iPads, Curriculum for Excellence and the Next Generation

There's been an incredibly fertile discussion channel on Twitter since last Friday, organised around the hashtag #ediff.

I was working on a presentation about our iPad deployment when Frank Crawford (@frankcrawford) posted three tweets that chimed almost exactly with the topics I was working into my presentation.

Frank's first tweet:

Outcomes for kids - CfE - learning, being confident, contributing, participating. Where does tech contribute?

I've been developing a presentation to explain where we see our 1:1 iPad deployment in the light of Curriculum for Excellence. Inspired by Frank's tweets, I'd like to expand on some of the thinking here.

Successful Learners

The iPad will not create successful learners by itself. We are finding, however, that the increased relevance of iPad-based teaching is producing increased levels of engagement both in class and with homework and study at home. Engagement is a necessary condition for success but it is not, alone, sufficient.

We often get questions like "well, how do you know your pupils are learning when you teach with the iPad?". The answer, usually, is "the same ways we know pupils are learning when we teach with textbooks, paper, whiteboards, multiple-choice tests, art materials or newspapers".

What the iPad has allowed us to do is to bring digital resources up to the same level of availabiliy as paper resources in our teaching. It's unthinkable that pupils would only have one or two hours of access to books each week, yet that was the position with digital resources before we deployed the iPad.

Confident Individuals

When pupils learn with the iPad, they are learning in their own technological vocabulary. Personal computers - whether Windows or Mac OS X - are not most teenagers' common experience of personal computing.

We find that pupils are incredibly confident in using the iPad and that this feeds into confidence in their work. Our art teacher, Jenny Oakley, recently talked to me about the impact of iPad on her art teaching.

She told me that the iPad forms a kind of "digital safety net":

In some ways it more effectively helps pupils to develop confidence in their abilities and an enthusiasm to try than some traditional media. This is largely due to the immediacy of its set up, tidy up and effects, the security of an 'undo' button and that mark making is controlled directly by the finger itself.

Pupils do not have to overcome the hindrance of learning to manipulate another tool or implement, rather they can use the natural tool they have been developing dexterity in since birth. Once taught the basic principles of a range of art apps, pupils can achieve worthwhile results. They then begin to feel more confident and so become more willing to try – in the art classroom this is half the battle.

As a direct follow on from this pupils then do actually begin to achieve better results – their increased confidence increases their effort and enthusiasm and they feel less threatened and more relaxed. This confidence can then be extended and transferred into other art media.

We are seeing similar impacts in other areas, such as creative writing at all levels from Primary to Higher English, where digital text editing and peer evaluation are producing excellent results.

We are also focusing heavily on presentation skills using Keynote on the iPad. It is my personal belief that Word Processing - setting text on a computer in preparation for printing on paper - is a skill that will wane in value over time. Communicating your ideas to an audience is a skill that is already a clear competitive advantage for those able to do it effectively. Few skills demand the development of confidence like public presenting.

Effective Contributors

iPad is removing the friction in contributing. At its simplest, the easy flow of documents to and from the iPad has already transformed our processes of setting and submitting homework.

In class, we are seeing greater collaboration and sharing with iPad. The design of iPad directly lends itself to working together and collaborating - even without specific software support for networked collaboration. The iPad can be handed over to another pupil, turned around to show results and quickly connected to a classroom projector to share work with the entire class.

Compare this to the prior experience of trying to turn a desktop computer monitor around to share your work with someone else, or the experience of three or four pupils huddling around one computer to collaborate.

An example from Computing: we often do exercises where pupils are given a purpose and a budget for buying a computer system and they have to specify a couple of options and recommend one.

In earlier times I, in my "exam conditions" mentality, would often force this to be a solo exercise. Recently, I tried it with paired working with two iPads: one pupil worked the web to find results and the other pupil operated Numbers on their iPad to catalogue what they were finding together. They collaborated on the recommendations then, at the end, emailed me their spreadsheet and CC'ed the web-searching pupil so both had a copy of the shared work.

Each pupil made a solid contribution to the outcome and the results were effortlessly shared.

Responsible Citizens

Acting responsibly online is just one (admittedly huge) aspect of the entire citizenship agenda. As a big part of the iPad deployment, we comprehensively reworked our Acceptable Use Policy to make direct references to resources such as social networking as well as the more usual email and web publishing.

Responsible citizenship goes further. By sending iPads home with most pupils, we are giving them access to global sources of information and we're working with that in class. No longer can pupils use the "we don't get the newspaper in our house" excuse for being unaware of current events.

Here's a comment from our Modern Studies teacher, Emma Rukin:

The tasks have become more challenging and worthwhile, as the iPad allows for multi-faceted tasks to be set that combine reading, comprehension, source analysis and internet research in one. Similarly, pupils who require extra support with, for example, a written task, are much happier being emailed a writing frame than being given extra sheets in class.

The biggest difference I am noticing is that pupils are increasingly suggesting uses for the iPad themselves. In particular, after just a few weeks of iPad 1:1 deployment, pupils are asking if they can use the internet to supplement answers from textbooks, or to find out about particular things that interest or confuse them. In the upper half of secondary pupils have improved dramatically in their ability to find relevant accurate answers using the web. They are improving their ability to frame a question.

All Modern studies pupils now have access to a wide variety of news sources, meaning their knowledge of current affairs is growing, and their weekly assessments reflect this.

One of our English teachers, Rosalind Creighton, sent me this:

The S2 class have been analysing some of the articles that have been written about the implementation of iPads in the school. I emailed them a document with links to various articles and questions on each article. This made it much easier for us to read the articles as a class, and saved on photocopying.

The purpose of this unit of work is to teach children how to assess the reliability and credibility of sources; recognise bias; and understand the techniques writers will use to persuade their readers (all CfE experiences and outcomes!).

I'd particularly like to thank certain sections of the press for providing Mrs. Creighton with such a, well, broad spectrum of material to work with.

What Technology Should Be

Frank also tweeted the following desiderata for the use of technology from a learner's perspective. The tweets are here and here - I've just reformatted them in a list for this blog.

As a learner, technology should be:

  1. Everywhere, ready to use.
  2. Easy to use.
  3. Desirable to use.
  4. Challenging my skills.
  5. Sharable
  6. Collaborative
  7. It should play to my passions
  8. Used in useful contexts (from the learner's perspective)
  9. Authentic

I believe that point #1 is well placed at the top. We are convinced that the ubiquity of 1:1 deployment is the sine qua non in transforming our learning and teaching. Without 1:1, you lose the sense of personal engagement with a personal device. The pupils' sense of ownership is dramatically diminished.

I don't think I have to make a case to readers of this blog that the iPad is, by any measure, easy and desirable to use.

Making sure that iPad use challenges the skills of a learner is a big question that we are all on a learning curve with right now. I think the whole school staff are only just starting to understand how far we can really push pupils equipped with their own iPad. As readers of this blog can probably tell from the changed tone of my posts over the last few weeks, this is precisely where my thinking is going right now.

I've already discussed the capabilities of the iPad in sharing and collaboration, but one more story: last week, I was accosted in the corridor by two pupil reporters wanting to interview me about iPads for the school newsletter. I was running around fixing wifi base stations and quite busy. Instead of taking me to a classroom where they could formally interview me and type my answers into a computer, we found a couple of seats in the hallway. They pulled out their iPads and we did the interview questions and they took notes on my answers right there and then.

Instant, frictionless, collaboration and sharing using high technology transparently with a strong focus on the actual task of "doing the interview" rather than "doing the interview and recording the answers on the laptops that we have booked for this one afternoon of the week".

We have only given one directive to our teachers for using the iPad: it should be used everywhere it's useful and nowhere that it's not. We did not dictate many specific uses for the device, preferring to leave it to classroom teachers to identify the places where the device will be useful for each subject's unique requirements.

The only specific use we dictated was that everyone should use the Calendar app to record homework. That's a useful context for learners and we're seeing dramatic improvements in homework return rates.

Frank appended a "(yuk)" to the last idea of authenticity but I think there is a point to be made here. I personally believe that pupils - particularly early secondary pupils - crave relevance and authenticity in their learning. I can teach about mainframes and disk drives and everyone's bored. When I facilitate a discussion about why Apple switched from hard drives in the iPod Classic to flash memory in the iPhone, everyone wants to talk about it.

By deploying the iPad in the school and using real-world commercial software instead of "education-specific" clones of real software, we are delivering an authentic experience in school that mirrors and is relevant to the experience of technology that pupils have outside the school and bring to school with them.