a handy indicator at the top of the screen showing how far into the session you are. Below this is a grid showing the names and photographs of the pupils in the class. You can toggle this into a column format without the photos if you wish.

What about if you need to take the register for another member of staff? Not a problem, you can chose them from the drop down selector. You can also search for anyone using the handy search button. As you would expect, tapping on a pupil takes you to their details – but I will come back to that.

Who’s here and who isn’t…

 

To the left of the screen options for attendance (present, not present, late) appear when you tap your pupils (once to select, twice to deselect). The images, or names if using lists, will then reorganise themselves – separating into groups by the different attendance statuses you have selected.

Swipe away… The capabilities of the App don’t stop there though. Swipe in from the left or right (the App has a clever way of dealing with this for you which I will cover in a moment) to expose the menu – which gives you access to the different actions you can make. Currently additionally supported are behaviour and marksheets. Phil Neal commented “Teachers have repeatedly told us that they want to be able to enter information as students work” – it is clear from looking at and working with the App that this has been built around the teacher workflow. He went on to say “…many [teachers] feel entering assessment marks at the end of the day leaves the whole process feeling quite disjointed”. The speed of data entry using the App, means recording this vital information at the time won’t get in the way of the most important thing – teaching.

Teachers have repeatedly told us that they want to be able to enter information as students work…

It is the simple things in the App that make it clever – for example, the handling of left and right handed users. The menus can be dragged to the left of right; so that they are at your fingertips depending on the orientation that will work best for you.  The behaviour functionality works in a very similar way to the attendance. There is time awareness, in terms of lessons; but there is also awareness of lunch and breaktimes. When recording a “where” the App knows where you are teaching – and outside lesson times, you can choose from a list of additional locations. When recording negative behaviour, you can also add additional “recipients” or “targets” of information; and mark a students’ involvement in a situation. The immediacy of the availability of information (as behaviour points are indicated in the App) can help a school manage positive and negative behaviour. So for example, when a pupil is given positive behaviour points earlier in the day – teachers later in the day using the App will see an indicator against the pupil. Phil continued “…with our App, all the information is instantly uploaded to a school’s SIMS MIS […] so the school always has the most up-to-date information. More importantly, it allows teachers to focus on what they do best – teach.”

In the field… There’s more good news in this version of the App – continuing the aim of letting teachers teach. Field trips often present an issue for schools – how do you record attendance or behaviour when away from the school site? How can you view information about the students in your group, and can you complete a marksheet? Previously, all these tasks would be completed manually – and possibly the effort duplicated later if it is entered into SIMS. Either that, or a third party integration product was needed. The SIMS Teacher App will support offline and online working too from the Summer term. Detailed testing of this (and the security/lifespan of the data) is taking place at the moment internally. All data used by the App is encrypted and has a limited lifetime on the device too. Schools can be sure that all confidential student information is secure.

Once the device is back online, either at the school, or via home or mobile broadband – the App will synchronise and upload its data back into SIMS. This ensures crucial information can be recorded and viewed “whenever and wherever teaching takes place”. If you are out and about with the app and pupils, having their information to hand is important. This is covered, tap the pupil to display a summary. More information is also available. While on the note of more information, there is more coming to this area. Already on the roadmap are indicators for Pupil Premium/SEN/G&T pupil status.

Now, on to how to get the App. There has been a lot of discussions both on edugeek.net (a popular forum for IT Professionals) and via tweets and comments on my blog; regarding pricing and availability. Here is the official lowdown, as it stands now. This information is valid until the end of April 2015. SIMS Learning Gateway (SLG) customers were given early access to the App project; since it forms part of the wider “engagement suite” of products. The App does not require SLG. However, SLG customers do receive a discount on purchase – the amount of the discount depends how you obtain SLG.

££££
Great news for those who are hosted by Capita – it is currently free for you. Schools should “opt in” to get the App. If you self host, or have SLG hosted via a Support Unit or Local Authority, the cost is £1.00 per pupil per year. There is a minimum charge: £100 per year for schools with less than 100 pupils on roll, and to keep those with a budget in mind – there is also a maximum charge – £1,250 per year. Not using SLG, well you can still get the App. You may have spotted as part of the Autumn upgrade, something called SIMS Service Manager was installed.

This is how online services are provisioned and supported in terms of data. The costs for non-SLG schools is £2.00 per pupil per year, or commit for 3 years with a 10% discount (£1.80 per pupil per year). Again, keeping an eye on budgets – there are minimum and maximum costs – £200 per year for schools with less than 100 pupils on roll and £2,500 per year respectively. A reminder, this information is valid only until the end of April 2015. Please contact Capita for more information; and many thanks to them for providing this clarity. Using the App – teachers can register, award appropriate marks for students’ work on the go, whether they’re in the classroom, playing field, corridor or trip – and are never tied to a desk again.

For more information, you can visit www.capita-sims.co.uk/teacherapp Note: All images used in this post are from the current version of the App as at February 2015, and use training/demo data.

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