On Tuesday 23 August, one day after the launch of Trinity’s second iPad pilot, we were pleased to host colleagues from Redlands College in Queensland. Craig Zaki, Annamari Twomey, Lucy Clinch and Adam Ayling dropped by to share experiences using iPads in the classroom. While Jennifer Mitchell and I were not in a position to demonstrate the use of iPads in the classroom that morning (because our August and September students had only arrived on Monday and were still undergoing orientation activities) we were happy to share the results of our earlier trial that ran from August 2010 until February 2011. We also discussed the extensive professional development with Trinity staff that has taken place throughout 2011.
In a broad ranging discussion we shared classroom experiences, anecdotes of how the varying cohorts of students adapt to the devices, useful applications to apply across disciplines or for very specific subjects, and the trials and tribulations of dealing with certain technical issues and attitudes. We agreed that things evolve quickly and are worth revisiting. (For example, Trinity had less than ideal experiences with E-Clicker in 2010 but Redlands has been using it seamlessly this year. We shared work together on SyncSpace, an application that is fairly new to us, and discussed the potential of SyncSpace for collaborative work in the classroom. Both Redlands and Trinity reported good experiences with Dropbox, and we’ve also appreciated updates and developments in a range of other applications, including Evernote.)
From discussions ranging through Maths and English to Physics and Japanese, with parallel conversations about staff professional development workshops and our experiences with Moodle and Turnitin, it is obvious that Craig, Annamari, Lucy and Adam have put a great deal of effort and imagination into the Redlands program and like Trinity see use of the iPads in a comprehensive and evolving manner. It is also clear both from their continued enthusiasm and the dynamic experiences in their classrooms that students and staff are finding real benefits.
We also discussed the light-hearted and the vexing. We learnt the tricks of students playfully locking classmates out of their devices (something Trinity hadn’t experienced before) and in turn discussed the wi-fi load issues that can complicate roll out to big groups of students when large numbers suddenly connect all at once (something that Trinity had experienced the previous day). We also explored the manner in which both Redlands and Trinity are using modern technology to encourage greater responsibility, independence and creativity among students, and the way in which iPads as a fast, light, flexible and connected device enable group work inside and outside the classroom as well as greater scope for students to individualise their work.
The potential to make the classroom less hierarchical and teacher-centred, and more inquiry based or democratic, was discussed in some detail, with numerous examples that this in fact is happening to various degrees and is also desirable (even if a little painful to some staff who may not wish to relinquish control, give up power, or be seen as less technically competent than some of their students). In fact the way that students can teach each other – and teach their teachers – is an attractive and educationally valuable aspect of the iPad programs at Redlands and Trinity.
On Friday 26 August, Jennifer and I also met with Alex Schuchardt and Madeleine Gardam from the publishing company Pearson Australia to discuss the latest educational materials available on iPads and this was another opportunity for an excellent exchange of experiences and ideas.
Conditions have developed very quickly and impressively since Trinity first trialled iPads in 2010. At the beginning of our trial last year we felt hamstrung by the fact that iBooks for purchase were not yet available in Australia. Laws and licensing around publications meant that Australia was not well served by textbooks in eBook format in late 2010 and early 2011. While licensing and pricing for eBooks are still far from ideal in Australia, both iBooks and scholarly textbooks are increasing in number and developing in sophistication. Now Alex and Madeleine were able to demonstrate two formats for reading Pearson eBooks, including versions of the textbooks Trinity has most recently included on its (paper) booklist for Accounting, Economics and Physics. Trinity will be trialling these eBooks as well as other works in the testing stage, including an impressive-looking and highly dynamic Psychology textbook that is not yet commercially available.
Trinity is also making its own eBooks, as we wish to be producers and not only consumers of educational content. But we are pleased to have the option of using eBook versions of our preferred commercial textbooks and to test the additional features of these eBooks (including notations from teachers, online support and additional resources, and embedded videos).
August and early September have been exciting and productive times at Trinity College, with the enthusiasm and talent of our new students who have already begun using their iPads in a myriad of ways, and with engaging dialogue and cooperation with colleagues from Redlands and Pearson. The more we discover the more we realise there is to discover. And by the end of this month we’ll be taking more steps forward, with our academic conference scheduled for 27 September.