Saturday, May 21, 2011

iPad implementation at Nanyang Girls' School in Singapore

     Many schools around the world have started seeing the educational potential of the iPad and an increasing number have started to introduce them to their students. Some of these schools have gotten a lot of press with many administrators and school districts curious about their effectiveness.
     One of the first adopters of an iPad 1:1 pilot project is  Nanyang Girls' School in Singapore. A few days ago, I had the opportunity to visit the school to learn about their implementation of the iPad. We were given a presentation about the philosophy of the school itself and how iPads are being used to support this philosophy. We then got to visit some classes to talk with students about their own experiences. 

The use if iPads at the school:

     The school ordered the original iPad as part of a pilot program which provided the device on a 1:1 ratio with students in four classes; 2 classes in secondary year 1 (twelve and thirteen year olds) and year 3 (fourteen and fifteen year olds).

Philosophy behind the program:

     The school has set out to reach the I-generation of IT savvy students with a goal to engage and empower these students through the use of technology in the classroom. Their approach is called the Prototype for the 21st Century Class (P21C2). It aims to be a holistic approach focusing on the 3 R's of making them reflective, responsive and responsible.

The school's vision of a 21st Century Class:

     The school sets out to create classrooms which provide more engagement, excitement and learner empowerment. 

  • Students construct knowledge, make interdisciplinary connections and reflect on their learning.
  • Students are taught to make real life and real world connections in a way that is collaborative and which supports differentiation in terms of readiness and learning styles.
  • Students are given the power to make meaning and construct knowledge and to engage in peer reviews and support.
Why they chose the iPad: 

Many of the reasons for the choice are practical:
  • Adequate screen size
  • light weight
  • thin
  • well-constructed
  • cost effective in comparison to laptops
  • Can switch on and off quickly, allowing them to be used in short bursts
  • Long battery life (whole day use without the need for installing many cables in the classroom for charging)
  • Connectivity - works easily over a wifi network
  • Personal Learning Device - students can easily carry it around with them and integrate it into their daily life activities

     The school did look at alternatives and at the time of implementation, they did not find any other suitable tablets on the market. By doing a comparison of what was available, they found that the iPad was the best device for their needs.
They did consider using Laptops and recognized that despite being less powerful, the iPads would work well most of the time for what was needed.

The roll out:
  • The school decided to go with a 1:1 ratio for four classes, allowing students to have the iPads with them all the time on loan.
  • Parents were asked to create two iTunes accounts so that parents could pay for apps when necessary and to allow students the ability to use the second account.
  • Secure storage lockers were built in the classrooms to safely and securely store the devices.
  • Wifi access points were increased to support the required bandwidth needed to allow all students to stream video content.
  • Furniture was changed, giving students chairs with a side armrest to support the devices and allow them to move into groups for collaboration.
  • A meeting was held with parents to inform them of the plans and to help them get set up with the devices.
  • The school decided to go with the 32gb version for a little extra storage but found that the 16gb version would have been adequate.
  • Every teacher was given an iPad to use so that students would be able to use it in all specialist classes.
  • Teachers meet once each week to share what they are doing in the class to help more crossover and consistency.
The use in the classroom:

The school decided not to use the iPad as a substitution for textbooks and teachers put a lot of their notes online so that students could access and annotate on them using the Good Reader App. The goal was that the girls would come to use the iPad as their own personal learning device which seamlessly integrated in their daily activities and school work. 

Stages of Implementation:

It was not expected that radical changes would occur quickly. Instead, the implementation process was viewed to evolve in three main steps;

1. Substitution:
  • teachers would substitute the iPad to share content which they would have already presented in a different format. For example, instead of showing a presentation on the board, teachers might have each student view it on their iPad. Teachers may also substitute hard copies of notes with soft soft copies, helping to reduce paper consumption.
2. Integration:
  • The iPad would be integrated more into the classroom in a seamless way to help support the content of the curriculum, such as using various media and wikis. 
3. Transformation:
  • The use of the iPads would transform the way education is carried out and how students learn with the goal being to fit the iPads into a more constructivist framework of learning through inquiry based learning and interactive apps. 
The apps:

The school decided that all students would be given 5 key apps to use on all the devices:

1. Documents to Go Premium ($9.99)
  • All-in-one application with support for Word, Excel and Powerpoint, PDF, iWorks and other files and attachments. 
  • Includes a desktop application for both Win and Mac to provide 2-way file synchronization and a version to support Google Docs,, Dropbox, Idisk and SugarSync is also available. 
2. Keynote ($9.99)
  • Apple's presentation software which has been designed for the iPad.
3. Good Reader ($4.99)
  • Ultimate document reader, allowing you to read most file types 
  • Can also annotate on files 
4. Dropbox (free for basic account)
  • Allows you to upload your documents, photos and videos to the cloud and sync them across devices.
5. Eclicker (free)
  • Personal response system allowing teachers to poll their class during a lesson. 
  • Provides teachers with real-time feedback on student comprehension.
     In addition to these, students and teachers were able to find other apps and online content which worked well for them. Two online sources that teachers love are  Edmodo and Wikispaces. They also mentioned that Google Docs is widely used by many teachers with the devices.

What's next:

     With the success of the current pilot program, the school has decided to move ahead with purchasing the iPad 2 and provide each department with one class set to share.

     After learning about the program and the philosophy underpinning it, we were given the chance to visit classes and talk with the students. The overall student response was quite positive and they enjoyed using the device to support their learning.

     One of the major concerns by teachers at my own school is the lack of physical keyboard. They insist that students need a keyboard to improve their typing skills. To my surprise, this was not an issue at all for the students. One girl actually told me that she preferred the onscreen keyboard over a physical one because it was easier for her to use. She complained that most keyboards are just too big. Perhaps the concerns that teachers have (including myself) relate more to our own experiences with computing and our desire to project our own fears (and expectations)  onto the learners themselves.

     The overall impression I got from our visit to Nanyang Girls' School is that the iPad is a viable technology solution which, although not perfect, meets most educational needs of teachers and students. The portability of the device makes it more likely that students will integrate it with their activities throughout the day and seamlessly use it as a tool to help enhance their learning. 

(the video below says that the school has replaced its textbooks with iPads but we were told that the iPads are not being used as a textbook replacement)