iPad Mini – A Teacher’s Perspective

The iPad Mini is very light. It has the same operating system as the iPad and is compatible with all the apps. The screen has a 4:3 aspect ratio, but it isn’t retina, and it will set you back around £300 depending on your chosen model.

Right that’s the techy part out of the way – what about learning?

Firstly, if I wanted a device to ‘present’ with at the front of the class, then the iPad mini would be my number one choice. It is so light and effortless to use that swiping form resource to resource or annotating whilst speaking is incredibly easy. Coupled with AppleTV it is very powerful for those educators who ‘deliver’ lessons to their students. It is so fit for purpose that I can see the majority of presentations facilitated by the iPad Mini in coming months. However, I don’t believe tablet use in the classroom should be driven by the ability to deliver content.

The didatic environment is not where the tablet thrives. The most desirable model is 1:1 where every student has access to a device for creation and discovery. Allowing the device to enhance learning by supporting an atmosphere of collaboration and challenge is where educators feel most comfortable with the new technology. So does the iPad Mini fit into this model?

If I’m honest I would say no!!!

This doesn’t mean that the iPad Mini isn’t suitable for the classroom. Indeed I can see many schools opting for this cheaper alternative to the iPad for 1:1 schemes. It will still allow the students to ‘consume’ information and carry out every task they would on an iPad. But it it isn’t the best tool for the job.

The screen is too small for the type of activities that are now common in iPad classrooms. Annotating on an interactive whiteboard and adding text to pictures leads to ‘pinch zoom’ becoming common place. I have often found myself zooming in to check detail on the iPad Mini and the thought of doing this in lessons day after day would not fill me with joy. Editing movies and documents is also a little more difficult and yet viewing the final product is excellent due to the 4:3 aspect ratio.

The iPad Mini might be better suited to a shared device environment, where the tablet is used to collaborate and inform, before being stored back in the cart. The lightweight portability and excellent functionality would make it the choice of many schools looking to provide access to an iPad. Here the reduced cost is also a factor as the shared device is so much less personal that sometimes they are not treated with as much care.

As an aside it is interesting to note that the iOS operating system is playing a huge part in the success of the iPad. The fact you can do everything with iOS and the iPad Mini should not be ignored. If I was in a more mobile profession with plenty of commuter miles to endure then I could see the iPad Mini being my tool of choice. Indeed if money was no object I would like the iPad for the creation of resources and the iPad Mini for lesson time – I’m not sure my Head-teacher reads this? I can but hope . . . .

In terms of learning I would still recommend the iPad for the simple reason I wouldn’t want the hardware to present any barriers. My students are always creating on an iPad and I was interested how they found the iPad Mini compared to their experience with the larger device. When asked about the iPad Mini, students suggested they liked how ‘cool’ it looked and that movies would be good to watch on it. However, they didn’t seem so enamoured with the one finger typing and the reduced screen size when editing their work.

The difference in cost between the iPad Mini and an iPad2 is approximately £50 and as such I would suggest plumping for the larger device. An iPad Mini with a retina display may make the screen size less of an issue but I still doubt it would be the best tool for the job. Inevitably we will see the iPad Mini appear in school as our students have the option to bring their own device. It will be interesting to see if long term use changes opinion.

If you are using an iPad/iPad Mini or any other tablet I would be very interested to hear your opinion.

Integrate THAT Technology into YOUR Classroom

The five ideas below are a suggested starting point if you are integrating new technology into your classroom. From a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) programme, to a class set of hardware, an internet enabled classroom has the potential to enhance learning alongside existing practice.

CREATIVITY

Apps are being developed for education at a rate that is very difficult to keep pace with. This means that competition is fierce and this can only be a good thing for learners. The most successful apps are cross platform so lend themselves to multiple device conditions. As creativity is essential to any learning environment, the ability to access numerous apps to foster interest and intrigue is very attractive.

Examples to try:

Skitch – Allows a student to annotate any image or diagram to meet the demands of the task. This can easily be shared with others to inform group discussion.

Animoto – Brings images, music and text together to produce a movie. Excellent as a tool to present findings.

Paper 53 – A very simple app that offers the ability to create from scratch using a number or artistic tools. Very popular with students regardless of experience.

SOCIAL LEARNING 

Communication outside the classroom has become much simpler with email, Twitter and the development of social media. However, the impact it can have inside the classroom is marked, if managed appropriately. Students have the opportunity to pose questions or suggest ideas without fear of being judged. This encourages less confident students to use their  ‘voice’ when otherwise they might shy away from interacting with others. 

Examples to try:

Today’s Meet – Can act as a backchannel for learning with a very simple interface. Cross platform use so suitable for any internet enabled classroom.

Secure Twitter Group – All students follow each other and the class twitter account. Protect all tweets and the group becomes a very secure communication forum. Works particularly well when asking groups to collaborate and feedback to the class.

Edmodo – The secure social networking site is setup to facilitate class discussion. Has the added advantage of allowing resources to be shared between the educator and students. Again the application is cross platform and serves an internet enabled environment.

ASSESSMENT FOR LEARNING

Expensive e-clicker environments are a thing of the past with new technology. In a BYOD programme there are a host of ways for educators to assess student progress in real time. Learning can be enhanced for all if the educator can interact with every student in the room, beyond hands up, with written evidence immediately submitted.

Examples to try:

Socrative – A free, cross platform, application that allows the educator to set multiple-choice or short answer questions at any point during a lesson. The answers can be displayed or hidden and this in turn informs progress. Exit ticket reports can be immediately emailed to the educator which can then be used for planning the following lesson.

Nearpod – Works alongside your classroom resources to question students and inform progress. Excellent if you want to share information and you are in a 1:1 environment.

WORKFLOW

If you are in a multi-platform environment and want to assess and feedback to students there are a number of applications that can help the educator. Workflow with a device facilitates a quick turn around for feedback. The ability to receive student work, annotate and send back between lessons has significantly improved the process for student and educator alike. It then informs planning for learning on a more realistic timeline rather than having to wait for face to face contact for any feedback.The importance of handwriting can also be supported by any device with a camera function. The suggested applications will allow for annotation across an image so extended writing tasks can still be shared digitally.

Examples to try:

Edmodo – Ten million users support the platform, highlighting it as a ‘must try’ when searching for workflow solutions. When you add in the ability to interact with students in a secure environment, Edmodo can be a very powerful tool.

Dropbox – A shared Dropbox folder allows students to submit work to the educator and then receive annotated feedback. This is particularly useful when coupled with iOS 6’s ability to ‘Open in App’. Essentially this means you can give verbal feedback as well to a student that they can hear and repeat when required.

INTERACTIVE COLLABORATION

Collaborative tasks have always been high on the agenda when seeking to stimulate young minds. The A3 sheet of paper and mini-whiteboards are very useful tools to focus a group on the task at hand. However, tablet based collaboration can take the process a stage further. The sharing options available to students, exporting via email, dropbox or a note-taking application. This allows the students to take a group’s findings and use them to inform their follow up work.

Examples to try:

iThoughts HD – an excellent mind mapping tool with superb ‘in-app’ functionality.

Explain Everything – simply the best interactive whiteboard application

These ideas can all be enhanced by recent developments in the sharing of student work in the classroom. AppleTV allows an iPad to mirror its screen to a suitable projector or there are a number of web based applications that mirror across a wireless network using existing PC hardware. This sharing of material, at any time during a lesson, appears to have a dramatic impact on the pride students take in their work. It also allows the educator to overcome the concern that a device is just a distraction in the classroom.

I welcome any suggestions of how to integrate new technology into the classroom, particularly those that can serve a multi-platform environment.

Twitter and the Job Interview

Professional development is cited as one of the main reasons to use Twitter. From questions asked to blog links shared, Twitter provides a ‘real time’ platform for anyone to discover information. Of course there is the social aspect that dominates the platform, but a Twitter profile, with like minded followers, allows for reasoned debate and conclusion in your chosen field.

Take the teaching profession. There are numerous educators on Twitter prepared to share experiences and resources. Once a Personal Learning Network has been built up, a teacher can usually find help/answers from one of their ‘colleagues’. Add to this the power of the hashtag and it is easy to see why the Twitter community is growing. Participation in an #edchat discussion with @tomwhitby,or a more specific debate, can lead to reams of information and links coming the way of the willing chat member. This helps to inform a decision or spark interest in a new activity.

So what does this have to do with a job interview?

Recently I have been fortunate enough to be asked to interview for opportunities in the education sector with an emphasis on Digital Learning. Prep work for the application process and interviews followed the usual route. The application letter was linked to the job description and research focused on the institutions and their ethos. I asked my PLN for help and was fortunate to have a number of people offer to read my application letter. The extent of the help was very humbling as a number of people redrafted the letter and had plenty of suggestions to help my application. However, this isn’t the reason for this post.

Twitter prepared me for interview, without being asked.

Every conversation about the iPad project. Every discussion about a developing pedagogy with new technology. Every ‘lurking’ session as others discussed education announcements. They all contributed to feeling at ease with interview questions about an area of education that polarises opinion. I didn’t know it, but even lunchtime discussion on interview days mirrored previous debate on the timeline of the great and good of Twitter.

Educators such as @ICTEvangelist @riley_ed and @kevbartle, who regularly contribute opinion, had unknowingly prepared me for an interview day. No amount of reading and searching could have offered a balanced view on the trials and tribulations of Digital Learning in such a short space of time. Not only did I feel I had reasoned answers but also I understood the different opinions offered by staff – A question on workflow – there are advantages and disadvantages. How do we solve the access problem? Difficult but there is an app that will do . . .

In previous years I have had mock interviews with senior members of staff and asked peers how they would approach certain situations. In my 12 months on Twitter I haven’t even asked for it, yet ‘colleagues’ have collaborated to question and inform on a scale that cannot be matched within the confines of a school.

I am not suggesting that Twitter is the only source of information for anyone wishing to prepare for interview. Rather the social interaction and lengths to which people will go to help emphasise its benefit to the individual. Collaboration on a global scale allows you to gather information and the filtering process helps to embed the knowledge. Come to think of it that is what we want for our students, but that is a subject for a different post!

I often question the amount of time that is spent on Twitter and I understand how easily it distracts attention. However, this pales into insignificance when you compare its worth to a professional. I am very grateful to my PLN for their continued questioning and discussion, long may it continue.

P.S. I was offered a job 🙂