A Journey To a Different Place

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When I first started teaching, in the early eighties, teaching was a different experience. I was teaching in a one stream school. Technology was limited to a fordiograph machine with which teachers could produce wonderful metholated spirit infused worksheets. There was also a sharp bladed guillotine to cut paper which we all used nervously. We taught all day every day and did duty too. The staff room was filled with smoke as incredibly many of us smoked and inflicted the smoke on our colleagues uncaringly.

Now this picture doesn’t seem all that inspired, but it really was a time filled with opportunity. It was a time where school governance by external authorities, at least in Australia, was quite muted. We had a fairly vague Curriculum, we had reading schemes and Maths schemes which were surprisingly well structured for differentiation. What was really exciting though was the time and scope available to us as teachers. My classroom was an exciting place filled with a nature table, a reading corner, a play shop, dress ups and a host of exciting stimulus materials depending on the theme being explored.We had time for art, for sport, for play, for drama, time for imagination to run away.

There were opportunities to take the children on amazing journeys into space, on pirate ships and to walk with dinosaurs.I remember well creating an aeroplane fuselage and boarding my class for a round the world trip with images produced via a carrousel slide projector and sound via a tape recorder. Some of the sounds incidentally were obtained live at the airport.
The experiences while not especially sophisticated were rich and filled with learning. The children were engrossed and excited to be involved.

There has been significant change in the intervening years. Demands on teachers have changed and are changing. The Curriculum is more intense and detailed. Teachers accountability is growing as are the demands for professional development. Technology is increasingly sophisticated and empowering. The children have changed too. Their expectations are different. They generally come to school with greater sophistication and perhaps with less excited anticipation. I wonder, whether as this evolution has occurred, has the spontaneity, imagination and fun ebbed away?
Perhaps it is just me no longer teaching younger children in such close proximity. Perhaps my passion has diminished subtly over the years.

I am fearful though that it is the direction we have headed that has somehow eroded what was at the heart of a great and real education. I am fearful that we are letting spontaneity and imagination become obscured by process and an overly demanding and prescriptive Curriculum and by a system increasingly dominated by external measures.

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U and i Journeying Together

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Note: since publishing iTunes U has been updated and functionality has improved https://www.apple.com/support/itunes-u/ The iTunes U course catalogue is also worth exploring for great content.

One of the amazing things about the iPad in the school setting has been the sudden range of possibilities that have been opened up. One of these, which has great possibilities in the classroom, is iTunes U.

iTunes U is a way for teachers to create courses with a variety of content and resources. All of which can be delivered instantly to an any iPad after simply entering the required course code. The workspace is simple for teachers to work in. There isn’t a huge amount for teachers to grasp in order to start a course. The only prerequisites are a Mac or PC running Safari. On a PC this can easily be downloaded on the Web. Students will need to have the iTunes U app on their device (free to download). Tunes U courses can only be accessed on iPad, iPhone and iPad Touch devices.

Once students are enrolled they can access all of the resources that the teacher has provided. The teacher can add resources easily and students will automatically receive the resources in their iTunes U course. Students can open resources and move them easily into other applications so that they can be worked on.
The iTunes U workspace is also easily navigated and students can even keep notes on topics right there in the course.

A number of my colleagues are starting to create courses for their classes and realising that a paperless classroom is becoming a real possibility.

With iTunes U it is also possible to access free courses designed by other educators. All content in the public course area is fully checked by Apple before being made available. This of course means that students can learn independently on topics which are of interest to them.

Definitely worth a look.

http://www.apple.com/au/education/itunes-u/
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One of the limitations of iTunes U is that the course remains locked to the creators iTunes account. This means that the course can’t be duplicated and adapted by another educator. This may also have implications if a school wants to own the course created and continue to use it even when a teacher has moved on.
It may be wise to produce class or school iTunes accounts if the school wants to retain ownership of courses created. This also would make it easier for more than one educator to access the school course account and edit a course.

Duplicating Courses
iTunes U courses are limited to 50 students. If there are more requiring access then the course can be duplicated to accommodate more students. This duplication could also be useful if a teacher wanted to differentiate aspects of the course for different students.

Below: This is an example of a Professional Development course which a colleague has recently produced using iTunes U.

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A Few Bumps Along the Way

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While our Apple journey offers us so much flexibility and opens so many possibilities the journey has had a few bumps.

The Apple Configurator has enabled us to render many iPads on mass, push out settings and apply apps. While it has been excellent we haven’t found it to be entirely consistent. Not sure if this is the Configurator, our environment or some other factor, but things don’t seem to go smoothly every time.

We had an instance where we couldn’t reapply a large number of apps which we had purchased via VPP. To expedite the roll out I had to repurchase all the apps again. This was stressful as I wasn’t certain that Apple would reimburse our substantial app purchases. Apple did reimburse the apps which was a relief.

After our initial roll out we found that the email settings which were supposed to allow all iPads in a set to receive and send emails weren’t receiving. This meant that we had to run all the iPads through the Configurator again so we added a few more apps to class sets also. Mail settings were now set to IMAP instead of POP.

We completed a couple of iPad sets without difficulty. Then I plugged in 30 of our Year 5 iPads and the whole thing fell apart. Two out of the 30 worked. The rest came up with a multitude of messages. Most saying apps couldn’t apply – “keybag” issue. A few iPads lost data and installed the apps. One lost everything including the iOS.
I couldn’t get anymore than one or two to run at a time. Even then weird because one would render in 5 minutes while the other would take 2 hours. All of this was extremely stressful as we have a lot invested in apps, hardware and student engagement etc. Also students work was randomly wiped which was unfortunate for them and their teachers.
Apple suggested that we de authorise and re authorise the computer for that iTunes account. We did this and also relocated to a different location in case the wireless access point had played a part. This seemed to resolve the issue, but it has made me nervous as I will be updating another year set next week using the same MacBook.

We have found Apple to have been supportive and helpful throughout which is really important to us with so much at stake.