June 27, 2014
In June 2013, I had an idea for a site focused on embedding the use of the iPad successully in the classroom. More and more I was being approached by teachers with the same issue: their school had invested in iPads but they had no idea what to do with them. In fact at my own school, when the first iPads were deployed in late 2011, I would often ask to borrow one from another teacher only for them to produce it from their classroom cupboard still in the box.
Initally, the idea was to focus exclusively on providing a forum for like-minded local educators across the UAE (we even started with a .ae domain name.) I approached my good friend and fellow tech enthusiast Luke Rees to come aboard and help shape the early incarnation of the site. Between us we settled on the idea of a magazine-style format, with regularly updated features, app reviews and interviews. Aside from these we had two other key areas - the iUAE section dedicated to all things relevant to local educators and the Forum which we thought would be the heart of the site.
As we started to build the site (yes we do it all ourselves - there's no secret team behind us publishing our content!) we set up a Facebook page to start to spread the word, expecting very little initial interest.
After five days, we had 1000 likes, after ten days we had 3000...and the site hadn't even launched yet! So we set up a Twitter page and kept working on the site. Big thanks to some of the folk who provided us our very first interviews including our friend and Something Fishy About Arabic app developer Maria Menezes, iPad guru David Kirtlan, Dan at Red Jumper (makers of Book Creator) and Lance from Puppet Pals. Their support and the continued support of other educators and content developers means the world to us and has helped put us on the map.
The site went live on the last day of the school year, June 27th 2013 and the rest as they say is history...
Except that it wasn't - it was the start of the future.
Things got crazy very quickly. Suddenly we found our little "summer project" was snowballing into something much bigger. We were getting followers from the USA to Australia and all across Europe as well as the Middle East. It was soon after this that we shut down the Forum as our social media pages had morphed into the true forum. We started developing the Curriculum Apps section (which we still; haven't completed!) and expanding the range of content on the site further. By the start of the new school year, it became clear that we needed more people to help produce a decent volume of content for the 10,000 plus followers we had accrued over the summer.
I saw Simon Moore present at the Manchester Met. University event "iThink therefore iPad" and recognised someone on a similar wavelength. He agreed to contribute to the site and has produced articles and app reviews for us since. Simon was a brilliant addition to the team and we're lucky to have him.
Then I was approached by a lady called Sabba Quidwai from LA. Based out of Fairmont Academy, Sabba has brought a huge wealth of experience to the site, not only through her various articles but through her outstanding features on Islamic Education and Gamification. I can't thank her enough for her input, expertise, support and friendship. She genuinely is one of the best educators I've ever encountered.
As the team grew, Luke and I began to present as the iPad Educators at various events across the UAE and beyond.
In October 2013, we presented at The British Council and luanched our first ebook, Redefining The Task. Ironically we only developed the book because we were told that the wifi was unreliable so our original plan to use Nearpod was scuppered!
Later that year we presented at Dubai Tech Fest, held at Dubai English Speaking Academy. This presentation was to staff as well as parents so we went with the theme of bridging the gap between leraning at home and learning at school.
In December we went global by presenting remotely for Fairmont Academy in LA, thanks to Sabba, Using a combination of Facetime and Nearpod (setting the unofficial record for world's longest distance Nearpod session.) Luke even blogged for Nearpod about the experience. We called this one Digital Inception.
As 2014 began, we prepared video content for Sabba to use as a part of two presentations at conferences in The States - the OCCUE event and the EdTech Teachers Summit. Using a combination of Tellagami and other apps, we shared our ebook for OCCUE then put together a discrete video focusing on the use of apps for analysing historical sources for the EdTech event. We also began working with Brian Puerling around this time - another exceptional educator (and author of Teaching in the Digital Age.)
March was our biggest month ever though. Uniting with Simon, we presented several times at the annual Global Education Forum event at The World Trade Center here in Dubai. These presentations included a focus on enquiry-based learning, ebook project portfolios, apps for assessment and culminated in a presentation entitled Breaking Down The Walls, an evolution of the Bridging The Gap concept from Dubai Tech Fest. It was here that we met Spark Event founder and newest site contributor Mark Wood - another exceptional educator who we are proud to be associated with.
Then, later that night, we won Best Use of ICT at the inaugural GESS Education Awards! This was naturally a really special moment for us as it validated all of the hard work we've put into the site over the last few months. Remember - we do all of this in our spare time (and with a 1 year old and a 3 year old, you can imagine how precious my own free time is!) and as such it was an honour that we truly valued. Thank you to everyone who voted for us!
Our remote Nearpod sessions continued to be well received and we presented remotely for the first iPads in Higher Education conference in Cyprus and then again for the University of Chester. As the year continues we're booked in for several more presentations, both remote and in person.
Our social media followers continue to swell and Facebook alone is closing in on 27,000 whilst that first 1000 on Twitter is now only days off it seems! And to think that a little more than a year ago, I had just mocked up a banner for the site to show Luke after a Chinese takeaway!
Thank you all for your continued support.
We do it for you and wouldn't do it without you.
Happy birthday to us!