iPad in the Classroom – Can we make it simpler?


With many educational institutions choosing to use tablets for learning, it can be quite intimidating for teachers when faced with so many applications. The diagram below serves to illustrate that less than 20 core apps can play a significant part in the learning process and hopefully temper any trepidation.

iPad Key Tools

(with thanks to Greg Hughes @deepexperience1 for his ideas and input)

The apps indicated serve to enhance or modify existing practice with scope to be transformational. The extent to which the learning environment can be changed is up to the educator and students.


Twitter and Skype are part of many students’ lives, with immediate contact and communication a must. There is no reason they can’t be utilised in the classroom and to support learning at home. A class twitter account provides an easy way to convey links/information and is simple to set up and make private. Skype provides a free way to collaborate with peers and indeed experts in a subject area with little technical know-how.

A PDF annotator and Skitch (with the ability to annotate images) might take a little more getting used to, but are invaluable to the educator with tablets in the classroom. Existing resources are easily modified and the ability to redo and share can’t be underestimated. Students quickly learn shortcuts and the learning process can be enhanced with minimal attention paid to the technology.

Perhaps the most important collaborative tool however is GoogleDrive. Leaving GoogleApps aside, the sharing options and collaborative documents make GoogleDrive a really powerful app and one worth spending some time learning all about.

(with thanks to dc12norfolk)

As the video illustrates, GoogleDrive is a very powerful learning tool with transformational possibilities for students and educators alike.


I firmly believe that the reason why the iPad is the right choice for schools lies with two unique applications – iBooks Author and iTunesU. The ability to collate all existing and new resources into an iBook with iBooks Author and set out a course and its administration for a period of time in iTunesU will change the way some schools work. If you add to this the simplicity with which educators can create screencasts for their students using Explain Everything, then you have resource applications that are far beyond current methods.

Once an iTunesU course or iBook has been created, students just require a link to be able to download it to their iPad. A real plus is that any changes made by the author are automatically synced to any subscriber’s iPad. No more queuing for the photocopier!


Plenty has been written about Edmodo and Socrative as tools for learning and I concur, they are superb. Socrative will provide plenty of information for the educator with exit ticket reports (a real winner when planning for the next lesson). Edmodo also provides the ability to receive/annotate and grade assignments without any need for paper and students receiving their feedback as soon as it is completed by the educator.

(with thanks to Ron Bosch)

If educators only get to grips with these two applications they can have a real impact on the learning process and also the day to day management of workload.


Attention to detail is always enhanced when a student believes their work might be displayed to their peers. AppleTV allows any iPad on the same wireless network to be mirrored to a projector. This means that apps such as iMovie, iThoughtsHD and Notability allow students to create and share their work at the behest of the educator. It’s amazing how, after a couple of attempts, students’ work ethic improves when they have the opportunity to receive immediate feedback on their creations.

(with thanks to XMA4education)

I’m not suggesting there aren’t other generic apps that are very suitable for the classroom and I could have included many more. There are also countless subject specific apps that can really help educators and students alike to convey and discover information. The point of this post is, hopefully, to illustrate how a few apps and a 1:1 iPad environment needn’t be a daunting prospect.

All thoughts very welcome.

Digital Leaders – Why you need them in your school? (Plus a few tips on how to get started)


Students are curious.

Without this curiosity, I don’t believe a Digital Leader programme would be so successful. Show them something they are interested in and they want to know more. If they come up against a barrier, they want to overcome it. If they can find out something no-one else knows, they want to share it. Successful Digital Leaders are the epitome of the curious student with more to offer schools than perhaps any other student body at this time. The classroom environment is changing and students and teachers need their help.


  • A guide when using technology to support learning
  • Exponent of new and existing applications
  • Trainer and supporter of school members including parental, teacher and student bodies

The example below is taken from our 1:1 iPad initiative which serves to illustrate how crucial Digital Leaders will be to the success of the rollout. It must be emphasised that the roles and responsibilities are transferable to any technology in schools. I would suggest that the process is a little easier as all students have the same device.


  • An iGenius in each class (responsible for communication with students and teachers alike)
  • Four further Digital Leaders in each class
  • Genius Bar run every lunchtime (in a very public space)
  • Training every Friday lunchtime given to Digital Leaders to support their development
  • Edmodo group for communication, sharing good practice and new ideas


  • Students submit a 30 second presentation to a panel of interviewers. The presentation can involve any application although the most common is an iMovie with different apps used to create the content
  • The panel then ask questions centred around communication and commitment. An ability to understand that skill levels are varied is key to the selection process, alongside communication skills
  • Digital Leaders chosen to meet the model requirements (with respect given to outstanding candidates above and beyond the four Digital Leaders per class)


  • First to receive information about new apps/ideas
  • Friday lunchtime training for selected Digital Leaders based on focus for the week ahead. This allows for weekend interaction and feedback amongst the group. Training includes appropriate digital communication and presentation suggestions
  • Access to key information from teaching body and IT support
  • Consistent rewards for attendance and application – in line with school achievement policy


  • The primary aim of our Digital Leader programme is to support learning in the classroom
  • The presence of four ‘experts’ in the classroom means a teacher should never have to deal with technological issues – Wifi, App use, Workflow etc. The reality is that the Digital Leaders provide a safety net without having to call a member of the IT support team. Consequently, teachers are more likely to try new applications knowing the Digital Leaders are trained to support them
  • A teacher needs to manage when the Digital Leaders can offer support and ensure it doesn’t hinder their own learning
  • Feedback and praise works very well in the iPad environment as it can be shared instantly. The Edmodo groups serve as an excellent way of highlighting contributions
  • The Genius Bar, run by an iGenius and four Digital Leaders, must serve to solve issues for any school member. It helps to have a focus that the Digital Leaders can demonstrate to encourage interaction. Set up is easy as everything is wireless!
  • The presence of four or five Digital Leaders in each class means that absence or forgetfulness is barely noticed. If in doubt, more is definitely more


  • Dropbox sign up for new students was as simple as asking the Digital Leaders to ensure all members of their class had an account (GoogleDrive will be the same)
  • A question from a teacher posted on the Edmodo ‘wall’ led to fifteen responses with answers to the query. As a result an app was ‘gifted’ to all students that hadn’t been previously used
  • A Digital Leader came up with a method of downloading any file from the internet into Goodreader that meant we had a one step process to transfer files (including from existing VLE)
  • If the Digital Leaders have an issue they communicate with each other, via Edmodo, discover the answer and thank anyone that helped for their time. As a consequence their ‘chatroom’ will be used a as a model of good practice

The reality is, I can’t see how a 1:1 programme could be properly supported without Digital Leaders in the classroom. There isn’t the funding or manpower to support all teachers and students and, if I’m honest, I think fellow students are better equipped in many situations. There is a time commitment to the process and the initial setup is crucial to success. However, I can assure you it is worth it and the payback for all the questions you don’t have to answer cannot be underestimated.


Train your Digital Leaders to be masters of workflow. Your fellow teachers will thank you.

Paddling the Learning Pool – 8 Tools That Changed My Teaching

There’s a lot going on.

Educators seem overloaded with initiatives and expectations. Students appear weighed down by assessment and intervention. The profession is under attack by a swathe of politicians and their ‘bright’ ideas. Bad press outweighs good. It can feel like there is too much to do and not enough time to do it in, so I asked myself: how can I improve?

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is indeed ‘madness’ but rarely, in education, is there an opportunity to make sweeping changes. However, a device has transformed the way I work and made possible a number of things I wish I had the courage to alter years ago.

Now, before you think this is just an advert for an iPad, I must add that I am merely writing about my experience to illustrate how I have been able to change the way I do things. This post is not intended to preach or convert. Rather it is an opportunity to reflect on an a year of radical adjustments to my working practice.


Three tools have made a huge difference to the feedback my students receive.

Socrative – A free e-clicker that is regularly used to assess student progress. This simple AfL tool can be pre-loaded with questions or used as a spot check for groups or individuals. An exit ticket can be set as a plenary option with student answers immediately emailed to a linked account.

Dropbox – The cloud based memory store, enables students to hand-in work through a shared folder option. These shared folders receive the work that can then be opened in another app, suitable to annotate the work, by the educator. When the assessment has been completed, the document is simply saved back to the shared Dropbox folder where the student can view the annotations.

Edmodo – Alongside the ability to submit work, the Edmodo platform has the advantage of incorporating a secure social network and a library of resources. Consequently, students can interact with peers or the educator to ask questions of their assignments and access information that has been uploaded to support their learning. Again any uploaded assignments can be annotated within the Edmodo platform and feedback immediately received by the student.

These tools have had a profound effect on the way I assess and how the students receive it. The impact of the  change in the usual timeline of submitted work must not be underestimated. Submission, assessment and return all happens between lessons without the need for face to face contact. Consequently it informs next lesson planning and enables student correction much closer to final completion.

In the Classroom

There are a number of subject specific apps that have found their way into my classroom but there are a few generic tools that are consistently used.

Multimedia camera – From simple image capture to edited movie, the iPad camera has become integral to the learning process. Creating and sharing resources has imagery at its core and the recent improvements to the  camera specifications are a blessing. Add iMovie to this and you have a very powerful tool.

Apple TV – The ability to display the iPad screen of any student has had a significant impact on the ethos of the classroom. There is an increased pride in work, knowing that there is a chance it might be displayed to the rest of the class at any point. The wireless connection also serves to compare creativity and stimulate debate. (In a traditional PC classroom the same could be said of the Reflector or AirServer app.)

Explain Everything – Of all the interactive whiteboards that are available for the iPad, Explain Everything has the most impressive functionality and sharing options. As well as being a medium for student creation and explanation, it also serves as a tool to personalise learning. The ability to create resources, with different audio attached to slides, means students can receive different instruction/questions/prompts. For those students who are not quite grasping initial concepts, it is a simple task to send them a link to an Explain Everything creation to help them (headphones are useful here). Similarly, you can really stretch the minds of those students who are desperate to discover more.


Gone are the days of photocopying and filing cabinets. The tools below have enabled me to streamline my productivity and function in a manner more conducive to my students’ way of learning.

Evernote – I often refer to Evernote as a virtual filing cabinet or my memory digitally mapped. With the ability to Tag notes and create folders, Evernote serves as a store of everything I need as an educator and is available across platform. For more help with Evernote it is well worth looking at the work of @thenerdyteacher who has conducted a fantastic Evernote experiment.

YouTube – Having your own Youtube account enables you to store all sorts of multimedia resources for free. The creation of a link that can be passed to your students also makes it a very efficient way to share information or created screencasts/movies. On top of this, it is very important to ask students to create ‘educational’ YouTube accounts. This means that all the new ‘work’ they create has a visual medium to facilitate sharing between peers and the educator. Coupled with iMovie learning with YouTube as a creativity medium is very powerful.

Dropbox – Another mention for my cloud based memory store. The ability to upload/download to and from Dropbox is prevalent in the most popular apps. This means any resources can be accessed from any device at any time and has proved invaluable. I often find myself demonstrating the functionality of an iPad by accessing my Dropbox account to display resources via Apple TV.

The power of these tools lies in their immediacy and accessibility. The iPad is part of my working practice because it complements the way I educate and how I want my resources to be available. If we add in the ability to assess/feedback to students in a more effective manner for their learning then we have a tool that is making a significant impact.

I must reiterate that these tools work for me as an educator who has access to a strong wireless network and students who have embraced the technology alongside the learning. We have used many, many apps at different stages in our learning and feedback from students has been very important when deciding on their effectiveness. However, the ability to create, share and feedback with such ease has meant we have been able to continue happy in the understanding that learning is the most important thing.

I’m just glad I made the effort to change.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 🙂

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?