Saturday, June 4, 2011

Apple Study Trip: Day 2

     During the second day of our Apple Study Trip, we had the opportunity to visit two unique and wonderful schools: Acacia College and Victoria School of the Arts. 

      Acacia College is a new co-educational independent school located in the northern growth corridor of Melbourne. One of the things that was most apparent when we entered the school is its openness, both in terms of the space itself and the staff. The principal possesses the two great qualities of vision and passion and his staff all embrace new technologies. In fact, when new staff are hired, it is expected that they embrace new technologies and are open to trying something new.  These are the qualities that really made the school stand out most among the four schools that we visited. 

     Acacia College has come a long way in its use of technology since opening its doors in February, 2010. They began by trialing the iPod Touch in the classroom and then purchased one iPad for the school. From there, they purchased a class set and then moved to a 1:1 trial for year 7. They have now expanded this to a 1:1 trial for grades 5-8 and are using them on a shared basis for the lower grades. They found that when the devices were shared, they were being used mainly for consumption of content but students wanted to use them for content creation. The 1:1 model has helped to achieve this.  The decision to use them on a shared basis for the younger students is based on the idea that consumption is enough at this stage. 


     The design of the learning space at the school lends itself to open learning and sharing. Classes are designed with large movable doors which can be closed to create distinct learning spaces and opened to create shared learning spaces. The corridors between classes contain large open spaces where students can work together and share the different devices available to them. 

     I found that Acacia College had the most open policy for using technology in the school. Their school motto is "respect, responsible, resourceful, proud" and this was reflected in how the iPads and other technologies were implemented. Rather than just going with a 1 student:1 device model, the school promotes a 1 student:many devices model. Each student has their own iPad as a learning device and all other devices from  Macbooks, iPods, cameras, etc are made available to students and teachers as they need them. The carts are in an open space where people take a device when needed and return it when not. 

     Through this policy, the computers have 98% use and the iPads get used as one tool among many. They found that having a model of booking computers and limiting which devices a student could access was not the most effective. It led to the devices not being used as much as they could be and students not having access to the device they needed when they needed it. 

     With this policy came the need to instill into students the idea that, although they have a right to access the technology, they have a responsibility to use it properly. The school held meetings with parents to explain good use practices of the device. For example, they were told that the iPad is not just a "game machine" but a computer which needed to be treated as such. It should be used in a public space in the home and children had the responsibility to use it wisely and productively. Both parents and students signed an acceptable use policy and students are well aware that violating this agreement had consequences such as loss off access. The result has been overwhelmingly positive with the vast majority of students using the device responsibly. The reality goes against the popular idea among critics that if you put the devices in students' hands they will use them to play games or to view inappropriate content. 

     The 1:1 iPad trial has helped to increase communication between teachers and students beyond the classroom walls and students are able to submit completed work to teachers as it is done. Teachers can easily post assignments which students can complete even if the teacher is not at school. It helps students and teachers continue the dialogue and connectivity with one another. 

     When students were given their own iPad, they were given full autonomy of their device and had to set it up from scratch. They set up all of their own accounts and installed their own apps, from a combination of required apps to those which they chose themselves. Each student was given a $40 iTunes gift card to use for their purchases. Experience showed that true success relied on moving away from the school being the "boss" of the machine to one where it was student driven and student managed. 

It was found that the Ipads are very different from laptops in that students can really relate to them and, when used, they do not become the focus of the learning. Instead they become one device which can be used with all learning tools that students have access to. The iPad became the "red pen" where much of the work got done in other ways and the iPad was used when needed. Laptop computers control thinking and control the desk. When used, they become the focus of the learning. iPads are a technology which has really changed the way students work with computers in the classroom. The real challenge for staff is to embrace this and to understand that you can't expect to have iPads in the classroom and teach the same way that you did when you didn't have them. It changes the way students work and they way teachers teach. 


     One of the key issues to any school buying devices like the iPad is cost. Getting them into the hands of all students is not cheap. However, it also gives schools a chance to reevaluate how they spend money on other resources, helping to offset the cost of Ipads by saving in other areas. For example, there is no longer a need to purchase calculators, dictionaries, atlases, etc and many textbooks can be replaced by digital content available online or created by teachers themselves. There are even apps such as Doceri which can turn the iPad into an interactive whiteboard for a fraction of the cost of purchasing expensive alternatives. 

     Embracing the iPad or other similar devices, requires a shift in thinking which is not always easy in schools. The school has created a wifi friendly zone where filters are limited to things such as pornography. Students are given access to social networking sites and sites like YouTube. The key philosophy underpinning this is the idea that children can be responsible learners. The school can monitor inappropriate use of the technology when needed but tries to avoid acting as the big brother in learning. When given autonomy and trust, most students act responsibly. The school even has an open policy on personal mobile devices such as mobile phones. They are welcomed into the school and can be used as powerful learning tools. Having them in school helps teachers to teach students mobile etiquette and responsible use. Students learn that technology is a wonderful thing but that there is a time and place for everything. 

     In addition to the devices themselves, the school has set up a content management system based around  a platform called Studywiz.

     After vising Acacia College, we had a chance to visit Victoria College of the Arts in the afternoon. 

     The Victoria College of the Arts is a well-established middle and high school with impressive facilities and programs. While the iPads are being used effectively in this school, it was seen more as an add on to everything else that is wonderful about the school and was not the focus of the tour. In this sense, I never really got a detailed understanding of how they are being implemented beyond being told that the school has an open use policy where students are taught to use the technology responsibly. One innovative use of the iPad was for sketching a planning art designs. Students used a sketching app to design a piece inspired from Alice in Wonderland which they created a model of. It was also clear that students were using other Apple computers to do music composition. 


     Over the two days visiting four different schools, it became clear that iPads are in fact being used to enhance teaching and learning  across different educational environments. To be effective, teachers need to embrace the new technology and new ways of teaching that come along with it. Students need to be given autonomy in managing the device and there needs to clear guidelines in place for proper use accompanied by trusting the students to act responsibly. Learning spaces themselves need to be reconsidered so that the learning environment is consistent with they collaborative and open learning that comes with using the new technologies. In addition, careful planning needs to be given to infrastructure requirements and learning management systems which promote sharing of learning. 
When implemented well, I do think that mobile devices like the iPad can serve as very powerful tools in the 21st century classroom to help enhance teaching and learning.