Returning to work after spending 6 weeks in Europe, the burning question for me was, “So how are the iPads going?”. We had moved slowly into the trial, so my scheduled leave ended up being half way through the term in which we started using the iPads with students. I’d decided to take a “complete break”, so felt a little guilty about not keeping in touch. However, I’d been really happy with the collaborative learning & team support that had been happening when I left, and confident that the school world would continue without me. I expected some issues, perhaps even major problems, after all it is a trial. But you know, the answers to my question have all been, “GREAT!” From the year 6/7 teacher; from the year 5/6/7 IELC (Intensive English/ New Arrivals) teacher; from the Pitjantjatjara teacher; from the Italian teacher; from the Principal. The year 3/4 class (our 1:1 trial class) had another challenge as one of the teachers was also on leave for 3 weeks. But, “It’s been good, we’re getting there!”was the positive response. Just a few hiccups, nothing major. And, importantly, that was also the response from our great techie. I’ve been super impressed by the way the teachers are using the iPads to enhance their classroom learning programs.
Here’s some interesting points from my discussions this week (and my recommendations if you’re starting this journey):
1. We want students to use the iPads to be creative & record their learning
Everyone has been really happy with the choices we made regarding which Apps to put on the iPads. As a team we had spent a long time looking at Apps & discussing what we wanted. In the end, we decided
that we would get the most value from choosing “creation” Apps, and the teachers are still united in saying that this was the way to go. The students have been taking lots of photos and recording audio & video – using iMovie, Keynote, Pages and Comic Life to record & present their learning. They have also been using Numbers and CargoBot (computational thinking puzzles) to extend their mathematical learning; Maps and Google Earth to enhance understandings in Geography; a few specific content Apps and a couple of eBooks. Having the ability to present learning in a more easily accessible multi-media way has been transformative. One of the keys to the success of this with the shared devices, was the establishment from the beginning of using WebDAV to export finished work to our network CommonArea and organising work systematically.Also, it was important to have the ability to email work and print directly from the iPads. Think about learning priorities. Sort out how to save, transfer & share work. Sort out printing.
2. We want students to share their learning with others
According to all the teachers, the process of using “Reflector” to view work from the iPads on the class IWB has becoming a fluid part of the student workflow, and one of the most powerful & influential ways to improve student learning. Students are so keen to share in this way, and the increased ability of students to critically analyse and suggest improvements has been an outstanding (and somewhat unexpected) outcome. For the classes where the iPads are shared (working in pairs or groups of 3 with one iPad), has had the benefit of increased focussed, productive, work related conversation. This has also been highlighted in the 1:1 program, where sharing work & problem solving together is an integral part of using the technology. Celebrate the opportunities for growth that sharing provides.
3. It is important to have an understanding of technical capabilities and limitations
We have reflected on the technical discussions we had as a team during the set-up time. Initially, the teachers in the trial weren’t all that interested in hearing about the technical side of things, but in my role as Coordinator, I firmly believe that having some understanding of the challenges from a technical perspective has benefits for everyone involved. This has paid off – and I believe teachers being involved in the technical complexities has been a pivotal factor in the smooth implementation so far. A lot of planning went into our technical set-up. So much needs to be investigated, discussed & decided on and much of it is site specific: determining WiFi capabilities of the network & variations across the school; investigating & deciding on how to manage the devices (we are using Casper, the JAMF MDM Solution); deciding how to manage App selection, purchasing & deployment; systems for charging devices (we had to do some major electrical work to facilitate this); setting up non-supervised devices for teachers; deciding on settings for the student devices (including an important tip – Set the restrictions code before giving the students the device); the logistics of security. The feedback from the teachers is that having some understanding of the technical capabilities & constraints removed almost all of the frustrations around being told that, “I don’t think that will work at the moment”. Having some idea about technical constraints meant that they were much more able to accept that answer & move on to find solutions that would work. (Disappointment is easier to cope with than frustration.) Our technician felt that he was able to talk about issues without feeling that HE was perceived as “the problem” (sadly, this is all too common in many sites where I hear the complaint that the technician is “hopeless” if things aren’t working optimally). Having regular release for the whole team to meet was without doubt one of the best things we did (hard to organise, but SO valuable). Investigate the technical side. Work with both teachers & technical support people on the same team. Organise time to meet. Respect everyone’s input in the decision making processes.
4. Involve your Community
We have been aware of the importance of discussing our educational aims and reasons for various decisions around this trial with our Governing Council and parents. The initial decisions regarding ownership and whether we could support a BYOD program were critical. Our iPads were bought by the school and currently they don’t go home. We’re also not considering BYOD at this stage (less layers of complexity to work on). There was a definite degree of scepticism around iPads being expensive “toys” and whether they would really add value to our learning programs. Certainly, this scepticism has also been expressed in staff discussions. So that’s why we’re trialling it. To work this out for our school, on our site, with our teachers & learners. We invited parents in during the very first week of the trial, when it was all very new & raw. Great for everyone to see teachers & students as co-learners on this journey & to see this sharing of learning as one of the great things that is happening. Feedback during the term from families of the students involved has been overwhelmingly positive. We’re keeping the Governing Council informed as we go and look forward to holding some more parent information sessions this term. Communicate with the community about why & how you are doing this. Listen to & address their concerns.
5. Where to this term?
Plans are to continue with the same class structures, with each of the trial teachers keen to share their learning, perhaps by mentoring a colleague. We’re talking about how to facilitate this, keeping with our successful model of: don’t take on too much (keep it manageable), learn & share, don’t waste time and energy bashing against the barriers – concentrate on finding workable solutions, and enjoy the journey.