In this guest post Nick Dennis, assistant headmaster at Felsted School, an independent school in Essex, England, describes their experience in the first year of a two-year commitment as a regional training center for innovative use of Apple products. He describes how the school has come to see that technology need not be a distraction; should not be considered a panacea itself; yet has capacity to help teachers rethink ways technology can improve learning.
Many schools are still very wary of introducing mobile technology to the classroom. The main fear is that it prevents students from becoming properly ‘engaged’ in lessons, distracting them from the main business of learning. We believe this is a result of the technology becoming the focal point rather than the learning itself and placed within the correct pedagogical context, a mobile enhanced teaching strategy can usher in substantive benefits in terms of students’ academic progress and pastoral care.
As a history teacher with a particular interest in the relationship between historical processes and the use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to help further understanding, I was very concerned that the use of ICT was often thought of as a panacea to what is essentially a teaching and learning problem. After becoming aware of the growing body of research on effective teaching and assessment strategies by John Hattie, I began to think about the ways technology could aid and amplify effective classroom practice.
Apple and Orange involvement
Apple was aware that we had a slightly different view on the use of technology in the classroom, and after a series of meetings with the, they understood the learning-centered goals we had for our students and the school. As a result, Felsted has been named as an Apple Regional Training Centre; one of the few independent schools to have this status and the only one in the UK with History as its subject focus.
Although unique, we decided to embrace mobile learning to supplement historical learning but we soon realized this was too narrow to really examine the benefits of mobile amplified learning. The project now covered four academic departments (Economics/History/Classics/Biology) spanning the range of age, ability and examination boards.
Baseline student data and target grades will be used as the benchmark for measuring student progress and we are currently devising an approach where we can measure the actual learning taking place using the work of Graham Nuthall as a basis.
One area we are keen to explore is Dylan William’s idea of ‘Hinge Questions’ as part of improving assessment of learning and providing the next steps for improvement. A ‘Hinge Question’ is where students face a number of multiple-choice questions during the lesson on their mobile device but instead of having one right answer, each answer refers to a particular level of understanding. Student answers are recorded and collated by the software and the teacher can then use this to give effective feedback to help move the student on. The devices can also be used to personalize content to students based on their performance so that learners are always challenged in relation to their performance.
On the basis that the results of the first year of the trial prove to be successful, the plan is to roll out the mobile enhanced project to all other areas of the school.
The potential benefits of using mobile devices in a pedagogically focused way are enormous. Not only do they move us away from the ‘office model’ mode of using technology, their battery life, portability and multi-functionality allow them to be used in a variety of contexts. As well as offering basic academic tools, such as an electronic dictionary, thesaurus, calculator and planner, they can also serve as note takers by using the camera/video. Outdoor and international visits take on a different dimension with the ability for GPS use and to create video blogs on the go.
We are also developing a mobile interface so students can gain easy access to their academic information thereby removing the need for a paper planner. Pastorally, it is anticipated that the use of mobile devices will promote the quality of tutoring at Felsted by giving staff finger-tip access to student information, such as sanctions and commendations, medical details and contacts for parents.
The desire to use these devices at Felsted is not driven by them being ‘cool’ (although the students perceive them as such). We believe that they may offer a vehicle to help improve what are already effective teaching, pastoral and social practices but with more speed, precision and in a context focused on striving to help students achieve their best.
While the ‘office model’ of computers has promised much and has led to some improvements, it often meant that students had to be chained to desks. Learning can happen anywhere, and we believe that mobile devices may be able to help promote, capture and extend learning within and outside the classroom.
Images: Nick Dennis; Felsted School, Essex