Nick Dennis' Blog

Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.

Tag: Mobile (page 1 of 2)

Using iPads in the classroom – Rising Stars/Guardian Teacher Network

Another brief post to announce a new CPD unit on using iPads in the classroom for Rising Stars/Guardian Teacher Network Essential CPD site.

I wrote the unit to serve as a short introduction to the process of using iPads in schools. The unit is formed around the following:

  • Why do you want to use iPads;
  • How you can use particular applications to move learning beyond simple activities;
  • What are other schools are doing that will help guide your use?

The focus is really on the pedagogical purpose of the device in schools. The unit is free and forms part of the excellent online material offered by Rising Stars. Let me know if you find it useful!

Many thanks to the Rising Stars team, especially Andrea and Camilla, for their help.

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Conference Update #2

I am very pleased to announce that we can now confirm the final main speaker for the Teaching, Learning & Assessment Conference at Berkhamsted on the 16th March 2013.

In addition to renowned trainer and writer Alistair Smith (who has produced a new set of training resources for schools called ‘Step Up‘) and the thoughtful, challenging but always practical Professor Bill Lucas (seen through the ‘Expansive Education‘ Network) speaking to the whole conference, Dr Bill Rankin has agreed to share his thoughts and intellect to the event. Dr Rankin has been a leading light in the use of mobile technology in the US and his talks are always deepely rooted in scholarship and a desire to improve learning. I highly recommend viewing the video below:

With quality workshop leaders from all sectors and Key Stages and speakers of international standing, the conference is really shaping up to be something special. The only piece missing is you! We are working hard on pricing and are hopeful that tickets will be available online in mid-November. If you have any questions about the conference, please post below. I am really looking forward to seeing you on March 16th to share, discuss and learn.

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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.

Benefits
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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The Classroom Experiment

I have watched with interest the reaction to the BBC Schools’ Season programme ‘The Classroom Experiment’ over the last week, in particular, the role of Dylan Wiliam. Many of the comments I have heard suggested he was ‘nothing special’ to recognising the validity of some of his ideas.

What struck me was the change in culture, from a classroom where intelligence was a fixed thing to a place where substantive and situational learning was taking place for all. Pretty impressive stuff in my opinion and it reinforced the decision to use Wiliam’s idea of ‘Hinge Questions’ as one of the tools of the mobile learning project at Felsted. My colleague, Sarah Bushby, the Head of Classics, gave a fantastic presentation on ‘Hinge Questions’ at the Apple Regional Training Centre event and I am convinced that we will really help the students to improve their performance based on the information gathered by this type of question. Basically, a ‘Hinge Question’ is a smarter multiple choice question; instead of one right answer, each response relates to a particular level of understanding. The responses can be collected electronically and then used to inform the teaching of the following lessons and identify areas for improvement and challenge. The use of ‘Hinge Questions’ and iPod Touches in this links neatly to the way we think about the use of technology. Using Reuben Puentadura’s SAMR model of technology use, we are clearly focusing on whether the technology we are using in school is serving a pedagogical purpose.

Puentedura’s SAMR Model – Thanks to Louise Duncan

There is no doubt that we could create ‘Hinge Questions’ without the use of technology and we will be using them as technique in many of the lessons. However, the use of technology allows us to track progress in more meaningful ways during a lesson, over a series of lessons or for a longer period of time with the integrity of the data guaranteed and recorded quickly. In this sense, it can be seen as a process of augmentation on the SAMR scale. However, the use of ‘Hinge Questions’ and the iPods, when placed within the context of providing individualised feedback to students based on the collation of data and working with them to improve their performance, appears to me to be a substantial modification of the teaching and learning dynamic. Yes, it could be done without the technology but it would be very difficult to gain all the responses quickly and analyse the data to identify areas of stretch and challenge.

This is our version of Wiliam’s ‘Classroom Experiment’ and we are excited to see for ourselves how we can inspire the students to improve their performance. We are sharing our experiences at the forthcoming Apple events at the school. If you would like to see some of the tools in action or hear how we have used the SAMR model to really think about the use of technology in the classroom, please use the booking form below.

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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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Apple RTC Reflections

The end of term is almost upon me and the theoretical ‘free time’ I should gain by losing my examination classes has been filled with other important bits of school work. This is usually a critical time for me as I start to plan ahead in detail and the need for ‘thinking time’ as part of the process is vital. I was provided an opportunity to think very carefully about plans for the next year by attending the Apple Regional Training Centre (RTC) conference in Manchester last week.

This was my first RTC conference and it brought home how wide and diverse the RTC programme is for Apple covering schools, City Learning Centres (CLCs) and other educational organisations. The theme for the conference was mobility and we were taken through some astounding numbers in terms of mobile device adoption in relation to other kinds of technology. One thing was made clear in relation to the adoption of mobile technology; content, provided by the teacher/web/company, was a key driver for use. After the introductory sessions by Apple staffers, delegates and Apple Distinguished Educators took the floor. I was particularly drawn to what Gillian Penny, a Headteacher from a primary school in Scotland, had to say about ICT. She made it clear that the learning has to come first in the use of technology. Abdul Chohan, Director of IT at Essa Academy, echoed this but I fear the message may have been lost on the conference by the sheer scale of the project at his school. Essa made the news last year when it gave an iPod Touch to every student. Whilst the media focussed on this aspect and the cost, Abdul in his presentation touched upon the change of ethos that governed the use of the iPods; All Will Succeed. This belief has led the Academy to reshape its curriculum and its teaching methods and the interim results look impressive.

On the technical side of things, there were two highlights to the conference. The first was Steve Beard’s ‘Making an iPhone app’ session using Xcode and Freeway, which he did in about 10 minutes. The second was Chris Jinks’ talk about the deployment and configuration of devices using Snow Leopard Server and the free iPhone configuration utility which allows you to manage the use of the device (you can disable the camera or remove the ability to browse the web for example). My colleague, the Head of Classics felt this was a great feature and would help allay fears surrounding behaviour management issues.

I was also reintroduced to a technology I had first heard about in 2006 from Doug Belshaw. I have also been looking at it again in relation to discussions with folk on Ed Tech Round Up and Johannes Ahrenfelt (especially in relation to Augmented Reality). Richard Clark’s talk about the work at Leicester CLC and QR Codes has reinforced my desire to look at this technology again more seriously. He and his team have used QR codes in primary schools to embed links to video on worksheets to model the learning so the pupils could complete the tasks. The potential for this technology is huge and all I really need for this to be work within my classroom is an iPod Touch with a camera…

Overall, I found the conference to be an enjoyable experience – I learned some new things but the key aspect for me was speaking to other RTCs about what they are doing. It also left me with some questions about the emphasis placed on the technology and missing  the context that gives rise to the use of it in the first place. For example, Joe Moretti gave a workshop on Stanza and Calibre for producing Ebooks. It was useful to be reminded of the tool, but as a teacher, I was particularly interested in the way it was used to help literacy.  I could not get to grips with how the technology would allow me to do something beyond what I could replicate in the classroom with a computer or with a piece of paper. I suppose the reason why I was so concerned is because this is something I constantly struggle with/ask myself about; does the technology helping the learning process or not? Is there enough pedagogical thought behind it to make it a genuinely useful tool which allows you to do something more quickly or even beyond your current set of tools? I don’t think this is a particularly innovative thought; this is something I am asked by many people I meet and to be frank, this keeps me, and my work, honest.  Thanks to the Apple Education team and the Cornerhouse in Manchester for hosting us and for giving me the time and space to reflect. The next RTC conference is in November and I, alongside some of the other members of the mobile research team at Felsted, may present our project there.

The learning journey continues over the next month or two as I am heading to Cramlington Learning Village on the 25th June for their conference on teaching and learning.  The following week sees me heading to the national Schools History Project conference in Leeds to present some work on technology and History teaching and chairing the TeachMeet session there. I’m really looking forward to the sessions on Change and Continuity by Christine Counsell, Diana Laffin’s presentation on A Level History teaching and Ian Luff’s workshop on active learning.  After the conference, I am going on a grand tour of Teaching and Learning. First on my list is  Neal Watkin‘s classes to see how John Hattie’s work on visible learning has affected the progress of students in the History classroom. I am then off to Essa Academy to learn about their framework for the use of technology and finally, I plan to see Dawn Hallybone’s school in action.  I am also hoping to teach some History lessons at the local primary school (Flitch Green, also an Apple RTC) in the last week of their term.  If you have any other ideas about what I should see, let me know. I will document each visit here on the blog.

Finally, a word about the mobile learning project. I’ve had a few requests for information about it and once we have ‘sharpened the saw’ on a few of the research issues, it will be publicised on the school website and on this blog. It is taking a little longer than expected but we want to make it as good as we can before the end of our term. I’m really excited by what the team here have come up with and we can’t wait to share it with you and our students.

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Past, future and present: mobile musings

Where should I be?

Typically for this time of year, I have put off doing non-essential things like updating this blog to focus on the ‘business end’ of the year. My IB History students have now finished their exams, I have marked/moderated the A2 History coursework and I have been prepping my Year 11/Year 10 for their GCSE exams. The hardest thing I have had to do this term was coming to terms with the fact that I am not Rick James and should not attempt to sing ‘Super Freak’ to help a student’s Music Technology coursework (I have asked him to use the ‘autotune’ function liberally). If it were not part of the Assistant Head job description, I would never have done it (I am praying it does not make it on to Youtube).

Another enjoyable but less terrifying aspect of my work this term has been the reading and planning in preparation for the mobile learning project that will be launched at school this year. I am really looking forward to see how we will use the technology to enhance the learning of the students and to the professional dialogue surrounding it; there certainly is a ‘buzz’ around the proposal and I hope to elaborate on the specifics in a few weeks. As a happy coincidence, the Languages Department have bought into the idea of mobile learning and are moving towards a new Language Lab next year that will be made up of iPod Touches and Flip Video cameras. Combined with the upcoming use of the new information management system and Moodle across the school, it is easy to be carried away with big plans for the future and forgetting the pull of the immediate. I was reminded of this earlier this week when I returned an iPod Touch to a student. He clicked on it and I noticed a strangely familiar picture on his screen. He noticed and said, ‘It makes it easier to find out what class I have’. He had taken a screen shot of his timetable from the school website and saved it as a background picture on his iPod. Genius.

Innovative and effective ways of teaching and learning using mobile technology is great, but sometimes it is more than enough if it can help you get to where you need to be. I went back to my office and did the same thing. Now if only I could find out a way for cover lessons and appointments to show on it…

Image: Leo Kan @Flickr

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Visible learning and mobile devices


You can tell I’m on holiday due to the number of blog posts written and today’s is something I have been turning over for a while. I intend to write, by the end of the Easter break, a discussion document on hand-held learning for the school. What has occupied my thoughts over the last week or so is not the selection of devices or the examples of use but the principles behind it. For me, this is the most important feature of any approach to e-learning, as it sets out the framework for the use of the technology. This is a slight departure from some of the literature and on educational technology; ‘engagement’, ‘retention’, ‘relevancy’ and ‘preparation for employment’ are usually included as the drivers for use. In the UK this seems an especially problematic as hardware and learning is often combined into the category ‘ICT’ and the promised land of increased achievement does not seem to match the spending. This conflation, and the subsequent lack of clarity, creates an environment where people can easily dismiss technology as a useful tool for educators. This is where John Hattie’s work provides an interesting read. His book, ‘Visible Learning’, a synthesis of 800 educational research studies over the last 15 years, points to a number of research based elements that seem to improve student achievement. Here are just three examples:

1.The ability for students to set their own targets on pieces of work/term grades
2.Small group learning
3.Feedback

He suggests that if we are to become excellent educators, we should heed the ‘signposts’ his research identifies (which, if national figures are taken into account, we do not do). I find his argument persuasive because as a teacher, I want to do the best for my students and his work clearly shows some things work very well in raising performance. I also think the above would provide a clear steer on what the outcomes of the principles should look like, but not limit the ways they could be achieved. Within this ‘space’ of choice, hand-held devices would become another tool but with some very distinctive possibilities in terms of where the learning can take place and when.

For example, students could record their provisional target grades (by submitting an audio file or by filling in a simple text box) and this is stored in a management information system/learning platform/VLE. They and the teacher could refer to the provisional target before attempting the work and then deciding whether the target has been met before submitting (and after). The potential for substantive feedback in this example is obvious and the technology, rather than being the driving force, acts as the vehicle for learning. On a school visit, the use of an application like Scvngr to check comprehension (and giving feedback with hints) on an individual or group level would also facilitate learning in line with the principles.

In both of the examples, mobile devices, with their camera/video recorder features, GPS capability, data connections and rich applications create the possibility to be more thorough in recording and challenging learning beyond the four walls of the classroom than with paper. Notice that they are not the driving force – it is the (research driven) learning that is most visible.

The above is just my first attempt at working through some of the principles behind hand-held learning and I’m sure, after reading Clayton Christensen’s ‘Disrupting Class’, my thinking will be refined. Comments, as usual, are most welcome.

Image: sherrattsam@Flickr

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