Our Flexible Friend
The idea of students sitting in front of PCs learning how to use Word is as dead as the proverbial dead parrot. It is already an antiquated model of learning – like chalk or fountain pens with ink-wells; it has a whiff of the twentieth century about it, rather than preparing our students for the future. Whilst the DfE dithers about what they should do with technology (Mr Gove clearly wants to reboot the chalk and talk bygone age), schools are left with a rapidly changing world, where budgets are at a premium and ICT often stretches what budgets now allow. All the while, students are learning on their iPads, Android tablets and smart phones, writing more in texts and tweets daily than in their collective writing experience during the school week. We aren’t harnessing this expertise, never mind guiding it to a place of higher learning!
Clearly, the Microsoft model of a straight-jacketed suite of programmes, with little synchronicity between devices, is a thing of the past. Students want to instantly access information and media (whilst editing, adapting and creating their own) and we need to harness and shape this creativity. Whatever subject we teach, we also need to guide students towards a digital literacy that helps them source the best information, filtering out the European food mountain style piles of rubbish that litters the web. Sitting in front of an ageing fleet of PCs isn’t going to do the job. The flexibility of students working in groups filming with an iPad, or making a presentation with ExplainEverything, for example, then seamlessly showing their films through Apple TV or AirPlay, is an instantaneous way of making the learning visible. It also has the added bonus of making the learning feel more ‘real’ and more familiar to students.
No longer should Geography teachers, or Maths teachers, or Art teachers, or indeed teachers of any subject, have to traipse across the school to find a computer room – losing fifteen minutes of the lesson in the process, gaining a moist folder and a raucous group of excitedly damp students. We shouldn’t have to struggle to make advanced room bookings that then become superfluous because we didn’t follow the gold plated plan! The byword for new technology must be flexibility – flexibility in how and where students can learn.
Familiarity breeding contentment, not contempt
Educational luminaries such as John Hattie and Dylan William have found little concrete evidence to support the view that technology has a transformative effect on learning. Indeed, what we know is that key is the teacher – they are the nexus for learning, technology is just a tool. But what if the tools teachers use actually has leverage into a wealth of expertise and learning already possessed by students? The research on these mobile and flexible devices is still in its infancy which makes finding an evidential ‘answer’ problematic, but if we know that students understand new things in the context of things they already know, then it stands to reason that we should make the unfamiliar familiar by using familiar tools. Hattie and William have inevitably been looking to research from the past – where the older fixed model of technology has never truly enriched learning in any transformative way. We have all been guilty of looking backwards: whole class ICT, perched impassively in front of some poor imitation of a game, or a clunkingly slow VLE is a weak version of what is truly familiar to students – therefore it is dismissed as phony by students. With some degree of teacher expertise (I don’t think the teacher has to be an outstanding technological expert – have you seen a five year old navigate a mobile phone or an iPad quicker than their grandparents ever could?) we can tap into a world of familiar knowledge and skill possessed our students – not only that – we must do if we are to help shape their crucial digital literacy.
For good or ill, students live with technology as an integral part of their lives; how they communicate and socialise, and of course, how they learn. If we could harness the impassioned determination to master the latest incarnation of Fifa or COD in Maths or Science lessons, or even ICT itself, we would most definitely be onto something. Now, I’m not suggesting the ‘gamification’ of our curriculum – but on the iPad for instance, there are a wealth of apps, such as: ExplainEverything, iMovie, ComicLife, Notability etc. which can take the written word and transform it into something more real and make it multi-modal like the texts with which they engage with every day and will do so in future.
If you making using ICT tools something special, a treat, then students are in danger of not learning the knowledge you are seeking. Instead they may only remember the novelty of the change in their learning, they may remember playing with the tool, not learning the knowledge being leveraged by the tool. Students learn and remember more effectively when their emotions are stimulated – it they are even momentarily elated by using iPads, then that has the potential to override their long term memory – and the tool becomes obstructive to the learning. Put simply, using flexible, mobile ICT devices must be done frequently and as an integral part in how we teach and students learn, otherwise they will become another novelty or gimmick. Using iPads may have an initial prestige, but when that wears off the real learning will begin, and with the right pedagogy, the learning can be amplified by the skilful applications available. In short, if we use the tools a lot they will lose their gimmick factor and become very valuable tools that can stretch and enhance learning.
I would like to note that our faculty is undertaking an iPad pilot, which began this year. We have already seen some outstanding learning in evidence, with student motivation raised by using the tools, because of their prestige, but also because of the teacher using the tools to make student learning instantaneously visible on a regular basis. We have honed in on teachers becoming expert with a smaller range of apps, whilst using the devices as a collaborative tool for group work, with some capacity for a one-to-one technology model (this is inessential, however, as we have planned to use the tool in groups). It hasn’t all been plain sailing – there have been issues with saving student work; with failures with Apple TV etc., but our use of ICT as a tool for learning has multiplied nearly exponentially – frequency and familiarity matter. We are moving beyond the ‘distraction stage’ of the new technology, where students may be at risk of remembering only the use of the new tool, rather than committing the knowledge and learning to long term memory. We are moving into a stage of greater familiarity, and with sound pedagogy, we will continue to make marginal gains in our teaching and learning using these powerful tools for learning.
Imagine the very typical scene of a class in an ICT suite. I am sure you would simply visualise each individual student working away at their own computer – such is the basic paradigm of ICT use that we have all internalised. What is typical is snapshot of the near catatonic bliss of individual students disappearing into a virtual world of ICT – their terrain, their world! In my experience as an English teacher, students would often use an ICT room to be researching on the web, perhaps some aspect of the social context of a given text, like researching Great Depression America when we study ‘Of Mice and Men’. Each ICT room is built to encourage purposeful individual learning; group work is a concept left for our usual classroom spaces. When working with ICT simply putting students in pairs can have a radical impact upon their learning. A good teacher knows that group work is key – collaboration can lead to greater creativity – students can better enhance their knowledge base and understanding by working together. When working in pairs on the same task as mentioned above students can synthesis their ideas and judgements, debating and evaluating their evidence. Why can’t the new technology of tablet devices, like the iPad, and mobile learning more generally embrace the same principals of effective group work and collaboration?
With any education technology it is important to put great thought into implementation and how it will shape effective pedagogy. The iPad is clearly leading the charge for mobile technology in the classroom. Now, issues of price and effective usage are abound with the iPad and other similar devices. By making the iPad a tool primarily for group work and collaboration it can greatly enhance learning in a myriad of ways – not only that, it is highly cost effective. In a time of fiscal austerity good pedagogy may well be a way of preserving dwindling budgets.
Here’s an example I made earlier:
Now, there are many ways in which students can use the iPad as a collaborative tool to enhance learning. Take a single task in my subject area of English – related to the aforementioned ‘Of Mice and Men’ – the filming of dramatic monologues created through purposeful group work. As a group, students can formulate effective open and closed questions for a range of the key characters in the text. Students can then hone their questions to a top four or five, thereby evaluating their understanding together, synthesising the best of their ideas. These can then be streamed and shaped by the teacher or other students through critical formative assessment of their ideas. Also, if needs be, they can use the iPad to search the text or the web for useful supporting information as they learn. Each of the group can then take a role as one of the characters being hot seated and answer their formulated questions. They can then use the iPad as a tool to film and record their performances using iMovie. These films can be streamed instantly to the class projector, with other groups peer assessing the quality of the questions and the appropriateness of the answers relative to their understanding of the novella. Their film can be saved and stored in Dropbox to be used again, recycling the learning easily where necessary (repetition is the one of the keys to mastery). Now, this task could be done with a video-camera, but the iPad does it with ease and is brilliantly multifunctional. It is a camera, a Visualiser, an Interactive Whiteboard and a PC all in one! The film can be made simply and quickly, edited by students as they film.
The iPad is simply a great tool to record, store and share, annotate, assess etc. It functions brilliantly for group tasks – allowing for group annotation, shared reading, shared writing and a tool for oral presentations (ExplainEverything is my favourite app which can record oral commentaries over presentations – you may never need PPT again!). Coupled with the ability to stream work instantly to the projector using Airplay, it is a great way to formatively assess their group learning with immediacy, whilst heightening the sense of purpose for almost all students.
Almost all of the research into mobile devices centres upon the one-to-one approach. This is coupled with the less popular, but emerging, ‘bring your own device’ approach. Both have obvious benefits. Each individual students having a device opens up a host of options that the collaborative approach cannot. However, there are also prohibitive costs related to this approach and the emphasis on individual work can inhibit the deeper learning as shown above. Having seven iPads as a ‘class set’ also allows many more classes to use the devices at any given time, multiplying the potential benefits. By approaching the new technology as tools for collaborative learning schools can make significant savings in a time of fiscal austerity – not only that, the benefits to pedagogy are still clear. It may take a paradigm shift in how we envision the use of technology and mobile devices, but the collaborative approach could be the way forward for many schools looking to implement iPads and new technology more generally in our era of slashing cuts – making a virtue out of necessity.
Firstly I need to lift the mountain of guilt from my shoulders before I give my views on the potential evils of PowerPoint. I have two guilty confessions about this week:
1. I made three PowerPoints this week! I was making new schemes of learning for the department. Knowing most of the dept like using them I made some image based PowerPoints, despite wanting to phase them out of my teaching forever and encourage others to do the same! It was the easy thing to do. Hypocrisy you may rightly cry! To slightly mitigate this behaviour, I did make two ExplainEverything audio presentations as well, just to mix it up and give the students a different style of presentation.
2. My second guilty secret is that I took my small children to MacDonalds this weekend. It was lazy. It was wrong – I know, and I’m sorry. Please don’t judge me too harshly!
Glossing over my bad parenting hastily, I want to get back to PowerPoints! Now, I admit, they aren’t as evil as I may have initially suggested (English teachers are notorious for their use of hyperbole!), but they are over-used and often abused so I want to weigh in on the subject. There should be some simple rules for teachers in my view:
Rule 1. You should not make jokes about ‘death by PowerPoint’ and then go on to show a 50 slide PowerPoint! That is not irony – it is not big and it is not clever. This particularly applies to training providers, especially exam board training sessions! STOP this please!
Rule 2. Don’t write what you are going to say anyway – I am not an idiot, nor are students. Say it with me: Do not patronise with PowerPoint!
Rule 3. Try hard to not exceed ten slides (when I have broken this rule, it has been only just over!) and if you do they should only be creative images.
Rule 4. Make the slides image based and/or with media clips – not crammed with writing. In fact, if possible, go wordless.
Rule 5.Try to use a variety of tools of teaching strategies instead of PowerPoint – variety is the spice of life! If you want to use technology you could mix it up with Prezi, Pinterest, make a movie, record a podcast etc. Be courageous and do away with them completely!
Rule 6. Experiment with ‘flipping’ the lesson, making the PowerPoint largely redundant.
Rule 7. Do not use pixelated images – these look awful when at full size!
Rule 8. Do not include garishly colourful backgrounds – these do nothing but make people feel slightly queasy!
Rule 9. Do not use other people’s PowerPoints without some serious editing – would you wear someone else’s ill fitting clothes? No.
Rule 10. I don’t have one, but I felt finishing on 9 rules would be odd!
Right, I feel so much better having confessed my sins. If you too were raised in a moralistic crucible like me you may want to add to my rules, or flagellate yourself for breaking them! Also, I recognise that by creating rules I thereby admit there is a place for PowerPoint, but as the saying goes ‘everything in moderation’.
When the iPad is mentioned as a tool for learning to large groups of teachers I always detect a initial sense of awe and a frisson of excitement, quickly followed by a healthy dose of scepticism and even fear for some. I think the vast majority of teachers see it as a potentially useful tool for teaching and learning, but perhaps too many still see it as something of a glorified word processor! What is crucial is that those teachers have the experience of going beyond the ‘gimmick factor’ to realise the potential of the iPad to transform conundrums which often confound us as teachers.
It is a helpful tool (in my view the most helpful ICT device by a mile), not a miracle cure – but any teacher who witnesses the motivation levels inspired by the iPad will experience how it can engage students in the challenging process of writing and much more. With its myriad of apps, the iPad can harness oral rehearsal like no other technology to aid the writing process. With its capacity to show students writing through the projector at any moment (Apple TV, Airplay or a variety of other apps), it becomes a powerful way to make formative assessment instantaneous for all; helping to make the craft of writing more easily visible, and with good teacher pedagogy, more understandable. With the capacity to make real ebooks the iPad can make the writing process feel more real and more valuable to our students – there is no better way to make students value the crucial skills of drafting and proof reading than to create the opportunity for a genuine audience and create products the look and feel professional.
‘Didn’t we inspire great writers and great writing before the iPad, or other such ICT?’ Yes. ‘Can’t we motivate students to write for the sake of it – can’t outstanding pedagogy exist without the iPad tool.’ Yes, undoubtedly. We should aim for a state of play where students are highly motivated without a reliance on technology; where students develop the core skills of writing both with and without technology – and yes, we must continue to hone their skills with the humble pen and paper! However, we should not ignore the potential gains provided by tools like the iPad, whose multi-functionality provides a host of ways to improve teaching and learning for writing. The iPad, with it’s unmatched range of applications, and it’s reliability and quality, can provide a series of marginal gains that cumulatively can make a significant difference to the learning of students – with writing being a key skill that can be enhanced.
‘It is about the pedagogy stupid!’
Any teacher who has used the iPad with students will know the x-factor it provides (nothing to do with the awful Simon Cowell product I assure you!) – the initial oohs and ahhs and impressed looks; the endless excited questions about it. Like anything, however, those initial awed impressions fade to a level of familiarity. That being said, the raised sense of motivation is palpable and never really goes away – remember, we are teaching ‘digital natives’ who have an expertise with technology (often beyond our own – something we should not fear, but instead harness) that makes them feel comfortable in their learning, often assuming the mantle of the expert unconsciously and with aplomb. When they begin to master the tool their confidence rises still further and they are more engaged than ever. Boys in particular, exhibit greater engagement and focus. One male GCSE student in my school reflected upon his learning with the iPad, stating: “I’m more likely to use technology – I’ll do more and work harder. It’s something different and new. I can make things look better and so I wouldn’t mind showing my work to the class then.” This young man is your archetypal disinterested boy, typically turned off by the process of writing, as he has formed a hardened sense of failure from an early age that is difficult to unpick. The technology gave him a sense of confidence and pleasure in writing that should not be underestimated – in fact, I view it as absolutely crucial to success.
Beyond the confidence and beyond the motivation levels of students is the use of the tool to enhance core teacher pedagogy. Why the iPad is the best technology, in my opinion, for students, is that is has such multi-functionality, such flexibility. Actually, the fact that it is keyboardless (you can purchase wireless keyboards of course) I perceive as a strength – as it removes the misnomer that technology for writing is simply a word processing tool. It can be that, but to transform and modernise and pedagogy it needs to be so much more.
’The ‘How’ – ways in which the iPad can help improve student’s writing:
Oral rehearsal and recording: the iPad provides many applications that allow students to work both individually and collaboratively in rehearsing their writing – a crucial skill to support writing. For example, in devising a scheme for next year’s GCSE controlled assessment on writing a monologue, the students will work together on filming a monologue using iMovie. They will use the variety of camera shots and scene changes to build the narrative structure and sense of voice. They will edit the film, reflecting on the language choices, before showing it to the group to receive constructive criticism. The final process of writing up the monologue becomes cognitively clearer, the students have drafted without realising they have drafted! By using ExplainEverything, students can record their ideas, perhaps commentating on a text they have uploaded to the slide in the application, before they embark upon writing a conventional essay. They can play a presentation to the group and receive feedback on shaping what they have produced, giving then the constructive criticism they need to then write well.
Aiding the planning of writing: iPad has a legion of apps specifically for creative planning, such as Popplet, that are very useful tools. By using the likes of Notability, students can record their notes, save images, draw and be creative in their planning. Websites, such as Pinterest, or the Dropbox app, can be used to share planning, to access shared research or to engage in ‘flipped classroom’ learning. Again, the options are endless, but the teacher should hone their method to best suit their students. Apps like Comic Life can allow students to create comic book style plans for their narrative writing; Puppetpals can allow students to ‘play’ with interactions between characters, to practice speeches or debates in a fun and lively fashion.
Writing models: alongside using their own writing in the process of modelling, by using applications like Goodreader, or accessing documents from Dropbox, students can annotate upon almost any document imaginable! Classic skills of text marking can again be shared and made easily visible for all – the process can become shared, guided by the teacher or other students. Any annotation can be saved and stored, therefore making it accessible for future lessons, or even other groups of students. Although I have not used it, Google Documents can be utilised for creating shared documents and drafting writing across different devices – something I plan on researching soon. Annotation is an age old teaching strategy that isn’t new to any of us, but the iPad can take it up a level or three. The iPad is simply a tool to make the process of modelling and annotating more interactive, more easily visible and making any text more accessible.
Using the device and its applications as a stimulus for writing: I need not explain the potential use of the web or the YouTube app to aid wiring, only to say that it is fantastic to not have to book a computer room, or to organise and undertake the potted journey to the computer room to research the web, or to find some crucial gem of information that the students need for their writing! A range of stimuli for writing is there at the touch of a button – from the music library, the photograph library, iBooks, iTunes U etc. – the options are endless and all ready with easy and flexible access.
Formative assessment – unveiling the mysteries of the writing process: by using Apple TV, or applications like Airplay or Ideas Flight, it allows the teacher to stream the learning from any iPad in the room instantaneously – see Fig 1. Using Notability, students can write their ideas, perhaps a model paragraph or the opening of a narrative. The teacher can stream the writing and embark on questioning to support their writing, garner feedback from others and annotate directly onto the writing on the student’s iPad. The opportunities for guided writing and shared writing are obvious. The visibility of their writing becomes a powerful way to unveil the process of writing explicitly and with simple immediacy. Finally, taking a photograph of the written work of students is a great way to share their work and provide useful feedback for any given task.
What is clear is that the iPad has so many useful tools it can be almost be overawing, like a child flooded with excitement in a sweetshop! Each school or department needs to identify their priorities, harness their shared knowledge and learn together. You can use Twitter to find answers from their PLN (professional learning network) or the host of helpful YouTube video guides to help you through using the device as a teaching and learning tool. Our English and Media faculty have identified key teaching and learning strategies which will enhance our teaching and learning pedagogy – many in evidence above – that we will work together in honing. There will be elements of risk, there will be failures (technology has a habit of doing that at inopportune moments!), but the benefits outweigh the challenges. With some mastery, iPads can undoubtedly improve writing, providing marginal gains at every step of the writing process to result in better writing by our students.
The Problem with Reading
Perhaps the biggest challenge for myself as an English and Media Studies teacher, and educators more broadly, is the constant fight against the steady decline of reading ability, and the capacity for reading for pleasure, that we find each year in our schools. Without wishing to sound like a jack-booted CBI spokesperson (who seem to exist only to reduce corporate taxes and demonise the state education system), there is undoubtedly a decline in reading that has a pervasive effect on our students and their life chances; affecting their capacity to read both functionally, and as equally importantly, to experience the imaginative delights that reading literature has to offer. I am sure many teachers could provide lots of anecdotal evidence of a decline in reading habits (by this, I must stress ‘traditional’ reading – web reading is in rude health in many aspects), alongside some hard statistical evidence.
The following BBC article paints a bleak picture as ‘four million’ children do not own a book:
Every time I have the chance to meet parents I am sure I sound like a broken record, extolling the virtues of reading for pleasure, in my sincerely held belief of its transformative impact. I am proud to say that my school is a ‘Reading School’, and we seek out lots of opportunities to promote reading, such as running our own ‘Huntington Big Read’ events, raising money to purchase books to give to our students to keep, and generally involving everyone we can in the promotion of reading. This is an ongoing battle however, one that needs an arsenal of resources. One crucial way to revive reading is by harnessing what is arguably one of the factors that explains the decline in traditional reading – technology. With e-books on the rise and mobile tablet based learning also beginning to flourish in our schools, we must seek out how we can revive reading with the technological tools at our disposal.
Technology: How the iPad can be the Trojan Horse for Reading
Not only does the iPad provide a pivotal tool for effective and engaging group teaching and learning, it has the potential to promote literacy and reading in an innovative and exciting fashion. With iBooks and ITunes U there is the unique opportunity to utilise a vast wealth of free classic literature. With no barriers of copyright, this literature can be used to challenge students in a positive manner; encouraging them to interact with reading many of the students would not have such easy access to, nor perhaps have the inclination to read. It is the perfect combination of the best of traditional reading, integrated with the best of modern technology. The capacity for instant annotation, internet research, audio podcasting, YouTube compatibility and the actual creation of ‘real’ books (iBooks Author on the Mac), provides an impetus to reading that is completely in sync with our core purpose as educators – to help create confident learners, who thrive in a changing world, where both core literacy and technological and media literacy are all equally as crucial. Alongside this, there is the capacity to buy texts and sync them across devices – with many of these texts having interactive elements that promote engagement, alongside fostering core reading skills of annotation, skimming and scanning etc. in a format that can be saved or erased in an instant.
The Best Mobile Device
The iPad is uniquely placed as a tool that would provide a motivation for students wishing to ‘challenge’ themselves by reading further. The iPad has a huge degree of prestige with students, and more importantly it has a myriad of functions to enliven and enhance reading. The iPad wouldn’t replace books in every classroom any time soon, there isn’t the capacity in every school, but they would be a tool to ‘analyse, evaluate and create’ texts, whilst providing an easy platform for students to become producers themselves. For example, schemes of learning that create poetry anthologies, or newspapers, could easily be formatted as an iBook; with links to video introductions and explications, art work and music. These can become truly ‘real’ texts, disseminated not just in school, but in the iStore – heightening the sense of purpose and student engagement. The iStore is currently enhancing its educational output, with iTextbooks and interactive ebooks now beginning to be produced in conjunction with traditional ‘books’. Apple’s dominant market share, although not a positive thing in some ways, means that they are best placed for updating the best software and hardware to enhance pedagogy. An interesting example for A2 English would be an interactive ‘Frankenstein’ app being produced, that includes the classic narrative, a modern and interactive retelling and a beautiful range of contemporaneous images (anatomical drawings and maps etc.) to stimulate interest.
Further innovations, such as saving research reading in Dropbox, means that students could complete and save homework; access research by previous students; access helpful YouTube videos, and read through their home devices, without being reliant of the vast expanse of the web, or the potentially limited knowledge of parents or siblings. This can work in conjunction with school VLE systems, not be exclusive of it, thereby encouraging a real synchronicity between student learning at home and in school.
Practical Teaching & Learning Strategies to Enhance Reading using the iPad
1. Use the device simply as an eBook reader, particularly with the impressive range of free library of classics that students can access. Books can be purchased and synced across devices. iBooks has a simple dictionary capacity, and highlighting and annotation features, that mean students can track their notes or identify key quotations.
2. One nifty strategy is to take a screenshot of a page they are reading, thereby saving it in the photo library, where it can be imported to a whole host of apps that can annotate that very page – or simply sync that page between apps using Apple TV (or AirPlay). By mirroring this work through Apple TV (such a simple process) so the whole class can see the annotation! It provides a brilliant opportunity for forming ideas, engaging in debate and honing key reading skills. http://www.simplehelp.net/2010/04/03/how-to-take-a-screenshot-of-your-ipad/
3. Using Notability to make multi-modal notes: this app (currently cheap at 69p!) is an easy and intuitive way to import photos or screenshots of their reading (or indeed their writing), alongside web page images etc. that they can then annotate and make audio notes etc. These can be saved and emailed to others and recorded in a multitude of ways for for use.
4. Using ExplainEverything for great presentations based on their reading: the humble book review can really be enhanced, and likely superseded, by creating presentations on this great app (one of my favourites for teaching and learning). Students can save almost any files type, image etc. and then create a flowing presentation with an audio commentary. This application really should see the death of ‘death by PowerPoint’!
5. Using the iPad for Internet research: The Safari web browser is a direct way to undertake internet research at any time, either instantaneously in class, or at home. What the iPad enhances about this common approach to researching authors or social contexts, or reviews, is that the information can be immediately saved and stored in apps like GoodReader or Dropbox, and then students can edit and interact with these resources, easily creating presentations as suggested above.
6. Reading Poetry: I don’t find e-books the best way to read poetry, but, of course, there is an app for that! IFPoems is a great app that is effectively an anthology selection of poetry, organised in a variety of useful ways – and a superb collection at that! It has the added bonus of audio recordings, by celebrities such as Helena Bonham Carter and Bill Nighy. Students can also record their readings of the poems, or email the poem, to be used in a presentation or for other learning opportunities.
7. With the easy access to iTunes U there is the easy chance to use a range of free audio recordings of books, alongside useful educational videos supporting an endless array of reading topics.
8. Using blog apps to provide individual or class responses to their reading: simple blog apps, such as the WordPress app, provide the opportunities to write web blogs in either class, or at home, that track their reading. This can support the reading of a class text or be used to track and share their own reviews of books they are reading.
9. Take a photograph of any student writing in response to their reading: perhaps my favourite use of the iPad is for instantaneous formative assessment. This aids a variety of learning skills, but by photographing the writing that students produce, then projecting it through Apple TV, the class, or the teacher, or both, can give instant formative feedback – this process really inspires students and they read the work of others with ease and skill when given the extra prestige of being projected for the whole group to engage with. It makes students more reflective learners and readers and helps them become ‘critical friends’, reading with a real focus.
10. Using comic apps for reading: students can create their own comics easily using lovely apps like ComicLife to get students writing, which is a great way to understand different genres they read. They can also read comics on a variety of easy apps like, like Stanza or Marvel Comics.
Clearly, this is a sample snapshot of the potential uses of the iPad to revive reading for students in and out of the classroom. One of the key bonuses of the iPad is how it can be used in such a wide variety of ways. With the growing network of schools undertaking iPad programmes, in a variety of ways, our collective learning and knowledge of how to use the tool can only improve. In our English and Media Faculty we want to focus in on key strategies, thereby making students and staff experts at these, before exploring the ever-growing wealth of resources at hand more broadly. At heart, I am a lover of reading and a believer in its power and beauty. In the last couple of years I have adjusted my habits to realise that it need not be a paper product we use to read, indeed, if we are to truly engage our learners we need to become ‘digital natives’ as they are, synthesising modern technology with more traditional concepts of literacy to combine the best of both worlds.
As a Subject Leader, I have thought long and hard (with my colleagues, and particularly my fellow Subject Leader – of Media Studies – @KRE_ativity) about how we should move things forward in developing teaching and learning in our English and Media faculty. To bastardise a well worn American political phrase the first priority is clear: “It is the quality of the teachers, Dummy!” Quite rightly, the question of technology to enhance pedagogy does come a couple of rungs down the ladder when it comes to importance. Every experienced teacher in almost every school will have suffered the trials of finding ICT room bookings like the proverbial needle in the haystack; traipsing across the school site in the rain; losing the late student who forgot it was an ICT lesson for the crucial first fifteen minutes of the lesson! The obstructions often outweighed the benefits. However, the potential to enhance teaching and learning with the freedoms provided by mobile devices becomes a different story; the capacity to excite, engage and personalise learning is undoubtedly present. With the flexibility and portability of tablet devices many of the former obstructions fell away – the enhancements were only enhanced! The question became ‘which technology could best enhance the pedagogy?’
In the world of tablet technology the warring dividing lines very quickly became the choice between Apple and Android mobile devices.
The research began. The comparisons between apps and general capacity for varied uses were central (see my earlier blog posts), but also crucial was the cost. The question, ‘why pay for the premium Apple iPad product in a time of fiscal austerity in education?’ is obvious. Is the capacity so much better to justify paying extra, or is the iPad a triumph of advertising hype?
Firstly, in addressing the financial aspects, it is true to say that the iPads are at a premium; however, the iPad 2 has seen a significant price drop and its functionality is still cutting edge and brilliantly tailored for exploiting in the classroom as a collaborative tool. Still, they are significantly more costly than their cheaper Android rivals. When investigating the breadth and quality of applications, hardware and operating system maintenance, the dividing lines between Apple and Android were stormed by the better quality and range of the iPad. Crucially, no other Android device provides anything like the scope for enhancing teaching and learning like the iPads, especially when used in conjunction with Apple TV.
Apple’s dominance of the tablet and mobile phone market means that it is the best placed develop educational applications (“Despite lower unit sales following the holiday season, the iPad scooped up 11.8 million of the 17.4 million units sold in Q1 2012 for a whopping 68 percent share.”); whilst being better placed for reliable updates, consistent web browsing, better protection from viruses, and a better range of apps that can enhance teaching pedagogy than any cheaper Android device. Some factors why Apple is better for such a deployment of multiple devices include the following:
- The Apple OS is upgraded and installed much faster and more effectively than equivalent Android OS, therefore apps on iPads continue to get faster and better, particularly in areas like iTextbooks etc.
- The back up, synchronising and cloud storage of iCloud is far superior to any Android equivalent, therefore student work is more secure
- OS support is proven to be more consistent from Apple
- Malware, viruses are considerably more common on Android devices and security on Android devices is significantly weaker. The gatekeeper control of Apple means the downloading of apps is more secure and their system provides excellent systematic protections for multiple devices
- The range of Apple apps is currently significant larger and of better quality (a quality controlled by Apple)
- Apple development and support is more consistent and systematic than Google’s Android model – this is crucial for our needs over the next five years.
 J R Bookwalter, ‘Apple Owns Tablet market, while Android Stumbles’, TechRadar (May 2012)
 Fraser Spiers, ‘We need to talk about Android’, http://speirs.org/blog/2012/3/6/we-need-to-talk-about-android.html
The ‘flipped classroom’ appeared on my radar a fair few months ago whilst combing Twitter for ideas. As an English teacher, I was intrigued by the dramatic hyperbole and interested in what it was – whilst being inherently sceptical about whether it was just another buzz-term or ubiquitous hash tag of little use! It took very little digging to find a host of information about the concept. In its purest form, represented by the likes of ‘The Khan Academy’, the model is quite simply the ability to share content through the medium of technology, in most cases simply lectures (of varying quality!). This basic model doesn’t add a great deal to teaching and learning, other than perhaps allowing for students to revisit and revise key information. Our tech-savvy students can easily use popular web platforms, like YouTube, to access this content at their leisure, on their terms (to a degree – it seems prime homework material!). There are the obvious benefits to this process. It allows for some personalisation of learning, it gives students the opportunity to revisit information, and in some cases (I doubt this is the case on any large scale) parents could engage with the material and support their children in their learning.
In our faculty we are looking to create a Youtube page for English and Media which would provide fun and interesting (that is the plan!) videos supporting students with issues such as essay writing, or giving them guides to our current courses etc. This idea preceded my knowledge of the very concept of the ‘flipped classroom’, but like most good ideas, they fit together nicely. There are a growing number of these departmental video channels now on the web and English departments will no doubt involve students in the process, making videos themselves (monitored and quality controlled by staff you would hope). We are also beginning to use iPads to enhance our teaching and learning, particularly group collaboration. The prospect of using mobile devices also fits snugly into the flipped model of learning and we should begin to align them in our planning and pedagogy.
Where the ‘flipped classroom’ model comes into its own is when the ‘flip’ is used to provide classroom time to then collaborate and engage in the learning, based on the assumption that the content has been digested. No doubt, like the setting of homework, some students will fail to undertake this gymnastic flip, but the show will go on regarding the teaching and learning within the lesson, and the minority who fail to complete their side of the flip would hopefully recognise the error of their ways! What is truly exciting is the prospect of greater curriculum time to practice all the higher level learning skills that help bring knowledge and curriculum content to life. How common is the complaint that we have too little time to cover the mass of curriculum ‘content’ we are expected to in the fulfilment of the National Curriculum and the multitude of examination requirements?
Undoubtedly, the future of learning is personalised to the learner. It embraces the technology of our students who are the ‘digital natives’ of today and tomorrow. The ‘flipped classroom’ model is certainly a positive pedagogical step along that inevitably bumpy road. There are undoubtedly some dangerous flaws to navigate: simply uploading videos for a student busy multi-tasking on their Smartphone, whilst they simultaneously flick through their legion of social media comments, is hardly going to transform learning, or embed any understanding deeper than our existing model of education! (There is a level of distracted passivity and inability to concentrate fostered by omnipresent technology that is explored in this interesting article: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2012/05/16/31multitasking_ep.h31.html?tkn=LXPFgFOQhUOkgsJaYbFATbwHcdnWde%2F%2Ffhli&cmp=ENL-DD-NEWS2 )
A further issue is the inherent expectation for teachers to create the legion of videos required to make the flipped model work at all. The monitoring of comments/feedback, maintain links, and the technological process itself, are all time consuming.
Like any innovation, such issues are common, but the potential benefits do, in my view, outweigh the issues. The issues can be eased, if not eliminated. There is always going to be a transmission of knowledge required in our craft – the flipped model can provide a way of presenting that knowledge in a more varied manner than our classic ‘sage on the stage’ model. It need not be some ‘brave new world’ where automaton children are taught by internet avatars, where hundreds of future children are cocooned in their bedrooms responding only to the flicker of a computer screen! The use of video or podcasting should be an ingredient that is used often, part of a varied diet of good teaching and learning! Also, no individual teacher need reinvent the wheel – the likes of Twitter and WordPress connects a wealth of teachers looking for great resources, ready to share and pass on those they have found. Who hasn’t used a TED talk or a pre-prepared video (the ‘Shift’ anyone?) with students or staff alike? Students can and should be integrated into the flipped creation of resources; those resources can be recycled and adapted. The teacher may eat and sleep!
It is all rather simple really: it is a bit of a glamorous buzzword, but the principals and pedagogy of the ‘flipped classroom’ are fundamentally sound. The ‘flipped classroom’ is not going away and it will undoubtedly become one of the core habits of teaching and learning in the next decade. Get filming!
Here are some useful links to ‘flipped’ resources:
In our prospective iPad project in our English and Media faculty we are currently trailing the best apps to use in the teaching of English and Media Studies. Here is a useful top ten list (with a few extras with honourable mentions!):
Some other great apps for English teaching deserving a mention:
YouTube: No explanation necessary, but very useful. With the vast range of resources being uploaded by educators (particularly with the growth of the ‘Flipped classroom’ model of teaching and learning) the options are endless.
GoodReader: A powerful app for annotating PDFs, this app has many uses for engaging with texts actively. I find the legion of options rather cumbersome so I am on the looking for a similar, but simpler, app for text annotation.
Instapaper: A great app for simply saving articles and documents offline in case any wireless network problems ensue.
Snapseed: Currently free, this is a great app to edit photos in a variety of ways.
Socrative: A great app for creating a variety of quizzes for instant formative or summative assessment.
Keynote: Effectively Apple’s PowerPoint, it is a nice smooth app that facilitates some lovely presentations. Similar to PowerPoint, it does take some time to get to grips with.
CloudOn: A free app that provides the opportunity to create Microsoft documents for those who wish to use the familiar tools of the likes of Word or PowerPoint.
Frankenstein (by Inkle): A modern re-working of the classic. This app presents a modern, interactive version which really explores some of the moral choices inherent in the text. It also has the original text and some fantastic contemporary anatomical drawings and maps. Surely the future of e-reading is hinted at in this great app.
We intend to use Apple TV in our classrooms to ensure that students can instantly show any of their work from the apps selected. There are a range of apps that also provide this crucial sharing and control of multiple wireless devices, such as IdeasFlight - http://www.ideaflight.com/how-it-works/
I hope these ideas are useful. Do reply with any other good options for apps to use in English lessons.