Why Twitter is a Problem

It is all about context.

The penny dropped as I ran a school sports tour this summer. It may be the holiday season yet I can still tweet about current relevant material to my students. But why would I want to?

The other staff on the trip are tapping away on their iPads composing emails or notes for September classes. The four hour bus journey provides a time slot for anything, yet school prevails as the focus for activity. It is an opportunity to make future time at home more relaxed so it seems like a good idea, but is it really what we should be doing?

The answer lies in the immediacy of the communication. Any output can be viewed and acted upon swiftly. This then creates further opportunity which leads to more ‘work’. A tweet about a resource/article/news item can mean follow up questions that require an answer. Therefore a twitter account is regularly monitored and supports out of hours learning. This is what all educators want – right?

We are told not to just ‘teach to the test’. We are told to foster ‘life long’ learners. We are told to prepare students for the ‘future we don’t yet know’. So if we are to do this then learning opportunities must be taken.

As an A level PE teacher the Olympics provide so many examples of theory and application that they are too good a resource. In the past, sporting events involved informing students of programmes they should watch, or showing clips of relevant performance in lessons. There is now an opportunity to tweet a link, post relevant supporting literature and request assignments. Up to date communication is then supported by the media frenzy and students are much more likely to retain the information.

The problem with twitter is that it has provided easy access for educators to personalise learning for all and foster the 24/7 learning culture! To do this successfully where does it end?

It would be easy to suggest that education should be restricted to term time for all concerned. However, some of our best work occurs where we guide students to a learning outcome and this is so well supported by current information tools that they can’t be ignored. If a world record is broken or a favourite fails then that might be the key to unlocking understanding for a student. A tweet that relates a sporting failure to a theory may be the best way for that student to remember its practical application – and it only takes a second!

There is the other school of thought that suggests that if you only help one student with your actions then it is worth doing. If this is taken as read then to stop tweeting relevance during the Olympics would surely neglect my duty as an educator? I am a firm believer that current sports coverage linked to theory is a real educational bonus in the information age, just like a world news event can support geography or economics. To not use social media in conjunction with current events would seem an opportunity missed.

This is a worry!

It would seem a curriculum model could exist where lessons and homework run alongside a communication stream that educators and students can manipulate around events. This is obviously more appropriate for some subjects and raises the question of when and where education should take place? I am not suggesting students will hang on every tweet to forge a learning journey unsurpassed by those who learnt before them. Rather that the educator should provide the best environment to learn and the students can take that opportunity if they wish.

If anything this makes a mockery of the school timetable and ‘directed’ time. If educators are supposed to utilise social media then by definition this will occur outside the ‘allotted’ school day. The classroom is only face to face contact time as the learning group are all interacting at different times of the day depending on the educator. The timetable is therefore a meeting slot with other interactions punctuating the working week. Seems a little bit like the real world?

Please don’t get me wrong. Twitter has been a fantastic addition to the classroom. I’m just concerned the current model of education doesn’t support it’s use in terms of the most important resource – the educator. Social media has added yet another weapon to the arsenal available to us.

The problem – it’s a monster and if we aren’t careful we won’t know how to stop it

iPad and Education – No Longer A Debate!

There is no longer a debate!

If money was no object would a teacher want their students to have an iPad each?

OF COURSE

Even if they only used it to research a different perspective. Even if they only used it to add resources to their work. Even if they only used it as an alternative way to demonstrate learning.

The research exists to support the device as a tool for learning. All over the world schools and districts are deploying iPads to enhance learning. The reason this is happening:

IT WORKS

Any mobile device can assist in the learning process, it just happens that the iPad is the current class leader. It provides opportunity inside the classroom and encourages the learning transition from home to school. Students are engaged with the device and are eager to demonstrate learning and discover new applications. Educators are excited by the opportunity to develop their methods and discover new ways of stimulating their learners.

So why do we continue to debate?

Money – It isn’t the educators job to worry about the finances. If a school can afford one device, it will help in the classroom. If a school can afford a 1:1 programme, it will help in the classroom. It is up to the administrators to find the means to finance any new technology. If the money isn’t available then the new technology can’t be implemented – that is not a reason for educators to debate if a mobile device will enhance learning.

Behaviour Management – ‘If students are using technology inappropriately in the classroom, you have a behaviour problem, not a technology problem.’ This is an opinion that has been voiced on social media platforms on numerous occasions. Students will use technology inappropriately in the classroom. This shouldn’t be a reason to avoid a mobile device. The new technology does require modelling ‘good practice’ in the classroom but isn’t that true of any learning method?

Learning – If the device isn’t suitable for a task then educators shouldn’t use it. There is no such thing as an iPad lesson. If it will enhance learning then it could be used. If it is not suitable for a part of the lesson, it stays in the student’s bag. There are many options available to educators to nurture learning – the iPad provides a few more.

The iPad in Education debate should centre around appropriate use. The device is so new to some educators that it is only natural to present barriers rather than embrace the possibilities. However, once past this position, conversation is about stimulating learners with the iPad playing a role. The device can make the process a little easier once educators understand its applications and workflow opportunities.

If it was our job as educators to deal with financial implications or logistical issues then we would be right to debate the use of the iPad in lessons. However, it is our role to educate and the administrators job to provide us with the tools. The iPad has a use in the classroom and if possible should be made available to students. I would go so far as to say that any trial conducted in schools is now about the logistical rather than the learning implications. Schools need to change financial plans and wireless infrastructures to support the new technology. The impact of these changes must not be underestimated but this is not the concern of educators.

The real debate centres around when and where to use the device to support existing methodology. Educators are constantly searching for support to help get to grips with new technology and social media is playing a significant role.

We are all learning together on that one!

Top 3 Ways to Interact with Students Outside the Classroom

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This isn’t a revolution?

Educators have been interacting with students outside the classroom for many years. Summer school/camp, email and the Internet have allowed education to be guided away from normal school hours.
Nowadays It’s just easier to do.

These 3 top ways to interact with students also serve as a reflection on the 21st Century classroom and ever evolving pedagogy.

1. Twitter – Instant interaction with students of the ‘social-media’ generation.

From class information to the posing of questions or links to articles, twitter leads the way when interacting with students. In a world where school life leads to missed classes, particularly during exam season, twitter can be a very easy way to guide students

During the recent summer exam period a host of schools and departments were posting regular tips and articles to help students with their revision. Our preferred format of past questions with a link to articles containing the answer appeared successful and allowed educators to maintain a role in their students learning even though they were away from school. Twitter is so popular with students that the ease with which they access information is a real bonus to educators wishing to develop the 24/7 learning culture

2. Edmodo – ‘Facebook for school’

A relatively simple platform that now plays a huge part in the workflow and organisation of student learning. Alongside the ability to communicate with students on the Edmodo ‘wall’ there is the ability to post assignments and collect student work. This can then be annotated and graded with immediate feedback sent to the student whenever the educator wishes to complete it.

Although not as immediate as twitter, with students signing in to the cross platform application, the effect of Edmodo has been staggering this year. The ability to set work, annotate and hand back between lessons cannot be underestimated. Edmodo has replaced the usual collect in work, carry on with lesson and then hand back after the topic is done. All assignments now inform the learning process concurrently and allow for greater interaction based on student’s written input. What’s more students receive their annotated work much sooner after the initial hand-in date as the planned assessment period did not involve face to face contact with the student just to present the work.

If you add the ability to save resources to the shared library and the ‘backpack’ feature to maintain an ‘ecosystem’ for learning, Edmodo can be a very powerful tool. It will even maintain your grade book and serve as a prompt to students with reward (badges) and communication in equal measure.

3. YouTube – not just a video store.

YouTube appeared to be the domain of viral videos and family fun until I used the iPad this year in the classroom. It was only then I realised the ease with which content can be shared with the YouTube site and sent to students. Screencasts could be created with apps on the iPad that had an ‘export to YouTube’ function. As soon as it was rendered, the video could then be sent to students to aid the learning process.

Indeed information given ranged from tips for exams, to content delivery and all it took was the right app and an Internet connection. The YouTube link could then be shared via social media or the students received it as they were signed up to the educators own YouTube channel. Interestingly, this was only daunting for the educator as the students saw it as a common way to receive and view information. They also reported how hearing their teachers voice ‘kept them on track’ rather than a video clip of someone else.

There can be no doubt the effectiveness of these platforms for learning has been increased by new technologies. Smartphones alone have allowed students to receive information instantaneously and integrate social media into the learning process. If you couple this with Internet access for almost all students now available, in school or at home, these platforms cannot be ignored as learning tools.

The educator is still the most important part of the process but the platforms push us towards the 24/7 learning agenda. Content is no longer the ‘master of the lesson’ and the flipped classroom model naturally occurs with information gathering outside school walls. It is now the educators job to strike the right balance of interaction and use these processes effectively.

A skill that we weren’t trained for but now serves our students learning.

iPad 1 – 0 Teacher

A simple lesson involving concept, reflection and extended writing shouldn’t present too much of a problem!

Admittedly Monday period one is not the greatest educational slot but the conclusion to the year 7 project demanded attention. Things began quietly with a review of last week’s material and a cross check of rewritten homework. An exemplar conclusion was then shared with groups discussing why it followed a certain structure and why the title of the project was mentioned. As I spoke with a group I noticed a couple of students were a little distracted and boys on a separate table appeared disinterested.

On reflection I had barely fostered enthusiasm in the lesson and the task was certainly presented in a routine manner. I was at fault for requiring the project conclusion and ‘getting it done’ in the time available. As with all schoolwork, towards the end of term, there are deadlines to meet and grades to be given. This was the driver behind the lesson and the reason for the apathy.

So I changed it.

For the duration of the project students have been using iPads to research and present their work. Word processing has been supplemented by hand written tasks that have been photographed and inserted into the final draft. I had conformed to the ‘normal’ parameters of the project to bring the class into line with others who didn’t have access to iPads. The Pages application suited the task and meant I could print out the work if required. However, with this group I had barely utilised other applications as the existing scheme of work required certain student output.

In a fit of pique I asked the class to stop and I reset their outcomes for the following week. They were still asked to present a written conclusion but this could be supplemented by any other form of presentation. The full project could then be submitted with a separate file that would be credited by ‘achievement points’.

The moment I finished my ‘rant’ the room burst into life. Every table was discussing what app to use and how it would work. The students occasionally strayed off task as they were a little over excited but I kept hearing key terms and discussion about the title. Many were keen to use their written conclusion as a script for their presentation and collaborated to get it right. It might not have been the most structured session but the outcomes were excellent.

Alongside the expected written conclusions the following are examples of apps used to gain extra credit:

  • Morfo to animate a speech by Prince William about the reason for the project
  • I Can Animate to create a stop motion animation to illustrate last sentences
  • iMovie to create a trailer emphasising key points
  • Pic collage to create a collage of important images
  • vJay to mix two sets of images and sync with music (my favourite)

The difference the iPad made to the learning outcomes isn’t necessarily found in the written work. I am fairly sure the conclusions would have been the same whether we had used the device or not. However, the discussion of key terms was beyond expectation and motivation levels were certainly increased. The device provided a solution to a lesson that was drifting away from me and energised the students who were keen to impress.

Admittedly, I should have planned to use the iPad in this way, but my desire to finish the project presented a barrier. The ease with which the students came up with an exciting way to present information led to a desirable working environment and a grateful teacher. Moreover, the students were keen to finish their presentations for homework in order to gain extra credit. Perhaps they spent a little too long on the ‘extra’ work at home but I can’t remember many educators criticising that commitment too often. The iPad provided a simple opportunity to change the direction of the lesson and that has not been so easy to facilitate in the past.

I will admit defeat to the iPad on this occasion and endeavour to do better next time.

iPad 1 – 0 Teacher

The iPad and Parental Engagement in Education

Parents have a very different perspective. Whilst educators wax lyrical about the potential of the iPad for learning, there are concerns from parents about its impact on their child.

Or so we thought.

All parents of iPad trial students were asked to complete a questionnaire, attend a focus group meeting and email any further thoughts to inform the decision making progress for future iPad use. A great deal of time was taken by these parents as they were keen to convey their thoughts to inform the research process and we are very grateful for all their efforts.

Below are direct responses to questions from the focus group where parents were encouraged to discuss with each other the various advantages and disadvantages of the iPad for learning.

Have you noticed any change in the way your child approaches learning?.

  • Variety of tasks that they are working on are much more inspiring.
  • How much more creative and experimental he is being.
  • Collaboration and communication with others in the class (team player)
  • Independence is a very strong factor – the ability to find an answer
  • More peer group support.
  • Greater communication about work
  • Motivation – they don’t realise they are learning and more engaged.
  • Much more willing to share work with parents – pride in their work
  • Spending longer on work – sometimes a good thing, sometimes too long
  • Worried about screen time in the bedroom.
  • Can’t check homework in the same way as looking books.
  • The students email parents during the day.
  • Arguments over when to put it away.

As suspected the increased motivation and collaboration we have witnessed from students has also been observed at home. We also share concern over the amount of screen time the students could be exposed to and the distraction element of the device is a real consideration. It was very difficult to find any criticism of the device when pushed on the effects of learning.

What are the disadvantages of the iPad in the learning process?

  • Blurring the boundary between work and play
  • Addictive nature of the device
  • Does it detract from the need for good handwriting?
  • Issues accessing the Learning Gateway
  • Storage of work (when discussed it was clear parents didn’t understand Dropbox)
  • Balance has good in lessons but perhaps too much iPad work for homework
  • There were lengthy discussions over the use of the keyboard and the exam requirement to write all answers which ‘is what students are judged on’.

It is evident that parents thought the iPad contributed to their sons learning and the concerns centred around workflow and practicality. Even when pushed, parents struggled to identify a reason why the iPad couldn’t support their sons education. Finance was discussed much more readily and the various leasing options were of great interest. The concern centred around affordability for all and not whether or not we should move forward with a 1:1 programme.

The comments below were received via email if any parent wished to contribute any more to the process after the questionnaire and meetings.

‘My son has found it good and used it both for homework and other stuff on the internet. He thought the teachers could have used it more and in a different way. He did seem enthused to use it for homework more than pen and paper!’

Having discussed this with my son I would say it has been a generally positive experience and he has certainly enjoyed having access to an IPad.  As a parent I am generally in favour of this type of enhancement to learning and have not had any issues with him having one.’

‘Our overall thoughts are positive; the iPad is a fantastic tool. It has enhanced my son’s learning and interaction with classmates, both in lessons and out of lesson school projects. Our only reservation is the lack of handwriting. My son’s handwriting isn’t great and in fact if anything it’s getting a little worse. We are just thinking further down the line, for exams etc.’

‘My son has absolutely loved having use of an iPad for a term and I know is not looking forward to giving it back! I’ve watched him grow in confidence with the iPad and now wants us to buy one for the family. The other boys loved it too!  I’ve watched him put a short presentation together with photos etc. and was so impressed with the outcome and the ease with which it was executed. The iPad has been a useful tool for reinforcing friendships also which has been great for my son as he started school knowing no one.’

‘My son loved having the use of the iPad for the whole of the term, and was on it practically at every opportunity researching various topics for homework and other school related topics. However, we felt this constant use of the iPad was somewhat detrimental to his concentration. We also believe that there are benefits to reading books rather than capturing short bitesize pieces of information through the web.’

‘I think my son has really enjoyed and benefited from using the iPad. He has done some great pieces of homework and spends more time on it, working, than he would have done without it.’

‘I just wanted to record what an extremely successful ‘test’, the iPad trial, appears to me to have been. I have been struck by the level of energy and enthusiasm it has generated. I don’t think this has just been a product of the novelty. The iPad has introduced an additional level of creativity into every task and that has made the learning process more fun, but also more productive. I’ve also been impressed by the additional opportunities afforded for out of school communication. A number of my son’s friends have been chatting – about their homework projects – via the iPads in a way that I cannot imagine would have been the case otherwise. The communication with teachers has also been more immediate and personal, which has been equally impressive. Another dimension has been the opportunities for students to ‘teach’ staff as Digital Leaders and also for them to act as ambassadors for this new technology for the other forms; excellent opportunities for developing their communication and leadership skills. I think the test has been an outstanding advertisement for the way in which education will change in the future.’

This anecdotal evidence informs part of the decision making process and perhaps took us by surprise. Initial concerns from parents have clearly been sated by the increased motivation and engagement with learning. There are many practicalities to consider when moving forward and the balance of iPad use throughout the day must be monitored. However, it is reassuring to hear from parents that appropriate use of the iPad is key to its integration in the classroom and beyond. It will enhance learning if educators adopt its use at the right time for the right reasons.