For this session our aim was to get a perspective on the current picture of tablet technology use in Irish schools. It was a pleasure to be able to host four excellent presentations and with Padráig’s support we turned our normally segregated two one-hour lecture slots into one two-hour seminar to give due attention to the different stories of tablet deployment in schools being told by our four panellists.
Keith Young (formerly Education Project Manager with Wriggle.ie and currently doing a PhD in the Education Department NUIM) began with an overview of the trends in mobile learning and has kindly shared his paper for you to read at your leisure. Well worth a read, Keith’s short paper contains a number of key references that I am certain students will find relevant for their Action Research projects.
Keith’s talk included a very hopeful message for PDE students, namely that principals’ expectations are changing regarding newly qualified teachers as schools deploy one-to-one mobile devices. The opportunities for teachers familiar with such technology become greater: in other words lack of teaching experience can be compensated for by willingness to embrace technology creatively.
It seems to me that the landscape of technology in Irish schools is finally changing in a profound way. Until now much technology usage was as an add-on that enhanced and maybe made lessons more engaging and varied, but did little to shift from the largely teacher-led transmission model of classroom practice. With mobile technology now being firmly held in the hands of the students, a paradigm shift has occured that allows students take more control of their own learning and this in turn presents new possibilities for the relationship teachers have vis-à-vis both their students and the curriculum. Keith talked about “failure” being the new normal and I was reminded of the words of Samuel Beckett: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” (from Westward Ho, 1963).
The second talk was from Sinéad Henegan, who teaches Maths and Science in Trinity Comprehensive, Ballymun. Sinéad presented some of the findings of her Masters Action Research project (with a class coincidentally called Beckett!). Sinéad’s work came about as a teacher-driven response to a less than glowing recent Whole School Evaluation report. Colleagues fund-raised to subsidise the cost of iPads for an incoming First year group to create a scholarship class. Their aim was to encourage more children to choose their local school over other schools located outside of Ballymun. The limitations of only being able to deploy the technology in one class creates a potential disparity within the school, but attracting and retaining students from the community has far-reaching implications not only for the school itself but for the entire community and was deemed worth trying as a starting point.
Having tablet technology at their disposal was the initial hook for Beckett 1 and Sinéad discussed the visible increase in motivation and the sheer attachment the students showed to their iPads as well as their profound relief at not having to carry around 10kg bags of books! A high level of humility came through in Sinéad’s talk, in particular through her emphasis on the extent to which she was learning from her students and the impact this genuine exchange of learning was having on relationships in the classroom. It was clear that the experiment has opened up opportunities for genuine praise and encouragement of pupils. The Beckett class certainly had the appearance of an engaged and motivated group of young people. The apps mentioned by Sinéad were: ShowMe App / Showbie / NearPod / Basic Fraction and Upad lite.
Irish and Maths teacher Orla Grant followed with another very practical and valuable talk about iPad deployment in Coláiste Bhríde in Carnew, Co Wicklow. iPads were deployed in Carnew to all first year students last year. Orla’s slides can be found here . She discussed the necessity of clearly outlining to students her own and the school’s expectations concerning the acceptable use of the mobile devices. Operating an open policy in relation to apps and wireless in the school, the sanctions for misuse or abuse of the devices include the immediate withdrawal of the device and its replacement with a large bag of text books making it a very public statement in cases where this sanction is applied. Orla also explored her and her colleagues’ fears concerning the roll-out of mlearning in their school and discussed their uncertainty about how to use it at all; how to cope with classroom management issues and the potential for cyberbullying among other things. It was heartening to hear how such fears have been proven unfounded as teachers have taken up the devices for their own use and for their teaching. The key message I took from Orla’s talk was the shift in teachers’ experience of professional development. While lack of training was an initial concern teachers had, the best form of training was found to be simply teachers sharing ideas among themselves of apps they’d used and how they’d used them. … Conversations. Teacher talk. In addition to posting recommendations to a specific noticeboard teachers were discussing apps in the staff room and finding opportunities for professional development occurring naturally through these conversations.
Orla’s talk was also evidence based as the school undertook to survey teachers’ attitudes – comparing the fears expressed early on with the views colleagues held at the end of the year. The findings showed a high level of teacher positivity regarding iPad usage and general feelings that while comfort zones had been breached this was all for the good. Orla concluded her talk with that message to move out of comfort zones: just as she had done in accepting to give this talk to students in the university today! (… and we’re very glad she did!)
The apps mentioned by Orla were: Educreations (writing with a stylus and recording explanations) and Edmodo (a popular in class ‘social network’). She mentioned the eBooks from multiple Irish publishers and as an Irish teacher recommended Edco’s Iontas in particular. She also uses iBook for document storage, SimpleMind mind mapping, iDoceo (as a teachers journal) as well as the camera, photo gallery and audio memo apps built in to the iPad.
Finally, Aoife O’Dwyer the Deputy Principal in Coláiste Bhríde spoke eloquently about the impact of the iPad initiative on the school as a whole and focused her attention on the improved relationships with parents. Again her talk was supported by evidence from a number of surveys undertaken in the school, in one survey they explored students’ preferred learning styles. This was prompted by the policy shift in the Department of Education and Skills who emphasise teacher self-evaluation. The students’ preferred ways of learning corresponded closely to the task-based, active learning potential of the iPad when used creatively. Another survey conducted with parents, found that parental fears expressed at the start of the year also failed to materialise. Although some parents did continue to express concern about the amount of time their children were spending on the devices at home, the on-going conversation between the school and parents about ways to monitor and control that was proving effective. Again Aoife presented a very strong message the PDEs about embracing technology by simply starting where you are.
I want to end this post by reiterating my own point that there’s no app for good teaching, but you will find many apps that good teachers are using on Technology Made Easy (a list curated by Thomas Creighton) and featuring a friendly tech-savvy dinosaur!
(Although both of the teachers who presented at this seminar discussed iPads, I had approached another teacher who is using an Android tablet but it wasn’t possible for her to take the time out on this occasion).