The institute I currently work at, has invested in a learning management system (LMS) called Smartschool, which is used for internal communication, online classes where students can find course materials, assignments, etc. and as a staff server for documents and information. This tool is used on a daily basis by most teachers and students, although it’s not a “mandatory” system – there are still other ways (paper flyers, pin boards, etc.) to gain almost all the necessary information staff members need to know. I’ve already discussed how this LMS definitely has its value, but also has a confining aspect to it. Therefore, I experimented with a personal learning network (PLN). During one of my classes, I showed the students a couple of tools to use during a geography project and how they could connect with each other and share information. Using a PLN opened up a lot of possibilities for the students, but I also got the feeling that some of them were, in the end, fed up with exploring “yet another tool”. Also, offering openness and freedom required more guidance. By this I mean that students are capable of tackling more straightforward assignments. However, telling them to “research”, “try out and reflect on something” was hard for them because they weren’t used to these more open and almost “vague” instructions. So, by guidance I mean that students needed some sort of anchor to come back to, when in doubt. Motivation was up though, due to the aspect of “fun tools” to play with.
Last year (january 2012) Bart Boelen, a friend of mine, and I worked on an iPad Project. We took 2 weeks to work out a study of a tourist area in the world, using nothing but iPads. You can read all about it here. It was a very enlightening experience! The idea was to create little groups of about 4 students and give them a tourist area to research. They had to look up information about the country and worthwhile cities to explore, select some interesting tourist sights and discuss the influence of tourism on the local population. After a rough start, where we first showed the students what was expected, what tools they could use and how to effectively search the web, then they were basically on their own. As described in the different blogposts, you can read that not everything went as planned, however we found ways to circumvent some technical problems and managed to get some decent results! During our classes we found that students were good at divide the work and still managed to collect all the relevant data relevant for their presentation. They could choose from 4 apps to create their final product, all of which were apps they never worked with, yet they managed to work with them fluently due to the very user-friendly interface. Technological problems aside, we were very happy with the results.
We used a couple of techniques to gather data during the project. Although not very “scientific” we did reflect while working on it. For instance we tried to blog about it, writing down enabling and hindering factors. We did a survey using a Google Form at the end of our 2 weeks, asking them a couple of questions that were important to us: what they thought of it, if they liked the use of an iPad instead of a laptop, what about the apps we used, if they had enough information to work with, etc. When designing the project we had a number of set expectations, closely related with the evaluation criteria I mentioned earlier:
We used tools like Twitter, Google Reader and other forms of our existing network to gather information in advance. We stored this information in tools like Delicious, Diigo,… and tried to blog about the gathered information in order to share our insights, but also as a way to process the information and learn from it. After a while we found ourselves ready to translate our knowledge into a concrete project. Hereby we design a learning network starting with Facebook, used as a central communication hub. We created a PDF-file containing all the relevant data about the project (shared via Facebook). During the first lessons we learned the students the power of Google Search and let them answer quiz questions through Socrative. Once prepared they were of to gather the data, relevant for their destination, using the Photo-app and Pages on the iPad. Presentations had to be made with Keynote, Comic Life, Blurb or iMovie. Afterwards we did a survey using Google Forms. As mentioned before, we used our blogs to report and reflect on the whole experiment.
- What goals need to be achieved?
- What course materials already exist (on paper)?
- Can we translate them to a digital context?
- What other materials are useful during the project?
- Which tools are efficient to process the data and present their work?
- How can we assess their work?
- Do we have the necessary technical requirements for the project?
- What technology can we use as a back-up plan?
The reason we tried out this case-study was to gain more information on the use of iPads in education. We wanted to experience for ourselves how the iPad would impact traditional education. What would be the impact on student performance and their motivation levels. In genuinely experiencing the consequences we not only knew, but almost felt the change in the classroom. We could also compare our outcomes with other classes who didn’t get to work with the iPad and had to do the project the traditional way (still using computers, etc. but in a much more compartmentalized way). This comparison showed that student results were higher and intrinsic motivation was up too!
The project also led to setting up a pilot-project where I’d like to equip an entire classroom with iPads (1:1). The goal is to convince colleagues to teach with the device and use it in their classes in a supportive way (no technology just for the sake of technology), but to really make us of the blended learning aspects. I’ve found a group of enthusiasts and started work on trying to figure out how we are going to implement the device in our classes. You can read all about it here. To be continued…
I am very much convinced that technology has to be a part of education, for the reasons mentioned throughout my work. Technology together with a more social context of learning provide the perfect building blocks to enable better learning and higher knowledge. The papers discussed in our live-sessions only support this idea. Gee, Lave, Latour and Hutchins all suggest a learning environment in the direction I proposed. However, changing the unwieldy vessel that is education, will be a difficult task.