It has taken months of preparation and a ridiculously steep learning curb, but last week I finally got a class set of 30 iPads up and running.
In just 3 teaching days I have learnt a huge amount about what works, what doesn’t and what the future of education might be.
As a brief prelude to this, it is worth explaining that I have been teaching with an iPad since the beginning of term. I have an Apple TV connected to my projector and this in itself has been fairly revolutionary.
As an English teacher, being able to launch iBooks on a huge screen and allow students to see my annotations and highlighting has been really interesting. On a more simple level, students that struggle to keep up are able now to see exactly where we are in our book, as we go along.
Using Explain Everythingas a mobile Interactive Whiteboard has been great; I have been able to sit with my class and talk with my class and that has bettered our relationship and the way they are thinking about work.
Just being able to check my emails and stay on top of everything a normal working day in a busy school throws at you has helped me be more productive.
Undoubtedly there have been and still are obstacles to overcome and hurdles to attempt to clear, but, as they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and whilst I am not pretending to be building an empire, the result of my labours and the many others out there trying similar things, might just be a revolution and learning.
So for 9 weeks my students have enviously seen me at work with my iPad, seamlessly (and not so seamlessly) threading content, ideas and discussion at them through this new and exciting technology. But whilst I’ve tried to get them in on the action as I’ve gone along, it wasn’t until Wednesday last week that things really got interesting. So, from my few days experience and initial impressions, this is what I have learnt about the 1:1 iPad classroom:
I could not have done what I’ve done without this free app from the Mac App Store. It allows me to create a profile for these iPads which means I can control at least some of the content they have access to and all of the apps that they can use. But, it doesn’t do everythinga school needs it to do. We needto be able to push out content from the iBookstore and our own creations without having to ask students to do it, and we need to be able to make changes to the profiles we set up instantly and wirelessly so that adjustments can be made on a per-class basis.
At least not in the way we need them to be. They know how to use these devices to surf to the sites the like and they know what games are good. Beyond this, some of them know some neat hacks and workarounds, but they have little clue about how incredible an iPad could be for their education.
When I took them on a guided tour of iBooks and what it could do for them, they seem genuinely astonished. Nearpod had them as good as salivating and Edmodo suited them perfectly.
I’ve spent a long time searching for apps that will help my students learn. As it turns out, not many of these are made exclusively for education and this is where many people go wrong. Apps for education can be extraordinary, but the reason the iPad could transform your classroom is the same reason not to necessarily start your search for apps in the ‘education’ section – if you want to revolutionise education, you have to look to do things differently. A laptop won’t change the way kids learn because you can just keep doing things the way you’ve been doing them– that is one of my biggest criticisms of Microsoft’s Surface, it’s a beautiful piece of equipment, but it won’t change the way we do things and it won’t change the way our students learn.
What I have discovered though, is that there is an app that can do pretty much anything you want it to do, and if there isn’t, you can bet someone somewhere is working on it, and if they aren’t, there is such an incredibly proactive community out there, that someone would probably make it for you if you asked!
Apple TV is the solution for you if you have a PC that is wired to your school’s main internet network, but if you’ve got a laptop as your main computer then airserver, which can be downloaded from the internet is a great tool – it allows you or your students to show your iPad screen on the laptop, and then if you’ve got the right cable, through your projector. It’s advantage ver an Apple TV is twofold: the price (for about £40 you can get this on 15 computers, as opposed to £99 for 1 Apple TV), and you can mirror about 6 or 7 different iPads or iPhones onto one screen before it crashes. Being able to allow students to see their work side by side with one another’s and to be able to discuss differences in a meaningful way, is invaluable.
When you get stuck, and you will get stuck; it’s a big undertaking getting this to work if you’re not in an Apple-only environment, then you’ve got a few good sources of information, As I mentioned, students are good for makeshift workarounds – they like to figure things out and already, in these first few days, they given me some invaluable hints and tips. The Apple forums and the staff in Apple stores are simply brilliant; I could not have setup the Apple Configurator without them. Use them!
It goes without saying that the students are pretty happy to buy in to a situation where they are given cutting edge technology and the opportunities to use it in ways that they didn’t know about. What is more comforting, indeed inspiring and motivating from my point of view, is that when you show other teachers what can be done, they are impressed and more importantly, excited at the possibilities. The iPad is not a scary piece of equipment, but it is a powerful tool that seems to engage people and make them want to be involved with working with them.
But the PC/Mac battle is not as bad as people think. There will be resistance from your IT staff because it is a whole new world that they might not be comfortable with. There will be hurdles, like your internet security settings, an app crashing for no reason, or a blocked website that unravels a lesson plan, but every obstacle can be overcome. Every day I have learnt something new, mostly because every day I hit a problem. But what is important to remember is that eventually you’ll run out of problems to stop you and you’ll be able to do everything you want to do and do so without fear.
It’s early days on this journey, but the transformation that has been possible is quite remarkable. I have seen a vision of what my classroom could be and every time these iPads come out, I will take a step closer to achieving the future of education, today.
Adam Webster is currently the Assistant Director of Learning and Teaching at a secondary school in Surrey, England, where he tries to practice what he preaches whilst teaching English! He is a regular contributor to the Guardian Teacher Network blog and the TES magazine.