Today I attended a training session on iPads as a learning tool, I had no real preconception on the matter, but have seen them used poorly by a language company I worked for a few half-terms ago.

Context.

In my general teaching I am pretty techy- I use a variety of tracking devices and incorporate media/ICT into most lessons; not because OFSTED’s ‘Moving English Forward’ doc. says I should, but because I believe in using the tools at my disposal for rapid and sustained progress. I also feel like we owe it to our students to experiment and find what works best for the group.

So a few months ago I signed up for a day of CPD at an ‘outstanding’ school who are ‘pioneers in use of technology.’ The school takes students from a variety of communities in the area and these communities are quite different in socio-economic backgrounds, and I would suggest that cultural capital is equally as varied. The use of iPads in this school are part-funded by the school, and some students (PP) utilise a ‘borrowing’ system.

As a learning tool…

  • The students all have some apps loaded.
  • Most students add their own apps; some educational and ,predictably, some not.
  • The apps that the school use are linked to class marking, but work produced in the app is not marked or rewarded.

The main part of the day was taken up with a brief intro to the context, and how the school used the apps. No research was referenced, possibly due to brevity of talk or lack of research in this new(ish) area.

Later in the day we were fortunate enough to observe a few lessons

My main observations were as follows:

The students were often distracted by the iPads, occasionally they were even unsure of why they were looking at their iPads and found themselves swiping mindlessly.

The school previously had large behaviour issues, these are mainly gone- though it is noticeable that poor behaviour continues but it is mainly focussed on poor use of the iPad: quiet poor behaviour.

The school did not have standardised apps, and so some pupils were using poor quality ones. For example, one child used an app for spelling which was essentially a ‘speak and spell.’

The apps used were not monitored by any members of staff; though they did link to marked work this seemed problematic. Classroom time should be purposeful and monitored. One pupil I spoke to said teachers here ‘are like supervisors’ his friend believed that some of the ‘better teachers’ in the school did use the ipads in a more productive way (more on that later.)

Most teacher we saw used the apps to upload worksheets and essentially had moved their old habits onto a digital format. One pupil commentated that it ‘was better ‘cos you don’t lose the sheets.’

Final thoughts: What should they be used for?

One student I spoke to summarised it best for me “they’re good, but they’re capable of much more (than what we use them for)”

I completely agreed with this chap; his ideas were better than mine too!

He stated he would like to use the iPad to access the top classrooms in the world! Lectures from Harvard etc. He would like to share ideas in wikis with other students around the world and present vlogs on topics to receive better feedback than he would just from 30 shy teenagers in his form/class.

The problem for me is not the idea itself or even the technology but their use. The people in control of them are not experts on the foremost uses of the equipment, as a result the adapt them to do what they understand already. At their worst they are used as a pacifier for the schools more ‘troublesome’ students. The apps that are used are not made the most of and as a result students essentially feel they are ‘left to it.’

Students stated that they were not certain how to use them to learn. They had received no training on research, or how to use phrasing/search engines to find scholarly articles etc. For me this was the weakest part of the schools procedure in the use of ipads. Without this training pupils were regularly misreading inappropriate articles and finding false conclusions. For example, a small group spent the full hour researching ‘wind-turbine syndrome’, before realising the article actually stated this was a fictitious syndrome. The whole experience seemed like farming out the teaching, in this aspect at least.

What should they be used for?

In my humble opinion:

  • Vlogging.
  • Socrative style quizzes to flip learning/mini-plenaries
  • Wiki work.
  • Youtube tutorials (teacher selected.)
  • Content learning (teacher selected.)
  • Feedback from forums etc.

It is worth mentioning I don’t think these ideas would solve ‘education, simply that I feel that are better uses of the tools than they are currently  being used for in this particular school. I suspect this is how the ‘better’ teachers’ at the school use them. Equally, I imagine that others online have far better ideas than me, and I am more than open to hearing these as I feel certain we will all be utilising their smart phones pretty soon

N.B –  I secretly polled the three classes I observed (86 students) – They rated the pads as a learning devices at ‘6.4’ and as a toy ‘8.9’  out of ten.

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