Nick Dennis's Blog

Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.

Tag: Felsted

Goodbye to all that – Apple RTC events April 19th, May 31st and July 6-8th 2012

And so it begins – my final participation in the Apple Regional Training Centre events at Felsted this academic year. My colleague and new Assistant Head, Sarah Capewell, will be taking over the running of the Apple RTC at Felsted and will be available to discuss how to make the best use of tools to support learning. What you will get from Sarah is a learning focussed approach with a keen eye for detail (she is, after all, a Classicist!) and she has some exciting projects in the pipeline for the next few years. If you would like to attend the final two events at Felsted where Sarah and I will be leading the sessions together, please go to this page and sign up. My final appearance as a Felsted employee/Apple RTC Manager will be at the national Schools History Project Conference in Leeds in July where I will be showcasing some of the work at Felsted using History as a focus.

Reflecting on the journey over the last few years as an Apple RTC, there are a few things that I have learned which spring to mind (a longer post will no doubt appear in the last few days):

  • Technology amplifies professional knowledge. Poor professional knowledge of the learning process is still poor when technology is used to just ‘engage’ students. And it shows. Clearly.
  • Excellent integration of technology in the learning process requires deep thinking about the learning that needs to take place. Sometimes, the best way to use technology is not to use it. Yes, you can be an excellent teacher without using technology in your lesson but if you are an excellent teacher, you will most probably be looking for other ways to develop your excellence and technology may help you.
  • For all the keynote talks about improving schools using technology or new approaches to learning or 21st century skills (and I have no idea what these skills are as they sound very similar to previous skills in my opinion), implementing these ideas is not easy; they all require hard work. I’ll say it again. It requires hard work, being disciplined and rigourous. Then again, if you are a teacher or in education, you know that supporting young people develop can be hard work but you do it anyway. The key thing is that after a while, the effort lessens and your capacity to use the technological tools at your disposal improves.
  • A tool in itself does not transform education or ‘change the game’. Transformation and ‘game changing’ happens because someone has thought carefully and explored ways in which the tool can be used to help learning. The human dimension is integral but gets neglected or obscured by the focus on the tool.

Next academic year I take up the post of Deputy Head (Academic) at Berkhamsted School which is not an Apple Regional Training Centre. However, there are a number of excellent practitioners using ICT there and I am looking forward to working with Laura Knight (director of eLearning) and Rosie McColl amongst others. They and others are doing some amazing work with iPads and Google Apps and I can safely say that if you would like to visit and see the work in action, you are more than welcome.

Despite being the public ‘voice/face’ of the Apple RTC, the success of the relationship with Apple and the events themselves are down to a number of people. They are too numerous to mention here (and they will get their personal recognition in other ways) but I can say that without their help, Felsted would not be the successful RTC it is, and will continue to be, with Sarah’s stewardship. Finally, I must thank you, readers, for turning up. There is no point in holding training events if people see no value in them, which strangely enough, occurs when things are free! We have been privileged to host colleagues from Devon, the North, the Midlands and closer to home in Essex. Your questions and experience has validated what we believe and has also challenged us to be better. So, if you haven’t had the opportunity to visit, learn and share with us at the Apple RTC, please do. It is not long before I have to say goodbye to all of that at Felsted.

Image: Lanier67@Flickr

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Technology on trial

Original article published in the October edition of Independent Schools Magazine.

Will bringing iPads and iPod Touches into the classroom distract students from the main business of learning? As a new two-year trial using Apple mobile technology in lessons gets underway at Felsted School, Essex, assistant headmaster Dr Nick Dennis explains the reasoning behind it and the theories he expects it to prove.

Many schools are still very wary of introducing mobile technology to the classroom. The main fear is that it prevents students from becoming properly ‘engaged’ in lessons, that it distracts from the main business of teaching and learning. We believe this is a result of the technology becoming the focal point rather than the learning. Placed within the correct pedagogical context, a mobile enhanced teaching and learning platform can usher in substantive benefits in terms of students’ academic progress and also pastoral care throughout the school. As a history teacher with a particular interest in the relationship between historical processes and the use of ICT to help further understanding, I was very concerned that the use of ICT was often thought of as a panacea to what is essentially a teaching and learning problem. After becoming aware of the growing body of research on effective teaching and assessment strategies by Dylan Wiliam and John Hattie, I began to think about the ways technology could aid effective classroom practice at Felsted. I was also keen to explore the possibilities mobile technology offered with regard to safeguarding and easy accessibility to information to help the administrative side of running a school.

Apple and Orange involvement
Apple were aware that we had a slightly different view on the use of technology in education and after a series of meetings with them, they understood the goals we had for our students and the school.
As a result Felsted has been named a Regional Training Centre for Education – one of the few independent schools to have this status and the only one in the UK with History as its focus – and Apple initially loaned a selection of MacBooks to Felsted. However, we decided to expand the programme with a particular focus on mobile learning over a two-year span, using class sets of iPods and iPads, the results of which Apple will monitor with interest. We are hosting a number of events throughout the trial period to show other schools and interested parties just how the technology complements traditional methods and what other benefits it can have for the school and its students. Mobile phone company Orange is also closely involved and has provided iPhones so that Felsted’s Housemasters and mistresses can stay in touch with their charges throughout the school day and access medical, registration and academic information necessary for their role.

Research strategy
Our project is focused on four academic departments in the Senior School, covering a range of age, ability and examination groups. These subject areas were chosen specifically as they have no clear link with technology in the classroom – Business Studies/Economics, Biology, Classics and History. Baseline student data and target grades will be used as the benchmark for measuring student progress and we are currently devising an approach where we can measure the actual learning taking place using the work of Graham Nuthall as a basis. One area we are keen to explore is Dylan William’s idea of ‘Hinge Questions’ as part of improving assessment of learning and providing the next steps for improvement. A ‘Hinge Question’ is where students face a number of multiple-choice questions during the lesson on their mobile device but instead of having one right answer, each answer refers to a particular level of understanding. Student answers are recorded and collated by the software and the teacher can then use this to give effective feedback to help move the student on. The devices can also be used to personalise content to students based on their performance so that learners are always challenged in relation to their performance.

To ensure that the research is rigorous, Miles Berry, Senior Lecturer in Information and Communication Technology at Roehampton University and Apple Distinguished Educator, is one of the academic advisers.
On the basis that the results of the first year of the trial prove to be successful, the plan is to roll out the mobile enhanced teaching platform to all other areas of the school in the second year and to monitor its effects there.

The benefits of using mobile devices in a pedagogically focused way are enormous. Not only do they move us away from the ‘office model’ mode of using technology, but their battery life, portability and multi-functionality allow them to be used in a variety of contexts. They offer basic academic staples tools, such as an electronic dictionary, thesaurus, calculator and planner, but also serve as note takers by using the camera/video and typing interface they provide. Outdoor and international visits take on a different dimension with the ability for GPS use and to create video blogs without the need to go to a computer to edit footage. We are also developing a mobile interface so students can gain easy access to their academic information, such as target grades and reports, and link to personal and school calendars, thereby removing the need for a paper planner. Pastorally, it is anticipated that the use of mobile devices will promote the quality of tutoring at Felsted by giving staff finger-tip access to student information, such as sanctions and commendations, medical details and contacts for parents, across the school campus and beyond. We also see the devices as having a key social effect in promoting the school community by the ability to respond to social- networking groups such as Houses, Year Groups, or the School Forum.

The desire to use these devices at Felsted is not driven by them being ‘cool’ (although the students perceive them as such). We believe that they may offer a vehicle to help improve what are already effective teaching, pastoral and social practices but with more speed, precision and in a context focused on striving to help students achieve their best. While the ‘office model’ of computers has promised much and has led to some improvements, it often meant that students had to be chained to desks. Learning can happen anywhere, and we believe that mobile devices may be able to help promote, capture and extend learning within and outside the classroom.

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SCVNGR Reflections

I have been talking up the potential of SCVNGR since I first heard about it earlier this year as I thought it would provide a vehicle for games based learning at the school and beyond. Initially marketed as an electronic scavenger hunt, the direction and feel of the application was changed during the course of the year to incorporate social networking functionality similar to Foursquare. Even with this change in orientation, I believed that it would be possible to use the platform to implement a game based learning approach to historical trips/visits. Questions (or ‘challenges’) can be set and answered by typing specific answers, free form text, submitting a picture or scanning a QR Code. The experience today has made me reflect carefully on the further use of the tool with the students.

The use of SCVNGR in school today was meant to provide a fun activity for the boarders and also test the application in a relatively controlled environment. As I was building the ‘Trek’ (it used to be called a scvngr) I realised that one of the aspects of the earlier build has disappeared, namely the ability to display large images in the game and attach questions to it. The screenshot below shows the original implementation.

Scvngr Screen Shot

Old Scvngr image based question

However, the new version of the game only allows (as far as I can tell) thumbnail displays (as the screen shot below also shows).

Current SCVNGR question with image.

Continuing with the image theme, the students had some issues uploading to the game the pictures they had to taken in order to answer a challenge. It seems to be an iPhone issue (seemed to work on Android devices) and this severely dented the enjoyment of the students taking part.

Uh oh...

The short game today has made me think very carefully about the use of such software in a classroom based environment. I still believe that it has massive potential for learning outside the four walls of the classroom and could lead to a significant modification of task design to help learning. However, the platform needs to be developed to to able to meet the high expectations of the learners and staff, especially with image submission. I had intended to use it for the Apple Regional Training event at the school this week but I am undecided at the moment. If you are coming to the event, be prepared to test it out and let me know what you think.

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Busy times

The start of term is usually very busy but this year is unusual in that we have a number of new projects running. The first is our brand new MIS which looks fantastic and we are currently ironing out the issues as they arise. A lot of thought has gone into this in-house system and one of the most impressive things is how it is geared towards student achievement. As things progress, I will post a more detailed update on the system and how it is helping to help support the learning environment at the school.

The second project is the use of iPhones for the management team and the pastoral/house staff. This has already improved communication within the school and I am hope to talk a bit more about at the third project, the Apple Regional Training Centre event next Thursday from 2-4pm. Overall, 10 people have signed up for one of the three events this term and we have expressions of interest from a few other colleagues in other schools. I am looking forward to sharing the exciting plans for learning using mobile technology with the group next Thursday and there are a few spaces still available so head on over to here if you want to sign up.

Finally, #edjournal is coming together. If you want to contribute, please get in touch!

Image: Daniel Morris@Flickr

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Apple RTC event at Felsted 16th September

The first Apple Regional Training Centre event at Felsted is approaching. I am particularly looking forward to it as it will start our own research project into mobile learning and we are delighted to share some of our thinking and work using Apple technologies.

We will cover:

1) A pedagogical framework for thinking about using technology and mobile devices in schools
2) Hands on session – using the framework to improve student contextual awareness and performance (Comic Life and Wikipedia)
3) Mobile learning project at Felsted (discussing use of iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches for pastoral and academic support)
4) Hands on session: iPod Touch Mobile Language Lab (please bring iPod friendly headphones)
5) Finance of mobile solutions and environmental considerations
6) One more thing…

If you would like to attend, please fill in the form below. The training is *free* and the only catch is that we will ask you to fill in a survey about the session. I look forward to seeing you on the 16th September!

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We are now an Apple Regional Training Centre!

I am very pleased to announce that my school has now become an Apple Regional Training Centre (RTC). Basically, this means that we will offer free training (to any school) using Apple tools to help enhance teaching and learning but with a slight twist…our RTC will focus on History as a specialism and will specifically look at how technology can support historical understanding of change/continuity, causation and other historical concepts using tools like BeeDocs Timeline 3D (as used in the example here and explained in more detail here). Of course, we will offer training covering all subjects and general creativity in the classroom but I am particularly pleased as it will allow me to share my love for the subject (and all things Apple). The second exciting aspect for us as an RTC is exploring how mobile technology can be used in the classroom to enhance learning and assessment.  I hope to showcase some of the work at the Schools History Project conference this July but will blog about/discuss what the school plans to do over the next few months. Get in contact if you would like to come to a free session!

Image: kyz@Flickr

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