Making It Easy Isn’t Easy

  

  
Walking into classrooms and seeing learning in action is always a great pleasure. I am seeing a range of activity which I wouldn’t have imagined could become a reality just three short years ago. It is amazing how far we have progressed in our journey towards making technology a truly integrated part of our learning environment. Even our perception of what integration looks like has changed and that in itself is exciting.

  • Students regularly recording their learning using a variety of media
  • Teachers delivering differentiated and personalised content directly to students via their devices
  • Student workflows leveraging multiple applications
  • Regular, integrated use of open ended applications
  • Teachers actively recording learning for formative assessment
  • Teachers providing timely, poignant feedback 
  • Students working, regularly in productive collaboration
  • Student and teacher intuitive engagement with technology
  • Curriculum being manipulated to leverage technology meaningfully 
  • Direct and necessary communication between students and teachers
  • Students and teachers happy to explore, try new things and take risks 
  • Students extending their own learning
  • Technology tools regularly employed to extend and support students 
  • Confident technology users
  • Changing classroom dynamic – use of space, the way teachers and students work together
  • Easy exchange of information between teachers and students
  • A shift in the relationship between the student and the teacher
  • Greater ownership of learning by the students
  • Open ended learning – PBL, CBL
  • Proliferation of authentic learning opportunities 

What I like best is that it all feels effortless. This isn’t to devalue the work of our wonderful teachers in any way because I know that in the background there is a great deal of effort being employed to enable the learning programs, but when I see it it feels completely natural. There isn’t a feeling of bells and whistles. The technology is seamlessly woven into the fabric of purposeful activity. And I know that this is how it is meant to be. 

Making it easy isn’t easy. So what have been the crucial elements which have enabled our progress to this point?

Firstly the technology itself needs to be right. This is a major component. The technology needs to work reliably, day after day. Crucially for us running with a 1:1 iPad Program Internet and Wireless infrastructure are vital enablers. We opted for a corporate level CISCO wireless network. These devices have worked perfectly and have coped well with the high demands of multi user traffic. Our Internet has been continuously improved as demand has grown (40 up / 40 Down). Providing redundancy in case of failure of this primary link is also essential. If our Internet fails then our classrooms stall too. We have a 10 up / 10 down fibre redundancy. 

iPads are our 1:1 device of choice and they have been brilliant. They have challenged us too, but once we understood the device and its Cloud based DNA we were able to leverage its versatility, portability and power. IPads for us have been a game changer. They have great battery life and they have proven to be extraordinarily robust and reliable. We turn over our iPads on a biannual basis. This maintains the quality of our iPad fleet. We do as little as possible regarding apps. Early on we realised that the best apps are the open ended ones and we only add odd apps here and there as required. In most instances the central core of apps are all that we require. Compnow have helped us with device deployment.

In our own experience Professional Development has been crucial to the success of our program. 

Before embarking on our 1:1 commitment we needed to invest in preparing our teachers. Initially we supplied all of our teachers with iPads. We conducted workshops and provided hands on support via a full time support teacher to help our teachers with the technical side of using devices and to support pedagogical change. 

We teamed with Datacom (originally Xcitelogic), a provider, who had a strong educational support team. We were able to leverage their experience, gained in early adopter iPad schools in Victoria, Western Australia, to inform our own experience. Datacom educators facilitated traditional workshops for our teachers and parents, but crucially they offered a mentoring program for our teachers. This mentoring enabled a personalised approach to support, grow and develop our teachers. Catering to the different needs of our teachers was essential and as a result we were able to bring all of our teachers along on a journey no matter what their starting point (this program is an ongoing part of our PD program). Teamed with this is a natural organic internal mentoring where our teachers work together to support each other.

Datacom educators have helped to push our boundaries and opened us to new possibilities.

We have also formed a close relationship with Apple Education and this relationship has provided ongoing vision around pedagogy and considerable inspiration and sense of purpose. We are supporting our teachers to participate in the Apple Distinguished Educator Program

We are actively, now, involving partners like Datacom, Apple, Stile, Clickview, CISCO and Furnware in the process of helping to develop our teachers. We have found great advantage in developing and leveraging external connections. 

Professional development has helped change us from being inward looking to becoming outward looking. Where we can we involve teachers in conferences and external workshops such as Edutech, Future Schools, AIS, Apple, VIVID, Datacom, Furnware, Stile etc. 

Our professional learning journey has delved widely into Curriculum, thinking processes, pedagogical theory along with the integration of technology. Our teachers are becoming leaders of change, they are open to new ideas and our students are the clear beneficiaries.

  

The third game changer for us has been the integration of Stile into our classrooms. This has been a relatively new component in our program. The to and fro of information between the teachers and students has been one of the greatest challenges presented by our brilliant iPad tool. While we could create amazing work on our iPads being able to easily view and share was difficult. Initially we were using a range of tools e.g. Dropbox, email, Evernote, Showbie, Edmodo and iTunes U (iTunesU has rich content which is valuable. With a recent update  (3.0) iTunesU now has capacity to interact in the to and fro of information more fully). All of these required accounts and offered different capacities. Stile has to a large extent allowed us to consolidate all of this via one application. Stile has “unlimited” capacity and is able to transfer all sorts of work. Stile has also enabled work anywhere, anytime capability because it is accessible via any browser as well as an app. Here I should mention that we don’t send iPads home (this has helped with maintenance and reliability) and Stile has meant that we have easily been able to blur the lines between home and school. Flipping becomes an easy, realistic option. 

The last element I will discuss is planning and leadership. In our circumstance having leadership and commitment from across the School has enabled our vision to become a reality. In my role as a dedicated resource (supporting, managing and dreaming) I have needed the commitment of many participants. Bringing all together in a purposeful way is key. Often with all of this it has been about DREAMING BIG. While I can certainly dream big sometimes there are those who can dream even bigger. Being open to the dreams and visions of others is most crucial. Our School Board is a good example of dreaming big. We have recently perceived a need to evolve our learning spaces. We were starting to consider how we might reinvent our existing classrooms with furniture and some minor renovation. Our amazingly progressive Board wanted to dream much bigger. A whole architectural program has resulted, which will substantially reinvent our school. Sometimes the dreams can become enormous challenges. Here I must emphasise that the vision is what makes the dream sustainable. Certainly this has been true of our recent evolution and our integration of iPads in our learning environment. Leadership and Big Dreams have punctuated this. Dreams of teachers, of parents, of students and of administrators have sparked and evolved the vision. The tricky bit is interpreting, articulating, realising and building these into the structure. Some of the dreams of course don’t become reality immediately timing is also crucial. Knowing what will fly and when is also important. I have a strong belief that simplicity is vital. Educators don’t need or want complexity as it gets in the way of the teaching and learning. Students also need things to work easily. So sometimes dreams have to wait for technologies to mature enough to be viable. I note here that in some school environments there is abundant technical support and often these schools are able to be early adopters. In our circumstance we can observe and learn from these early adopters. There is much to be gained from learning from the experience of others.

We are seeing a revolution occurring and being a part of the conversation is crucial. For my own part social networking is vital – conferences, workshops and Twitter have been major enablers. I read a huge amount and it helps that I am really obsessive about enabling our learning environments. Seeing it all working simply and seamlessly in a wholistic educational context is the really exciting part. 

  

Journeying with Abdul Chohan

Recently I had the pleasure of attending a seminar where I listened to (and engaged with) Abdul Chohan speaking about his school in England, Essa Academy http://www.essaacademy.org/vision-and-ethos.html. This is the second time that I had had a chance to be inspired by his story.
A metamorphosis occurred which saw the school achieve substantial (meteoric) improvement in academic outcomes for its students.
There were clearly a number of contributing factors which enabled this transformation. The solution which transformed Abdul’s school was unique and needed to be unique. There was, however, a central theme. Key to the school’s journey was the need to change belief. Abdul asserted that
“One person with belief is better than 99 with interest.”
All participants and stakeholders needed to be a infused with belief. Central to this was the belief that

“ALL will succeed.” And “Cognition is not fixed.”

In their model technology was a key platform for exchange of information etc between students and teachers. Teachers and students needed to believe that this technology was simple and reliable for adoption to occur.
Their initial implementation (2008) involved supplying iPods to all students. It involved providing a robust internet and wireless capability. Their internet was enabled through a fibre connection offering 100 Mbps up and 100 Mbps down and the wireless a state of the art Meru network http://www.merunetworks.com. The iPods offered both simplicity and reliability and the apps, many of which were free, empowered the students and teachers. Two mandatory applications were used for delivery and for response. iTunes U was required to be used by all teachers to deliver content and (the paid version of) Showbie was used as a key response platform by both students and teachers. These worked well together and provided a simple, reliable exchange between teacher and student. One of the immediate by-products of the adoption of this communication loop was a huge reduction in paper costs.

Teachers were also supported with professional development. The school innovated their approach by removing “pupil free days” and then incorporating these hours into regular PD sessions for all teachers during the normal school week. This meant that teachers’ out of hours time wasn’t impacted and that they could meet on a weekly basis to collaborate, share and learn. Once again this supported the teachers belief in their capacity and capability to improve student outcomes and engage with technology tools.

What Abdul was keen to stress was that their journey was about the pedagogy. There plan wasn’t about technology or about changing spaces. Their plan was about the pedagogy and about improving outcomes for ALL the students, about personalising the learning to suit student needs. It was about creating rich learning opportunities which aimed to leverage the SAMR Model http://www.hippasus.com/rrpweblog/to transform. The leadership would formulate strategy and then enlist the support of players to make it happen. In the case of iTunes U, by example, a group of teachers and leaders across the school were recruited to develop programs, become expert, become advocates and infuse across the school. The technology was just the vehicle which was, at the bare bones, simple and reliable making adoption easy.

The parents and the community in general were an important part of the journey. The school worked hard to form relationships with the parents and community. They used food, which is often so culturally important, to bring their community together so that they could deliver messages, educate, inform. Parents too needed to believe and be invested in the vision.

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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