The Impact of New Technology in Schools – Results are in!

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I should state from the outset I’m not sure the impact of any new technology in the classroom will ever be truly measurable. It won’t be for the want of trying and there are a number of case studies trying to do just that. However, with that in mind, what conclusions can I draw from two years of iPad use in the classroom?

I have two areas that can be discussed anecdotally. The first is an A level class of 15 students who have spent the last two years studying PE using iPads. This group of students recorded the best results at A level in my ten years at the school. For those familiar with the way UK grades are measured the value-added average was + 17%. As well as using iPads for two years with this group I also introduced the concept of ‘flipped learning‘. Often the group were asked to view a keynote presentation that had been recorded to replace homework. That meant we had an opportunity in class to work through issues and lessons tended to take on more of a seminar feel.

I’m not about to start claiming the iPads are the only reason for this success. Similarly I don’t think the ‘flipped’ learning environment would be the only reason for the boys high achievement. The point is, the introduction of new technology and indeed the pedagogy that is developing, didn’t obstruct the boys learning and achievement. I firmly believe it enhanced the learning process but this is difficult to prove without a control group. If I was to compare it to the previous years set of results they are markedly higher, but there could be many different reasons for this.

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The second area of discussion comes from the Stephen Perse Foundation in Cambridge. The school has been 1:1 iPad for a year and they have just received a record breaking set of GCSE results. 74% A* or 94% A*/A is remarkable by any standard and again serves as an indicator to the positive impact of new technology in schools. I’m not suggesting that the iPads are the reason for the success. However, they clearly didn’t have a detrimental effect on the performance of the school at GCSE level.

So we have an entire GCSE cohort in a 1:1 iPad environment and a trial A level group who have both performed outstandingly well when compared to their predecessors – so what conclusions can I draw?

It is obvious that engagement with the learning is crucial. Top grades are very difficult to achieve without a firm understanding of the subject matter. I believe the new technology has enabled our learners to engage more readily with material and context. It certainly isn’t the only way to achieve the levels of engagement required, but I personally found it much easier to access with the new technology.

The real impact of new technology in school doesn’t have anything to do with grades. The fact that I was able to bring many different opportunities for learning into my classroom always felt right as we went through the process at A level. As you can see in the video above, at the Stephen Perse Foundation the GCSE cohort had many opportunities to express their learning. At a time when collaboration and communication skills are at the top of any employers desirable qualities, it is fitting we are seeing more of it in our classrooms.

As schools discuss the rights and wrongs of tablets in education I can only offer an opinion based on two years of usage and an interesting time deploying iPads in secondary schools. The opportunities they provide have led to a shift in my own teaching and this doesn’t appear to have had a negative effect on my students. It also felt right to adjust what I had been doing for 10 years and I’m certain I’m a better educator for it. Time will tell if this trend is seen across different groups, institutions and countries but I feel secure in the knowledge that, after two years with iPads . . . . . it wasn’t necessarily a bad decision!

The No.1 App for Every Teacher….

Not all apps are created equal.

The first version of Explain Everything was good. The second version is outstanding.

As an educator my life revolves around learning, organisation, workflow and school requirements. Lessons are delivered, work is assessed and data is recorded. Thankfully new technologies are providing ways of coping with the increasing demands. Explain Everything is central to my current workflow.

At its base level Explain Everything is an interactive whiteboard into which you can insert text, pictures and videos. This can be shared with a class through the projector or sent to individuals as required via a number of export options. However, this is not where the power of Explain Everything lies. The power is in the application and its suitability inside and outside the classroom.

An existing presentation can be imported into the app from a Dropbox or GoogleDrive account. This can be displayed at the front of the class whilst the teacher or students annotate the slides. An explanation can be recorded at the same time and this can be exported as a movie file to be watched by the students. In short you can keep a record of every lesson/plenary you do in class for the students to watch at a later date.

Similarly a teacher can record anything that happens in class, via the camera, and then annotate/comment on the work. Again, this project can then be shared with individuals or the whole class.

(courtesy of Digital First Ohio State)

As you can see from the ‘how to’ video there are a number of different functions in the new version of Explain Everything that lend themselves to the classroom. However, I firmly believe the real benefit can be seen outside the classroom walls. As you sit collating resources for a lesson, they can all be brought into the app to share with students. A simple commentary on the resources can become a starter presentation, a resource to look at before the lesson, or a stimulus for a student who needs further guidance. These short ‘videos’ can then become the basis for a ‘flipped classroom‘ approach.

Explain Everything can also have an impact on assessment. With a student’s piece of work inserted into the app an educator has the opportunity to annotate and comment at the same time. As you highlight key areas the commentary allows for explanation and the posing of further questions. Again, this can be exported to the student as a movie file. (I can strongly recommend setting up an unlisted YouTube account for this purpose. That way you only need to share the link with the student and it isn’t available to the wider public.)

This process is complemented by the recording of video to illustrate a point and the use of that video, annotation and commentary to highlight key areas to enhance learning. One example could be taken from a model answer script. A 5 minute explanation with annotation, that can be paused and reflected upon by the student, is a key weapon in a teachers arsenal. There’s no reason the students can’t do the same and create a bank of resources for each other and future revision. The video can also act as a further visual stimulus to support the learning of an individual.

Explain Everything is a ‘must-have’ application for teachers who have access to an iPad. It really does support the learning process inside and outside the classroom and is a key part of my own working practice. I can recommend spending a little time importing a few resources and sharing your efforts with students. Their feedback is always telling.

Teachers – If we don’t adapt, will we fail our students?

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Talk to any educator and it seems they identify the same problems in schools today.

  • Not enough time.
  • Too much red tape.
  • Data overload.
  • Micro management.
  • Exam pressure.

In my time as a teacher there have been numerous battles fought at a national, county and school level with few outcomes in the favour of learners. We have all sorts of measurements and comparisons and checks. We have the students’ best interests at heart and we definitely want them to do well and be prepared for life. Yet schools, and the conversations surrounding them, feel weighed down by too many factors that inhibit learning.

If I’m honest I don’t think this is going to change anytime soon, particularly with the impending exam reforms. Consequently, as a teacher, I cannot control the time I have physically with the students, only the learning experience I expect.

Enter flexible learning.

Now, I am not trying to state that this is a new concept and I am certainly not about to state anything revolutionary. The point is, there are barriers to the choices I can make as a teacher, but I can now access tools to overcome those barriers.

I want students to have access to content delivery from me to ensure they feel they are being guided in the right way. Whether the ‘flipped’ classroom concept is something you subscribe to, the screencasts that are created for it serve many purposes. If you have a bank of ‘direct instruction’ videos that are made of keynote presentations, videos and your explanation, you have the basis of a flexible learning environment – and here’s why…

The videos can:

  • Prepare students for the next lesson
  • Serve as the stimulus for a cover lesson and activity in your absence
  • Act as a point of reference for a student who needs help in a lesson
  • Underpin a revision programme for an individual or group of students
  • Allow you a ‘safety net’ to cope with the demands of a 21st century school

This last point is an important one. Modular exams, illness, field trips and sports fixtures have left my A level classes decimated by absence. This is a fact in our schools today. It has happened every year for as far back as I can remember and it seems little can be done about it.

With this approach, I don’t have to see the students face to face in order to educate them. Of course, it isn’t the ideal scenario but I no longer feel like I am letting them down. An actual lesson is just one opportunity to educate the students, not the only opportunity.

There are a number of tools that facilitate this environment and this has certainly been made easier in recent years:

  • Edmodo – acts as a VLE without the need to login through the school server. A central store of resources as well as assignment collection and student interaction.
  • Twitter – the perfect platform for resource sharing, student chat and discovery
  • iPad – the instant-on device that enables the students to access the resources. Essential for the way my teaching has developed, together with screencast production.

It might not be right for everyone, but if a student needs help in the classroom, appropriate time is now available. The ability to have individual contact with every student in every lesson can’t be underestimated. Similarly, if a student requires help at home, they have a secure means of communication. This isn’t practical all the time but setting up timeslots for students to ask questions in the evening can have a real benefit. As long as the students know they night not receive immediate feedback outside of these slots, it works very well.

Flexible learning or ‘24/7‘ learning has been discussed for many years. I don’t think modern schools can afford to ignore the concept as time in the classroom is so precious and often disrupted. Developing an environment, where classroom time is just one point of contact, frees the students and educators to enjoy a breadth of learning. It also reduces the pressure on time when so many lessons are affected by absence.

I am sure the ability to adapt the learning environment has been made possible by new technologies as the time taken to produce the resources is reduced. I for one am glad I decided to move away from the way I was taught to educate and look forward to flexibility underpinning my teaching in the future.

I welcome any thoughts on flexible learning and the impact it can have.

5 Essential Tips To Help Integrate iPads Into Your School

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8 million iPads have been sold to educational establishments.

This is a remarkable figure and illustrates how many ‘decision makers’ have chosen the iPad as a tool for learning. As we integrate the iPad into schools it is worth reflecting how the initial setup and training can have a real impact on the success or failure of a 1:1 programme.

The recommendations below are borne out of a desire to help teachers without overwhelming them and to model good practice to students. There are many apps that could have been chosen, but those mentioned below are considered generic and able to serve a purpose across the curriculum.

INTERACTION

Early engagement can be facilitated by linking email accounts to the iPad and suggesting users sign up to apps like Zite and Flipboard. Interest in the content means that basic gestures on the device will be used. Sharing of information helps to introduce the options available to users and when coupled with the camera roll, can lead to greater understanding of ‘sharing’ options.

PRACTICALITY

In my opinion it is crucial to model good practice particularly when the distraction element of the device is apparent. Whenever I use the iPads with students there are different levels of instruction to ensure the device remains a tool for learning. From ‘screens off’, to ‘cases closed’, these instructions should be followed throughout any training sessions. In particular, it is important they are used with other staff in the room so classroom management has a common strand for the students to follow. Similarly, if a student doesn’t follow instruction, a consistent approach is required when dealing with the student and their iPad. One of the biggest fears for educators is that the device will be used inappropriately. Ensuring classroom management techniques are included in the Acceptable Use Policy is one way to make sure educators have a frame of reference.

ENHANCE CURRENT METHODOLOGY

It has become clear that because of iPad introduction educators are having to consider pedagogy. Therefore the device must enhance current practice as well. Consequently, it is a good idea to choose apps that can be used for collaboration, Assessment for Learning and workflow. I’d suggest using Socrative for AfL, Explain Everything for collaboration and Edmodo for workflow. (Please follow the hyperlinks for explanation)

It is very easy to wow an audience with what an iPad can do in the classroom but that leads to a ‘show’ with no follow up. The nuanced applications that have an element of awe and wonder tend to have a very short shelf life when it comes to the classroom. Indeed a number of subject specific apps are suitable for use once or twice a year. I would suggest demonstrating those apps that meet the demands of workload. Put another way, educators need to understand how Dropbox will work to share information with students or Edmodo will allow them to annotate and grade assignments without paper. They don’t necessarily need to see the amazing Solar Walk or Aurasma just yet.

For students, it is about understanding that they can still meet the requirements of workflow on the iPad as well as having fun with the new toy. I strongly suggest incorporating iMovie into any training programme as the level of effort students put into such projects is unsurpassed. I am a firm believer that any work that will be shared with ‘the world’ always focuses the mind of a student. The fact that an iMovie project is likely to be shown to a class means students take greater pride in making sure content is correct.

Notability would be the first app I would use to demonstrate how students can work in a way they will recognise on the iPad. Acting as an interactive exercise book, Notability has many features that the students and staff will become comfortable with. However, the initial impression is always one of understanding as workflow seems comparable, apart from the lack of paper!

WORKFLOW

There are a number of options available to schools that allow for collection and assessment of work. They cater for a mixed platform environment as well as 1:1 iPads. Personally, I would ensure students and staff are comfortable with Edmodo and Dropbox as applications to help with workflow between student and teacher. The key is to remove any barriers to the initial setup. I would spend time linking iPads to individuals’ Dropbox accounts and trialling the interaction between stakeholders in a room full of troubleshooters. Once educators grasp how easy the workflow can be there are a number of lightbulb moments that centre around ease and efficiency. It is particularly satisfying when educators realise the student can’t make the excuse of printer problems!

DIGITAL LEADERS

Perhaps the most important. Each class needs experts that will be able to troubleshoot for teachers and students alike. Take time to work with them them and give them access to as many training sessions as possible. Digital Leaders should  help all the way through the training process and perhaps badge them so they are easily identifiable. Teachers will be very thankful that there are three or four individuals who are able to help with the technology in the classroom. It might even make them more prepared to try something new. It is worth remembering that, once an individual gets to grips with the iPad interface, many applications have a similar functionality. The ‘safety net’ that Digital Leaders can provide is invaluable.

They might even run a Genius Bar for you!

On reflection this post is more about the approach than the specifics. When it comes to implementing something new in the classroom, inevitably there is resistance to change. We see it as our remit to remove as many barriers as possible and take small steps to allow individuals to decide where the iPad will fit in the learning process.

I would be very interested to hear any thoughts on the implementation of iPads in education from those just starting out to experienced practitioners.

Top 5 Apps You Want On Your iPad (including ‘how to’ video links)

Following a request for my favourite iPad apps, I have included those central to my workflow as an educator. I offer my top 5, with a few suggestions for application of each in the classroom. (Please click on each title for link to video)

DROPBOX

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A cloud based memory store that is available on every internet device. The ability to access information anytime, anywhere is truly powerful in the learning environment. Dropbox can also act as a workflow solution with shared folders between educator and students. A must have app for anyone with an iPad and the first 2GB is free.

EXPLAIN EVERYTHING

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This interactive whiteboard app is a must for learning with an iPad. At its basic level it allows students to record their voice over annotated slides or insert images to collaborate or demonstrate learning. However, Explain Everything can offer many more options for the educator.

Screencasts can be created that are exported to YouTube and shared with students. These can be used to support learning outside the classroom or personalise it for those moving at a different pace. A presentation can be created by a student/group of students to act as a plenary. This can then be shared with the class via email or a shared Dropbox folder.

The latest version of Explain Everything (due at the end of January) includes the ability to import new or existing video. The ability to commentate on video and annotate slides will have implications for many subject areas.

EDMODO

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Edmodo is superb as a tool for peers to interact in a safe secure manner. The ability to question staff and students, when faced with an academic problem, has proved supportive to learning particularly during homework time. This feature is enhanced by the storage of resources in the Edmodo library and interaction with assignments set by the educator.

Then Edmodo added the ability to upload from iPad using the iOS6 function ‘open in app’. This allows you to upload a document to your Edmodo library on an iPad. You can then link the document to a direct post, note or assignment within the Edmodo app. Suddenly Edmodo has become a simple solution to iPad workflow from student to educator. If you add the annotation tool and immediate feedback then Edmodo is a must have app for iPad.

FLIPBOARD

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‘Flipboard turns your Facebook and Twitter account into something that looks like a magazine. It also lets you build a custom magazine, either by choosing from Flipboard’s pre-built curated “boards” or by importing Twitter lists.’

For the educator, Flipboard is a way of keeping abreast of current topics and up-to-date with social media contacts. The ability to export from Flipboard to a Dropbox acoount or email means it can serve as a suitable filter for information. I have begun to use Flipboard more and more as the stream of information increases from many sources.

As a way of collating information, Flipboard has become particularly useful for students. The ease with which they can browse articles and look for balance of opinion on a subject, makes it a useful tool. It can also act as a useful starter and/or plenary for a lesson with the most up-to-date information being displayed. If you have a class twitter account you can also use it to display information from the group and act as a prompt for collaboration.

SOCRATIVE

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‘Socrative is a smart student response system that empowers teachers to engage their classrooms through a series of educational exercises and games via smartphones, laptops, and tablets.’

Socrative is an excellent ‘assessment for learning’ tool. An educator set a quiz and have the answers from students graphically represented for feedback and to display if required. This can be done on the spot or educators can pre-load a quiz that can be assessed straight-away. The real power of this app is that it is cross platform which means that students can be on existing desktops or laptops whilst the educator has the iPad at the front of the class displaying results.

This app has become so easy to use that most of my students expect a Socrative quiz at some point in a module. The exit ticket has proved particularly important as the data is immediately available to download and can inform future lesson planning.

I appreciate there are many apps that could be on this list. Please add any app suggestions in the comment section below. Always happy to give them a try 🙂

Edmodo is THE iPad Workflow Solution

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The world of iPad workflow just got a whole lot easier. After months of ‘work arounds’ involving screenshots, Dropbox and pre-tablet technology, the latest Edmodo update has changed the game.

Put simply, you can now use the iOS6 function ‘open in app’, to open a document in Edmodo. This allows you to upload a document to your Edmodo library on an iPad. You can then link the document to a direct post, note or assignment within the Edmodo app.

Lets look at an example to illustrate how easy this has made the sharing of assignments for a student and an educator. I’ll use Pages as an illustration as that is the most common word processing package on the iPad.

Once the student has completed their document they should tap on the share and print option in Pages and then tap on ‘open in app’.

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They should then select open in Edmodo and choose a file type to share – I can recommend the ‘Word’ option as this works well with the Edmodo annotation tool.

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This will upload the document to the student’s library (Backpack). They then have the option to attach it to the appropriate assignment or post as directed by the educator.

The rest of the process is then the same as the educator can annotate and grade the assignment on any web based device including the iPad. As soon as the document is closed, all annotations are available to view by the student.

This process really is a game changer for any institution using iPads as an educational tool. The 1:1 environment is now supported by a simple workflow solution and the class set of iPads has an easy means of sharing competed classwork. Having spent many hours with fellow educators trying to decide on the most effective workflow solution I am very glad this update is available. The added bonus lies in the Edmodo interface and the ease with which students and educators alike can interact in a social learning environment.

The beauty of Edmodo is that it is a free platform and it now stands as the class leader ahead of some paid options that had the potential to fulfill the workflow solution (plus this is a free workflow VLE).

These apps are currently supported by the ‘Open in Edmodo’ option and are in common use in iPad environments. Please let me know if you discover any more useful examples and I will add them to the list.

Dropbox, Pages, Notability, Keynote, Numbers, Comic Life, Writing Kit, CoachesEye, Ubersense, Book Creator, iFiles

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.

Assessment

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.

Resources

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.