Evolving and Changing Teaching and Learning in a 1:1 iPad classroom
In 2012 Trinity College welcomed it’s first full cohort of Foundation Studies students into a 1:1 iPad teaching and learning environment. In February this year approximately four hundred students began the full program which will run until December. In 2010 and 2011 we ran two pilot programs with a smaller group of students over a shorter time frame. Discussion of these pilots and the perspectives of staff and students can be seen in earlier posts, and in our first Report. A more formal evaluation of the second pilot is still forthcoming. See the previous post for some insights into how students from our first iPad Pilot performed in the 2011 February Main Program.
As the infiltration of mobile technologies into our classrooms and lecture theatres has become ubiquitous over the past two years, it becomes less imperative to be asking what are the academic benefits to students and teachers of mobile technologies, and more interesting to be asking in what ways we can exploit the presence of mobile technology to engage students more with interactive tasks, encourage broader questioning and critical thinking, and demand from students a greater involvement in their own learning – and particularly at Trinity, in the tools students can employ to further their English language learning. We feel that these objectives are not far away from realisation, and the anecdotal evidence gathered so far from teachers and students is very encouraging.
Although debate appears to be still raging in academic and school communities about the benefits of iPads, with frequent articles appearing in education forums questioning the benefits of 1:1 iPad programs, there is a wealth of information available to assist individual institutions decide if their school or college would benefit. There is some convincing evidence that in specific programs, academic results do improve. It is a very individual decision, but given that no institutions which have conducted iPad projects have – to my knowledge – recommended that computers and laptops be fully done away with to make way for iPad only learning, the continuing fears seem unjustified. In higher education where many students bring their own mobile devices, educators are confronting the demand from students to make available course materials which also work well with mobile platforms. In Australia, many universities, including the University of Melbourne, have already or are appointing e-learning coordinators, and revamping their Learning Management Systems to facilitate mobile access. With such moves it seems appropriate for schools to be paving the way for their students to be efficient and effective users of mobile devices for learning.
School, college and university iPad programs conducted worldwide all seem to agree on one important factor influencing success – the need to support and train teaching and academic staff to use iPads and other mobile technologies in the best ways for students to benefit within their particular contexts.
So, what kinds of things have we been doing to facilitate and encourage the above ambitions?
Well there has been a great deal of excitement about using the audio and video recording facilities on the iPad to get students involved in a number of activities which seek to enhance their English language proficiency, including film-making, script writing, and creating subtitles for films.
EAP (English for Academic Purposes) teacher Robin Baker set his August Extended students the task of incorporating an abstract phrase into their film script, and the four resulting films were screened at the end of their course in early 2012. Although it was a big task for the students, they rose to the challenge of doing something which had not been attempted before in EAP.
The video and audio capacity of the iPad has also enabled students to practice pronunciation in many subject areas with specialised vocabulary; to record and then evaluate their own and others’ performances in delivering presentations in subjects as diverse as Psychology, Environment and Development, and Drama. Our specialist teacher in English pronunciation has recorded films and slide shows for students to watch on their iPads, to see how sounds should look as they are spoken. He is sharing these with students through Dropbox, providing a new resource for them to work with outside of classes.
From June 2012 our incoming students have received the New iPad on arrival, so we are also looking forward to seeing what the potential there is with the New iPad’s dictation feature, and how we might exploit this option to create some interesting tasks and activities around language pronunciation.
Other groups of students have recorded interviews, presentations and group discussions across a number of subjects, to enable review and revision for improving their presentation techniques. Speaking in front of audiences is an integral part of many of our subjects, and is a demand students will need to meet when at University.
Designing and creating new curriculum materials to engage students, while also encouraging refinement of content and delivery, has also become a focus for our innovations in 2012. Many of our teachers across the curriculum are making iBooks with iBooks Author, the free Apple software. So far we have iBooks created for use in Biology, Literature and Chemistry.
Some targeted professional development is being made available to teachers who are wanting to learn how to design and make ebooks for course notes, subject guides, and many other purposes. The need to tailor-make materials, work sheets, lecture notes and unit guides for our subjects, invites us to think much more deeply about the design of learning materials, and how well they are suited to the mobile devices our students have.
This is especially important when working in class groups, and when reading long pages of text in a tutorial setting is impractical. One of the good outcomes of this need to reflect and redesign is that we are taking particular notice of how students interact with their course materials, and if they are achieving the purposes we anticipate. Some kinds of materials are better suited for later reading, either on an iPad or a computer, while others are best suited for in-class thinking and reflection on their iPads. I think this is an important opportunity we have to reflect not only on the suitability of materials, but also the suitability of our learning activities. It makes us reflect, re-evaluate, and redesign to suit the new environment, while also being cognizant of the need to meet the needs of students who appreciate flexibility in the ways they work and study.
Case Study – Writing Skills
Working with our students to improve their writing skills in English is always a priority, as this is a fundamental skill students will need to succeed at University in Australia. In Literature and EAP in particular, students are required to practice their writing skills by completing paragraph writing assignments in class time. With every student in the class equipped with an iPad, such writing tasks can be drafted and edited and submitted within class time, and then if necessary, the teacher can provide feedback for improvement. Peer reviewing of students’ written work is also an upcoming prospect.
However, one aspect of this process of learning to write better in English, which was highlighted by several students from the last August and September intake in our ongoing research, was that always writing using a computer / mobile device with a spell checker and a keyboard, made learning vocabulary through practicing hand writing more challenging. Writing out words using a pen and paper is something these students have come to rely upon as a mechanism for improving vocabulary, and accurate spelling. So, while I don’t see this finding as an argument against iPads, I do see it as a reflection of how teachers need to be responsive to students’ actual needs and ways of learning, and to build flexibility into their program designs. It often takes a change in a learning environment to make visible processes and practices which generally remain taken for granted. This gives us the opportunity to reflect further, consult with students about their needs, and involve them in the design and delivery of their courses much more.
In the near future, we hope to bring you some preliminary results of our ongoing evaluation of our iPad program.