iPads for Learning… keeping the emphasis where it ought to be

This week, we hosted a European delegation (mainly from Germany and Belgium) of teachers and educators (and a few Apple education resellers), who wanted to come in and have a look at what we are doing with iPads: we are now 18 months into our whole-school 1:1 deployment of iPads, and things are ticking over very nicely.

Neil Henderson (Deputy Head and all-round iPad guru) had done a great job of organising their time to give the delegates some time touring classrooms, some time interacting with apps themselves (led by Neil, showing examples of workflow and some of the potential that iPads offer), as well as touching on our model for financing and some of the technical considerations (ably assisted by Nick Carpenter, our Network Manager, who has been instrumental in making the scheme work).

Neil asked me if I would talk very briefly about iPads from a Learning and Teaching point of view, and the opportunity to do so got me thinking about what the message should be, given the limited time frame in which to convey it…

Back when we first started discussing the idea of a 1:1 deployment in 2013-14 (having already had a few class-sets, the use of which had hinted at their potential, but which was always limited by the fact that students couldn’t keep them and maintain them as their own, limiting the ease with which work was stored by individuals), one of my concerns was whether or not we, as a staff, were ‘ready for them’: did we have a sufficient number of staff with a sufficiently developed level of genuine expertise (in terms of learning and teaching, not necessarily technical know-how) to be able to exploit the potential of the technology in a genuinely transformative way (as opposed to simply using them for quick gimmicks and as a way of saving on photocopying)? I was unsure. Moreover, I wasn’t convinced that we had a sufficiently well-developed approach to professional development…

Back in May 2014, when the roll-out started (to staff, initially, ahead of a September 2014 roll-out to the first year group of students), I happened to read this article by Alistair Smith (@alatalite), in which he states that;

To start with technology and ignore the learning landscape is to invite disaster.

On first reading, it resonated with the concerns I had. However, at the same time as I was mulling over this important message I was, in my previous role before taking on L&T, becoming increasingly involved in carrying out lesson visits/ tours across the wider school, and for the first time felt I was starting to develop an accurate picture of where we were as a staff: we had the expertise in more than just ‘small pockets’ (though it wasn’t well recognised and shared and utilised to drive the school forward) and, more than that, we had a great deal of untapped potential which we simply had to harness, irrespective of whether we wanted to roll-out the iPad scheme…

In the absence, at that point, of any clear, shared whole-school vision in terms of L&T, maybe we could use the introduction of the technology as a trigger to stimulate something special for learning and teaching? Maybe introducing the technology could be a vehicle for getting learning and teaching back on the agenda? Maybe, with care, we could attend to the learning landscape using the technology as a lever?

We are still on that journey but there is no doubt in my mind that it has paid off, particularly since the launch of the new L&T agenda this academic year (the number one priority on the School Development Plan).

Slide2And so, rivisiting Alistair’s article, this is where I decided to start with the delegates: yes there are some great benefits of using a tool like the iPad: for instant AfL, to enhance/ facilitate feedback (teacher-teacher, student-teacher, student-student), for rapid access to a range of resources, for collaboration (student/teacher/peer), for construction (and co-construction!) of rich content, for differentiation and personalisation, for modelling, for flipped learning, to increase engagement and interaction… But none of these are the preserve of the iPad. Not one of them is an exclusive feature attributable solely to an iPad, or any other tablet technology. This is, first and foremost, a list of learning methodologies, and these must be the starting point.

If you or the staff in your school are starting with the questions ‘what apps are there for science?’ or ‘what apps are there for geography?’, then you are looking in the wrong place. There will, of course, be a periodic table app. There will, of course, be an app that allows students to interrogate maps (that’s bascially what they do in geography, right?). But these are one-off resources that are probably useful in a handful of lessons a year. Think instead about what you want to achieve in terms of assessment and feedback, then look at how the interconnectivity of the iPad can facilitate and enhance this. Think instead about what you want to achieve in terms of personalising the learning of individuals, then look at how the tools can make this possible.

Early on in our roll-out, there had to be training on ‘let’s look at how this app works’, and we had to do this for a lot of apps, and we continue to have to do this on occasion. But the emphasis now can come from point of view of the learning, not the technology: ‘let’s look at this particular learning methodology, why it works, the research/ theoretical underpinning, and then let’s see how the iPad can enhance (or even transform) the methodology in some tangible way’ (see this post about a recent twilight carousel for some idea of how we are working on this at the moment)

At least, that’s what’s working for us……….


…and then, just as I add the final touches to my post, moments before clicking ‘publish’, this pops up in my twitter feed…

The essence of my entire post summed up in less than 140 characters… probably could have saved myself the time and just published the tweet alone!

Author: L&T Magpie

Assistant Headteacher (L&T)

One thought on “iPads for Learning… keeping the emphasis where it ought to be”

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