The Pace of Educational Technology!

I’m sold on new technology in the classroom.

If a ‘traditional’ style with rows of students and weighty textbooks works then I understand why there is no motivation to change. It just didn’t work for me. I always felt I was preparing a student for a test and not their future. The classroom was ordered but not supportive of the type of learning environment the students and I craved.

So we turned to ‘Edtech‘. YouTube videos and presentations filtered into content delivery and collaborative work supported discovery. A number of devices invaded the classroom and were used to inform the process and result when appropriate tasks were set. If I’m honest the ‘new’ feel to the classroom worked when I got the tasks right and let us down when I hadn’t thought everything through.

The trial with a number of devices ended up with a decision to roll out iPads, on a 1:1 level, this academic year. It is a personal device and in our opinion won’t work as well in the ‘class set’ model. Consequently, we are training up staff and students to make the most of the device and enhance the learning process. So what’s the problem?

It used to be that hardware was a real factor in what you could do with technology in the classroom. A visualiser or interactive whiteboard does ‘exactly what it says on the tin’. You can understand its limitations and work to its potential. However software, in the form of apps, is changing so quickly that there is always another development to take into account. Don’t get me wrong, this in itself is not a bad thing. The problem lies in keeping up with developments and allowing staff to feel comfortable with the whole process. It has been difficult enough to get educators to persevere when learning about the potential of an iPad in the classroom. Now we are faced with changes every time a developer releases an update.

Take iOS 6 for example. The ability to ‘open in app’ allows the user to open a document/picture etc in any app that is compatible. This has huge ramifications for student workflow and the ability to annotate or add a sound clip to an assignment. In a single stroke the new operating system rendered a workflow training programme unfit for purpose. Again I am grateful for the update as it has made life a lot simpler. I just wish there was a way of keeping abreast of all the modifications in the secretive world of ‘Edtech’ development.

On an individual app level, this week I stumbled upon a twitter conversation that inferred that the superb Explain Everything app was going to receive an update. The ‘new’ ability to add video from the camera roll to the whiteboard interface has great potential in the classroom. Last week I presented two separate apps to solve this problem and this is now out of date! Sure, there are always going to be developments but the need to embed working, reliable ‘Edtech’ and allow educators to be comfortable with it means developments almost outstrip demand. Even the recent Skitch update required a further training session to get up to speed with one of our favourite apps.

The competition between app developers is definitely a good thing for any educator with tablets in the classroom. The need to be at the forefront of our requirements means that they listen to educators and seek guidance to help develop their software. I’m glad it ‘makes my brain hurt’ because the slicker and more appropriate the applications the greater the potential to enhance learning.

I just wish I could keep up with it all!

Please feel free to let me know if there is any way to stay ahead of the game?

What can you do with an iPad in the classroom?

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It’s a tool, it’s a tool, it’s a tool.

The iPad is not going to replace teachers or ‘fix’ education. There is a cost implication that must be taken into account and only an educator will know if it is right for their students. Indeed the cost-benefit analysis for an establishment must take into account a host of factors when considering iPad use in the classroom. However, if there are iPads in the classroom, there are a number of applications that can enhance learning and assist the educator in developing student skills. In fact, the iPad allows educators to build on existing styles and increase flexibility in their classroom whilst personalising learning.

Assessment for Learning

The most valuable weapon in an educators arsenal is feedback. The principles of assessment against a backdrop of grading have been discussed at length for many, many years. Regardless of the conclusion you come to, the iPad allows an educator to collect information to provide feedback much more efficiently than any other tool. Of course, the use of mini-whiteboards, hands up and questioning techniques have been and will continue to be useful. However, they don’t compare to individual responses to questioning that can be collated and reflected upon immediately.

Applications such as eclicker, Socrative and Nearpod have the ability to provide instant feedback for every child in the classroom. On their iPad a student can respond to any number of questions that are immediately available to the educator. Moreover, if an educator is unsure of progress, they can ask students to complete a task that will inform the next stage of the lesson. Having a device in your hand, that is collating work by students immediately for feedback, is a very powerful tool when assessing for learning.

Collaboration

Setting a collaborative task is a tried and tested technique to allow students to question each other in the pursuit of an answer. The staple tools for this have included A3 paper, colour pens and research material (if you are lucky in a computer room). We can now add to this the iPad that can be the research resource, the ideas board and the means to share  completed results.

Every educator has been left with completed work and no easy means to ensure the student has a copy to refer to in the future. This has often been resolved with photocopying and/or pictures. With the iPad, any group work can be shared instantaneously with others. Different facets of a project can be brought together and/or dismissed with the touch of a finger. The reasoning behind a decision can be verbally recorded for future reference.

The point is an educator can now set tasks to enhance learning, safe in the knowledge the students have the tools to complete what is required. Don’t get me wrong theses tasks can be completed in other ways, however, the iPad allows the student to concentrate on the learning and not logistics.

Practical Use

These are a few of the applications that have been made a little easier by the use of an iPad

  • Interactive whiteboard (Explain Everything) – with the ability to add images and audio
  • Mind mapping tool (Popplet) – with the ability to share the map with others when required
  • Highlighting student work – using Apple TV where any iPad screen can be shared with the rest of the class. Has the added benefit that students take pride in their work if they know it might be seen at any point.
  • Visualiser – using the camera function any work can be displayed using existing projector set-up, not just paper.
  • Instant feedback – via AfL applications
  • Shared resources – via Dropbox linked to all students in class

Informing the Next Step

Perhaps the most significant impact of an iPad in a classroom is the information it can provide. For the students, the ability to define or research new concepts is a very powerful application, particularly when guided. For an educator, it is the ability to provide resources to enhance learning and tailor it for all abilities. Gone are the days of setting homework, collecting next lesson, assessing and then handing back the following lesson. This process can now occur between each lesson and inform planning. Platforms such as Edmodo and Schoology allow students to ‘turn in’ assignments and receive feedback before their next classroom time. This provides a wealth of information that directly informs an educator.

Every tool has a time and place it should be used. From a ruler to a calculator, they are fit for purpose and it would be strange to use them otherwise. However, the iPad can meet the requirements of a number of tools and offer an ease of use that removes some of the barriers to learning.

If you are thinking of using an iPad in the classroom I urge you to consider that the effort required to understand its implication is front-loaded. Getting to grips with the technology will allow you to make informed decisions about its use in your classroom.

I would be very interested to hear about experience with the iPad and am very happy to discuss its use in education.

Ofsted, Outstanding Teaching and the iPad

If OFSTED were to walk into a lesson tomorrow they would see the following:

  • Prior to the lesson students would have viewed an 8-10 min screencast introducing the topic. This resource would have been produced and sent via twitter to the students when appropriate.
  • Students would have uploaded work required to Edmodo that is then assessed, annotated and sent back to students again prior to the lesson. The nature of the work is determined by perceived difficulty of the topic.
  • The initial task would be a Socrative quiz to establish understanding for the lesson (AFL) – this often includes one multiple choice and two short answer questions.
  • With a given problem the students would then have to produce an explanation of the problem on the interactive whiteboard app ExplainEverything – collaboration in groups of 3. These problems would be tailored to the groups and range in difficulty. All the while the teacher would be working with groups to overcome difficulties or promote discussion.
  • Socrative would then be used again to assess where the students are and the lesson would be adjusted accordingly. There would be a multitude of scenarios for the students to relate to lesson content and these would be directed depending on the Socrative answers
  • The lesson objectives would then be teased out of the group and suggestions would be highlighted using the mind-mapping app Popplet. At this stage the students would be comfortable with the subject matter and would be encouraged to offer their ideas.
  • The final task in the lesson would be to complete an exit ticket on Socrative. This would typically include a question worth five marks. This exit ticket, including the student’s name and how they would describe their ‘level of learning’, would then be emailed to the teacher for post lesson AFL.

(It has to be said these methods are made possible by the presence of iPads in the classroom and a functioning wireless network.)

The structure of the lesson is nothing new and indeed the pace and variation are very similar to previous years. The enhancement of learning comes from the continual AFL and the collaboration using the iPad. Students are able to feedback to the teacher individually and at any point during the learning process. If the pace of learning demands so, the difficulty of each problem increases. The important part of collaboration centres on the requirement for visual, written and verbal communication through the ExplainEverything app. Again this can be sent to the teacher for feedback at any point during the lesson.

So what would OFSTED make of this standard lesson? The only judgement I can make is to compare the lesson to the ‘Quality of Teaching’ grid. I appreciate this is not designed to judge a single lesson, but it is held as:

“These grade descriptors from the 2012 inspection schedule describe the quality of teaching in the school as a whole taking account of evidence over time. While they include some characteristics of individual lessons, they are not designed to be used to judge individual lessons” (OFSTED 2012)

This fits as a frame of reference as the lesson is not subject specific in its structure. The quoted statements refer to the ‘Outstanding’ section of the grid.

Teaching that leads to Progress

‘Much of the teaching in all key stages and most subjects is outstanding and never less than consistently good. As a result, almost all pupils are making rapid and sustained progress. All teachers have consistently high expectations of all pupils.’

The lesson aims for expectations to remain high as the teacher will be monitoring progress of every student and adjusting the lesson accordingly. Progress is monitored throughout.

Sound subject knowledge, use of assessment.

Drawing on excellent subject knowledge, teachers plan astutely and set challenging tasks based on systematic, accurate assessment of pupils’ prior skills, knowledge and understanding’

With content delivered outside the classroom walls and then knowledge assessed and developed before, during and after the lesson. AFL drives the learning process and technology makes this easier for the teacher.

Focussed support, matching to pupils’ needs, strategies for teaching, AfL

They use well judged and often imaginative teaching strategies that, together with sharply focused and timely support and intervention, match individual needs accurately. Teachers systematically and effectively check pupils’ understanding throughout lessons, anticipating where they may need to intervene and doing so with notable impact on the quality of learning.’

Again the technology appears to aid the teacher in matching this criteria. Socrative as an AFL tool is second to none in my experience.

Learning across the curriculum. Attainment of pupils in English and Maths.

‘Time is used very well and every opportunity is taken to successfully develop crucial skills, including being able to use their literacy and numeracy skills in other subjects.. Pupils learn exceptionally well across the curriculum. The teaching of reading, writing, communication and mathematics is highly effective’

Taking the written work that is uploaded to Edmodo prior to the lesson as an integral part this is perhaps more difficult to evidence. There is a requirement for every student to respond with written and verbal communication (ExplainEverything) and written work is annotated before they step into the classroom. Work is handwritten when required and still uploaded to Edmodo for annotation.

Engagement, interest, motivation, resilience, marking and feedback

‘Teachers and other adults generate high levels of enthusiasm for, participation in and commitment to learning. Teaching promotes pupils’ high levels of resilience, confidence and independence when they tackle challenging activities. Marking and constructive feedback from teachers and pupils are frequent and of a consistently high quality, leading to high levels of engagement and interest.’

I can only refer to anecdotal evidence and in-house observation but the new technologies certainly seem to engage students. Constructive feedback has been made even more effective using Edmodo with the iPad and dictation to annotate notes. Student engagement appears to be a real positive from the increase in technology use.

Homework contributes to learning

‘Appropriate and regular homework contributes very well to pupils’ learning.’

In my view the screencasts are the most effective use of homework time as long as they are supported by feedback.

Attitudes to learning.

‘Pupils show very high levels of engagement, courtesy, collaboration and cooperation in and out of lessons. They have excellent, enthusiastic attitudes to learning, enabling lessons to proceed without interruption. Pupils are consistently punctual in arriving at school and lessons. They are highly adept at managing their own behaviour in the classroom and in social situations, supported by systematic, consistently applied approaches to behaviour management.’

Again observational and anecdotal evidence suggests that the new technology promotes a positive attitude to learning.

There are many reasons why an actual lesson using the technology may not have received an ‘outstanding’ rating in the past. I have used over forty apps in my classroom and there is no doubt some have been more successful than others. There is also delivery to consider and the adaptation of the lesson where it is most appropriate.

However, when comparing the lesson structure to the new OFSTED ‘Quality of Teaching grid’, it appears that an outstanding rating can still be achieved even though the ‘flipped’ model is a somewhat contentious area.

For what it’s worth I will continue to use the method, where appropriate, as the unit test results and student reaction point towards progression. The iPad and apps have made a real difference to the dynamic of my classroom.

Educational Technology is not the Enemy

‘What’s the point in using new technology? I’ve been teaching for years now and my methods get results.’

‘It’s all very well using this technology but it’s difficult to get to grips with and the students find it hard.’

These quotes are from staff who have genuine concerns about the implementation of new technology in the classroom. They see it as a ‘fad’, something that will disappear as quickly as it has arrived. These opinions have to be taken very seriously when attempting to implement a school 1:1 program and staff-room talk can be negative when driven by scepticism and a lack of belief.

The new technology should only be used if it will enhance learning. However, after over a year using iPads in the classroom I am convinced there are many ways it can help educators and learners alike. The difficulty is winning over those educators who are sceptical. I would like them to make an informed decision about how the new technology might help. Second-guessing their methods and attempting to suggest new techniques is not the way to go about it.

In response to our staff concerns, the following tips have proved helpful to those educators who didn’t think new educational technology had a place in their classroom,

  1. Demonstrate one app to an individual and allow them to ‘play’ with it with help available. Discuss the learning implications and wait for them to offer how this makes something they already do a little easier. Suggestion – Explain Everything
  2. Ask them to observe a small part of a lesson using the technology for AfL. Suggestion – Nearpod or Socrative exit ticket. The emailed report option will instantly show how an educator can be informed about student progress. This can then help to plan the next lesson without waiting for homework collection and assessment.
  3. Encourage the educator to use the iPad for social and entertainment reasons. The intuitive nature of the interface is a key part of its use and the more educated use it the more likely they are to overcome any small barriers to use. Suggestion – Flipboard, Zite or newspaper subscription.
  4. Provide help and guidance wherever possible including out of school hours. Although it is difficult to maintain this, offering educators get stuck with the new technology in downtime and it is useful be able to ask questions. Having staff email on all the iPads has allowed interaction between our iPad ‘gurus’ and those new to the technology. Suggestion – Drop in sessions run on a weekly lunchtime basis with cake and tea!
  5. No question is too easy or too difficult. The range of iPad learning is vast and questions are repeated over and over again. It has been said that learning with an iPad is front loaded in terms of effort as once you get to grips with the technology most apps work in the same way. Unfortunately because the effort is required at the start any barrier may become a sticking point. Suggestion – use ‘How to‘ videos and the Essentials app to help guide the educators.

There has always been resistance to change in education and this will continue with anything new that comes into the sector. iPads are not suitable for every aspect of education but the things it does well are worth pursuing. Our aim is to help educators make an informed choice of how they can be used in the classroom rather than dismissing them out of hand. There must be a reason they are being rolled out across so many classrooms around the globe and as long as our staff feel they have a support mechanism we hope to be successful.

I would be interested to hear from anyone involved in staff iPad training, particularly those who have helped very resistant staff.