iPad education……two years in, and is it time for a new Apple purchase?

With this as background extra courses for new teachers are being offered and an afternoon of workshops covering various useful apps and possibilities of the device will be on offer.
Throughout the last two years I have been part of the iPad steering group that has been responsible for helping plan out the educational direction we are following with regard to this in-class form of digitalization. I think it is fair to say that I am an enthusiast, I lead workshops for colleagues, have followed the odd course myself, but above all have set out to try and work out how the iPad can be best used in my art lessons.
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As a result of my enthusiasm, the task of starting the school-wide study session In a couple of weeks has fallen to me! ‘You’ve always got I’m two years into my own adventure into iPad supported education. As a school where I work it’s nearly three years, first with a cautious pilot project and then an extension to the first year bilingual classes (where I teach) plus a couple more. That’s been the level for the last two years. But next year comes the big step, school wide in years one and two (12-14 year olds). Suddenly that’s a whole lot more pupils and perhaps more significantly, a whole lot more teaching staff! It’ll become more a case of who’s not involved rather than who is involved.
such interesting things to show of what you’re doing with the iPad!’, says Albert my colleague, and iPad coordinator, in a suitably flattering sort of way. Hmm….thanks for that Albert! The brief is in ten to fifteen minutes to show my colleagues what I’m up to and what is possible with the device.
To avoid people just saying, ‘it’s easy for you, you’re an art teacher’ I have my own sub-text to the brief; to show a number of interesting and exciting iPad things that:
• Aren’t exclusively art and creativity related
• Potentially might have some use or relevance across a number of subject areas
• Could potentially work at different academic or age levels
• Present the potential diversity of options that the iPad offers and avoid relying too heavily on just one app
…..this is starting to sound quite complicated!

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But perhaps the trickiest part is that the audience is, as is often the case in education land, quite a varied bunch. There are enthusiasts, like myself, who have already spent considerable time working out the options on offer. There are the beginners, who perhaps to need an enthusiastic presentation of some of the possibilities, as long as it doesn’t become too scarily complex! And then finally, there are the skeptics who, if I can paraphrase for a moment, think that we might be barking up the wrong educational tree.
Whether or not we turn out to be heading up that wrong tree remains to be seen. Although I’ve seen enough in my subject area to be confident that this isn’t the case. It is a work in progress, a new form and approach to education. It shouldn’t come to control everything, but it certainly does offer some interesting and new possibilities.

Control is a word that often seems to come up. Teachers understandably like to feel like they are in control of their classroom and maybe more importantly in control of the learning that is going on. Faces to the front and listen to the teacher offers a form of control on which education has relied for many a year. It sounds obvious, but that’s why the tables in most classrooms point in the same direction. Children facing one another does tend to create unnecessary distractions. Some will also say that having an iPad on the table in front of a pupils often does the same.
The distraction issue, like the control one, has been a theme that has been a bit of a recurring one through our last couple of years of iPad experiments. Maybe as an art teacher I’m a bit less affected by it than most of my colleagues, but the level of interest and excitement that has met the new Apple Classroom app was a bit of an eye opener. Having been given a demonstration of the software it would seem that it may well ease the distraction issue and hand the control back to the teacher. Being able to control the functionality of the pupils’ device feels to me simultaneously attractive and dictatorial.

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I think the teaching staff will, in general, want to have this application. But I can’t help feeling that there is an irony here. We are all now equipped with these fantastic devices that can do so much, and that we have all bought from Apple. Now we are having to buy a new app, also from Apple, to limit them. Would we ever buy an additional product from a car manufacturer to limit the performance of a vehicle? An argument could certainly be made for a restricting device so that a car would stay within the speed limit? The question would be is it desirable, would it be acceptable? A slightly mischievous comparison perhaps but I think there is still a discussion to be had in school around some of these issues.
Needless to say, the pupils aren’t particularly happy, but I’m sure they’ll cope, they do after all still have their phone in their pocket which we can’t limit. In the end it might all come down to money and costs. Apple know full well that an app of this kind is addressing an identified problem. They also know it can potentially be a big earner, and for us, a school where in a relatively short time 1000+ pupils will be working with an iPad, a relatively large cost.

First year of the iPad in my art classes

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One of the motivations for starting this blog eighteen months ago was that the school where I work had decided to make the step to a more digital rich form of education with every pupil ultimately working with an iPad.  We are now approaching the end of the first year of this project and our current first years (12 year olds) have a year behind them of an increasingly light school bag and an increasingly full tablet in their bag. It’s time for a little reflection and evaluation I think.

So what have the benefits and gains been this year?

The pupils have always got their books with them.

After years of pupils regularly forgetting to bring the books they need to school, this problem seems to have instantly disappeared. For some reason the pupils never ever forget to bring their iPad! I’d like to think it was because of the lesson material that is now on the tablet and is needed in the lessons, but I’m realistic enough suspect it might have more to do with all the other uses the device has.

My lesson material has never looked so good

I’ve always written all my own lesson material. For years I have sent my booklets of text and images to our school printer to be printed out in black and white. Now though I deliver it as PDFs to the pupils, complete with YouTube films, links to websites and all of it in full colour. The pupils open the booklets in iBooks or some other app where they can make notes on the material, add drawings and so on, before saving all onto the iPad for next lesson.

It almost seems like the pupils like taking notes

Maybe it is still the novelty of the device and the apps, but all the underlining, highlighting, post-it stickers and other accessories that these note taking apps offer almost seems to make the pupils more keen to make their own notes.

Internet access

Instant internet access is really pretty handy in the art room, it really does offer too many possibilities to name!

New creative tools

Yes we still work with paint, pencils, clay and wood. But we do also now work with digital drawing techniques, painting apps, apps that help you explain perspective, ones that allow pupils to build word webs and so on. The drawing and painting apps really offer new sorts of opportunities for a freedom and rapid approach that even the most cautious of young artists seems to respond well to. Some even allow you to play back the process of the development of the image in a short film. These are all aspects that are totally new to my art room this year.

The apps

There are so many out there, the choice is overwhelming. Often the the problem is more finding the ones best suited to your class, and once found remembering to return to them on other occasions. Sharing information and finds with colleagues is crucial in this area.

I’ll post some views about the creativity, and at times pseudo-creativity offered by apps sometime in the future.

Individuality and own pace in lessons

The role of the classical form of teaching has been changing a little through the year. Yes, I do still stand up at the front and explain things to the whole class at times, but other options are coming along too. I’ve experimented with getting pupils to watch YouTube films not on the big screen at the front every time, but also on their iPads with headphones on. They watch at their own pace, stop and replay parts they want to hear again.  The level of focus at these moments seems significantly higher than when we watch as a class. Any discussion I want to have can still take place at the end.

The fact that the iPad is the gateway to so much information offers great possibilities for assignment extensions for early finishers or even alternative routes for pupils struggling with one particular approach or assignment.

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So all in all a positive experience generally. It’s an extra dimension, and extra opportunity, in fact I don’t really have the feeling that anything much has been replaced or lost by the arrival of the iPad in my art lessons. That though is not to say that there haven’t been some less positive aspects and downsides to this first year.

Everyone moving at about the same speed?

It was inevitable and easily predicted, but the way that all users, pupil and staff, get to grips with the new device varies enormously. We’ve offered lots of in-school workshop sessions to guide and instruct colleagues in various areas which have undoubtedly been useful, but it is fair to say that the staff members who are making the most progress are the ones who have stopped to ask themselves “what can I do with this new device in my lessons” and subsequently have had the drive to try and find some answers for themselves.

A series of practical problems……

Fortunately practical problems are often the ones that are the simplest to resolve, but they are problems nonetheless.

I’ve lost count of the number of broken iPad screens that I have seen this year. A twelve year old’s school bag would seem to be a dangerous place for digital devices.

Memory problems have increasingly become a problem as the year has gone on. For the pupils this has often arisen because of the games and other non-school apps that have been installed. But my 16Gb iPad Air is also constantly reaching the point of being full, purely with work related material. My advice…?, buy the biggest capacity that you can afford.

One of the big potential gains of iPad supported education is being able to connect your iPad to the large screen at the front of the class, be that a beamer, smart board or large scale LCD screen. Personally I have found this to be fantastic this year, conducting your lesson from the back of the class, or from sitting next to a particularly troublesome pupil! I can draw on my iPad and it appears on the screen, I am liberated from the computer at my desk.  Or at least I am if the connection between the iPad and the computer works well, and there lies the problem. We have huge problems throughout the school with this connection this year, a frustrating business!

Attention please….

The presence of all the possibilities the iPad offers, sitting there on the desk in front of pupils, is at times difficult to resist. All teachers are in the process of having to discover new ways to keep pupils on task.  In the art room I have to say my experience of this problem is relatively small, when we’re not actually using the iPad it goes away in the bag. Paint and clay don’t mix too well with such devices, but where lesson material and workbooks are all on the iPad it is asking more creativity from the teacher.

Creativity

Maybe at the moment, my biggest disappointment with the iPad is the way that on the surface so called ‘creative’ apps are anything but creative.  So many of them offer a wealth of readymade solutions or ‘one-click wizards’ that might give eye catching results, but are the pupils actually being creative in making these digital products. This is a particularly interesting area for me, perhaps the most interesting of all the iPad developments in the classroom and it certainly warrants a more extensive post at a later date, how do we stimulate creativity with the device?

Other potential problems/issues

Time issues are a well-known problem in educationland, the arrival digital lesson opportunities requires extra work and a process of discovery that not all teachers are willing or able to embark on. School leaders should make no mistake, staff have to be facilitated in time and support is a school wants such a digital project to succeed.

iPad classroom experiences and digital art

We are now a couple of months into the iPad driven educational new dawn at the school where I work. It shouldn’t really come as a surprise to hear that there are a variety of experiences from the very good to the very bad so far. Colleagues who love the change, some who are keen but struggle and others who feel that the familiar educational world around them is sliding rapidly sideways.

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The pupils too also display a huge range of ability. Some are incredibly savvy about their new digital learning friend, others struggle to find their way. Possibly the two biggest problems we’ve encountered are simply making sure that everyone’s iPad is set up correctly so that the necessary apps and networks can be used effectively and with the publishers of our familiar educational text books. These publishers have been rushing to make iPad compatible versions of their material and the experiences with simply the delivery, but also the quality hasn’t been anywhere near as good as we would have liked.

But we are moving forward, and despite plenty of contact with other schools, Apple experts and courses it is clear that there is a huge amount to learn and orientate yourself towards. Much of that work simply has to be done by the teachers themselves or within small groups in school.

On the short to medium term teachers are going to have to take a serious look at their lessons and ask themselves what new options are on offer and how can I integrate them into my lessons?

As an art teacher I too am discovering the new challenges and opportunities. I have always written my own lesson material (as do most art teachers I know) so you are to a degree always on the lookout for developing and refining it. That is what I am now in the process of doing. My previous printed booklets are being transformed into iBooks readable formats complete with links to films, websites and apps. This is an obvious development I suppose, but as you do it you look carefully at the existing material and reflect on its strengths and weaknesses. The new possibilities seem boundless and I do sometimes wonder if there is enough time to fit them into the lessons!

I have also been experimenting for the first time with the use of the iPad as a creative tool in the classroom. Our iPad classes are just our first years (aged 12) at the moment, so it has been quite a modest beginning. Working with the free version of Bamboo Paper (chosen for the simplicity of tools that it offers) they classes have been making a rapid digital variation on an illuminated letter painting that we have been working on. The painted version has been produced over a number of lessons, but the digital version was a much speedier affair. I’m not unhappy with the results and suspect that this might be a route I go more often. The finger on the glass screen, with the possibility of an instantaneous undo button delivers a freedom that is difficult to achieve with this age group on paper. When it comes to the use of colour I can see that some are still very much using the app like they would with coloured pens and are colouring in areas. Others though have discovered the way that there can mix and combine colours in a way that really only the digital form allows. As a teacher these are the areas that I want to explore in the coming months!

An Apple for the teacher and one for the pupils

The first day back after the summer holidays normally starts with the the slightly autumnal sight of low mist hanging over the flat Dutch river landscape that I cross in the train as I make my way to work on the train.  This year was no different, the sight being accompanied by a watery sunshine.

A familiar start, but this year there are some significant differences to the start of the year. Perhaps the biggest of these is the step towards a more digital form of education and the arrival of iPads in the classrooms where I teach. It is going to be a step by step process, beginning with the first years and gradually building through in subsequent years.

Personally, I have only one first year class (of thirty pupils) who I will see twice a week for an hour their art lessons. They will arrive, doubtless clasping their new iPads. What will they be expecting from their new school and it’s iPad supported education? To be honest I really find it hard to know what they will be expecting, at this point I still find it fairly difficult to predict how my own classes are going to be effected by the iPad if I try to look six months ahead! I’ve had a number of training sessions, I’ve experimented a little and my first module of lesson material is ready in digital form to be opened in iBooks. I would describe myself as reasonably capable in the digital world, but discovering just how much the iPad offers above and beyond what a normal laptop offers is the area that is the area of expansion.

The opportunities in the App Store is vast. The possibilities for developing a more activating form of education an ever broadening horizon. Yet how does this all work for an art teacher, we have always had a whole variety of activating and engaging approaches that our colleagues in other departments didn’t have?  We can reach for the paint, the collage, the printmaking tools or the clay the stimulate and activate our pupils.

These techniques will of course remain, so where is the gain going to be? Is it going to be in the ready and close to hand access to art history and other cultural contexts offered by the internet, the access point to which is now going to lying on the pupils desk during the lesson? Is it going to be through teaching aids in the form of demonstration films on YouTube or Vimeo? Or is it going to be by using the iPad as a new creative tool in the form as a drawing or painting tablet or maybe as a camera or filmmaking device? Or will it be through one of those handy apps that allow you to give your lessons a new and playful approach?

What are the teaching staff ready for, what are the pupils ready for? Horizons certainly are changing, I feel ready, but at the same time have I rarely felt that there is more to learn.

Time will tell how it all pans out, but I am certainly open for suggestions, so feel free to post any art education related iPad ideas or suggestions.

Is iTunes U the future?

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It is couple of months since I was given an iPad by the school where I work as preparation for the new school year in late August when we will be switching to a digitally driven form of education. Initially it will be all our first years (12 year olds) who will all have an iPad in their school bag, but then, year on year it will spread through the school. I, like others at school, have been following courses and familiarizing myself with some of the possibilities.

There are a huge amount of possibilities and some fantastic apps out there that are going to offer some very creative and new directions to what I do in my art and cultural awareness lessons. I really am quite enthusiastic about the project, if perhaps a little daunted by the shear amount of work involved. All changes in education cost teachers and educators time and effort, but this feels like a real ground shift.

One of the recent courses I attended was for iTunes U. In short iTunes U is a project, with an accompanying app, that is aimed at teachers world-wide at all levels of education. The philosophy is that great education material is being developed everywhere and too often doesn’t get shared and passed around.  Huge numbers of educational institutions are becoming involved from the likes of Oxford and Harvard universities right down to primary schools. Apple are putting a huge amount of resources into facilitating the education of teaching staff to make use of iTunes U, for me there was a two day, free of charge course at the icentre in Amsterdam on offer.

I am new to this all, and am having to learn and pick things up as I go along, but I am at the moment a little perplexed by what iTunes U seems to offer and in particular how it relates to the arts, cultural and design areas of education.

I am more than happy if there is someone out there who can tell me that I am perhaps mistaken, or not seeing all the possibilities that are actually on offer.  However at the moment a couple of points seem to be particularly problematic, at least from my own arts related direction.

Firstly, from my art teacher’s perspective there is the copyright issue. My understanding from the iTunes U course that I followed was that Apple are only too aware of the potential copyright minefield that the idea of a sort of open source library of education material might become. As a result they only what original material, and supporting material that comes from a sort of Creative Commons perspective. This is all fine and well, but try writing a piece of art education material without making use of examples of the work of others. Art teachers the world over are used to, normally for just their own usage and certainly not on a commercial level, playing quite fast and loose with the work of others. They want to illustrate a particular point or inspire in a particular way, so they insert appropriate examples into their lesson material.

They would probably normally defend their position, rightly or wrongly, behind a sort of fair use argument. They are simply trying to place an activity in a cultural context or guide an activity in a particular way.  If, as Apple seem to be saying, this sort of referencing of cultural context places the material outside the remit of iTunes U, then the resulting material is likely to end up being a rather dry and unstimulating sort of experience, which brings brings me nicely onto my second point.

When I was at teacher training college it was hammered into me regularly that you should make your lesson material visually interesting to look at. Publishers of lesson material know this to be important and spend great deal of time and effort designing their products to attract and lead the attention of the reader. As a visual artist, and someone with an interest in design, I have always worked hard to make sure that the material I produce for my pupils looks well-made and engaging. With all this in mind I am bewildered by iTunes U, a system where as far as I have seen so far, everything ends up looking the same. A sort of list structure that folds out to reveal text, links, film, routes to apps and so on. The content in the end might be fantastic, but the entrance route to it seems dull to say the least.

If anyone knows a different perspective on these two reservations I would be only too happy to hear it and be corrected, but for now I see myself continuing to produce eye-catching PDF files with all the links I need embedded into them and then directly mailed to the pupils who need them.