The role of technology in the classroom

There has been a lot of sensationalist headlines in the UK press recently regarding the role of technology in the classroom, which has once again brought the topic of tablets back to the public’s attention.  Articles such as this, from the Sunday Times, have very sensationalist headlines:

Ban Tablets says ‘Tsar’

However, Tom Bennett, the government advisor on behaviour has clarified his position in his blog (Tom Bennett), which has a more balanced view where he recognises that technology can have a positive educational impact when used in the right way.   I don’t disagree with Tom, technology can be distracting, but so can many other things.  In the 20+ years that I have been teaching I have seen students distracted by paper (who doesn’t remember making paper aeroplanes?), pens (graffitti anyone?), open windows and most recently books being read under the table in another lesson.  We obviously don’t advocate banning all those things!  The truth is, students are easily distracted, but technology, used the right way can have the opposite effect.  When students are busy making film, or demonstrating learning via animation they are more focussed, more engaged and most importantly,  learning.

At Pleckgate we banned personal mobile devices in the classroom, but gave students an iPad that the school owned and controlled.  These devices were filtered, in and out of school; all social media was blocked and the app store removed so that students could not download games.  We also gave teachers the control needed to lock devices, control what websites they can go on, and monitored their use.  The MDM (mobile device management) profiles on devices gave us that control, and basically made it impossible for students to personalise the devices with their own apps.  A tough policy on use of devices also made it clear that any mis-use, or deleting profiles (not an issue now DEP is in UK) and they would lose their device.  However, the key for the success at Pleckgate was not about the devices at all.  We always said the device was there as a tool to aid teachers, we did not advocate everything had to be done on them.  The school embraced the TEEP model for improving teaching and learning, and the iPad development plan was matched into this to ensure the focus was on pedagogy not technology.  We always maintained that the technology was an enabler for improving/diversifying pedagogical practices proven to work (Meta-cognition, feedback, collaboration, homework etc.) all proven to improve outcomes by the EEF.

Here is an example of how the iPad programme was mapped into the plan to improve learning and teaching and the TEEP (which is now also being researched as a successful intervention by the EEF).  Ipad Development Plan.  An example of a lesson where technology really made a difference to learning was in geography.  In this lesson, students made stop motion animation videos to demonstrate how physical landforms were made.  Without the technology, students would have drawn some diagrams and added labels, but this is easy to copy and do without thinking. By re-creating the physical steps students  had to really understand the processes and they were therefore able to re-call this information much more clearly, as was evidenced by written exam answers ( and yes, the students did still answer an exam question, essay style, with a pen).

The introduction of iPads, combined with all the other interventions, helped our last year 11s achieve the highest results in the school’s history.  Did the iPads do that on their own, of course not.  So if you are planning a 1:1 roll out, do not do so without careful planning, and do not rush deployment.  You must make decisions on many things, including levels of control, but most importantly how the iPads fit into a wider plan to improve learning and teaching.

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Developing Oracy through iPad presentation tools

Having just helped lead Pleckgate out of Special Measures in just over 12 months, it’s fair to say we have had our fair share of Ofsted inspections.  One consistent theme that always comes through is that our students’ verbal or oracy skills are weak.  This is not necessarily surprising given the EAL profile of our students, but it is a key area for improvement as students cannot write what they cannot say.  As a result, one of the most common uses of the iPads in our classrooms is to prepare presentations which helps address this key area. So, I’ve put together an introduction to three of the top apps for making presentations.

Keynote

Keynote

Keynote is Apple’s presentation software that now comes free with newer iPads and Macs.  It is a really simple, intuitive programme that works brilliantly on the iPads.  It is simple to use, for example it’s much simpler to align and position images/objects than in Powerpoint and it’s much more multimedia friendly.  Plus it has some excellent transitions and animations (Magic Move is nice), and it’s simple to export into other apps in a variety of formats.  The key drawback for developing Oracy and verbal skills is that it is almost too engaging… students love to create animations and visuals, and forget about the presentation part, and therefore revert to simply reading back the written information in the slides.  A good way round this is to get them to open it in Explain Everything so that they are forced to think of the presentation aspects too.

Adobe Voice

Adobe voice

I was introduced to this app just recently, and I was immediately taken with its simplicity.  Insert simple creative commons licensed images, choose from a limited licensed pool of music and record your voice to tell a story.  The limited options mean students only focus on the verbal aspects of the presentation which means its great for developing oracy in students.  Students can also create great stories in a matter of minutes.  The downsides are also its strengths, the lack of customisation means that this is an occasional app rather than a frequent flyer.

Haiku Deck

Haiku deck

Haiku Deck is similar to Keynote and Powerpoint, but it constrains the user into set templates and styles which makes it harder to overwhelm the audience with too much text.  This forces students to focus on what they are saying, and the ‘Deck’ is just there as a visual reference point… as it should be.  One downside that has been reported by some teachers online is the nature of the images and that they are not always appropriate for younger students.  Definitely something to look out for.

Whichever presentation tool you use, it really comes down to the teacher focussing students on the essentials for good presentations.  As with all good lessons, teachers need  to share clear outcomes and objectives that are agreed from the outset so that students are clear what is expected.  If these foundations are put in place then any of these apps will help develop students’ oracy skills.

Starting with the why…

The central message that we tried to get across at Pleckgate was that the 1:1 scheme was about pedagogy and not technology.  It was always about the learning and teaching process and helping students to become better, more independent learners.  The starting point for training was centred around Dr Puentadura’s SAMR model, which is neatly summed up here:

samr

The Redefinition of learning is part of a bigger 5 year plan, but whenever I work with teachers, I try to pull them back to why…why are you using the iPads, is there any functional improvement by using the technology?  If not, how can you gain that functional improvement?  Some teachers are straight in with task redesign, other need convincing that the iPads will do anything to improve the learning process.  Thats the challenge of leadership though, getting people to buy into that vision. For us, one of the easiest ways in was through an App called Showbie:

showbie

Showbie, at its most basic is the workflow app.  The one that enables students to submit work, and for the teacher to set work to the students.  The majority of our teachers are confident in using this app, and like to do so.  At it’s most basic, Showbie is used by our teachers as a substitute for existing resources.  Teachers can see the advantage of sharing a file to all their students as it saves them the trip to the photocopier, it saves lesson time giving out resources, and students get the resource even if they are absent.  It also saves money too.  Some of our teachers are also now combing apps, so using keynote to produce ‘cards’ for card sorts.  Students open the resource from Showbie into keynote, and than sort the cards on the iPads rather than on the table.  The teacher is sold as it saves him/her the time cutting out the cards.  The task can also than hit the augmentation phase of SAMR as the students can colour code the cards in Keynote, add images from the web, or anything else to enhance their understanding in relation to those ‘cards’.  The redefinition of learning than comes with what happens next… if students than take their finished card sort and open in Explain Everything, they can than record not only what the answers might be, but also how they have completed the task.  This allows the development of metacognition, which EEF research suggests is the most effective way of enhancing learning (progress gains of 8 months-EEF Toolkit).  Furthermore, teachers than collect the finished work, and  Showbie allows verbal feedback to be recorded and shared with the students, which in turn gives students the next steps to improve their work, which is completed in lessons or for homework.  The quality of verbal feedback is much better, richer and more detailed and the student doesn’t skip ahead to the grade and ignore the ‘how to do better’ guidance.  All in, Showbie is the gateway app into hitting the modification and redesign areas of SAMR, and also for accessing higher order thinking skills.  It comes highly recommended from us, even as a time and money saver.  For more ideas on apps, and the SAMR model, the model below gives some good ideas to start with.

the-padogogy-wheel

Hello world!

I have been meaning to start this blog for the last year or so, and work commitments have largely robbed of the time to indulge in blogging.  However, here we are, and I am starting out on my blogging journey… the journey of a 1000 miles begins with a single step, or blog in my case.

So what am I going to blog about… well, my passion is for learning and teaching, and also the use of technology, so that seems a good place to start.  So, my next few blogs will be a look at educational apps on Ipads which can transform outcomes in the classroom.

Hopefully, some people will take something from my posts that will help them in the classroom.