Tag Archives: mobile learning

Creating Fire

Tonight we launched our Digital Discovery Series.  This is a three-part series that focuses on helping leaders understand their role in moving student learning forward in a digital age. Our three key themes are Using Mobile Devices, 21st Century Learning and Social Media. We had 220 educators in the room.

What did the evening look like? Our Superintendent Mike McKay gave an opening address and then Bryan Hughes, a Teacher-Librarian and Apple Distinguished Educator kicked off the series. He focused on showing us what you could do with an iPad.  For my part, the messaging included this quote from Gord Holden. It’s a long quote but it resonated for me.

 Technology IS just a tool, like a stick. Many new technological developments made sticks more effective as a weapon (barbs, bows, attachments, etc, but as long as the stick was still being used to harm other people, I would argue that there was nothing truly transformational about the technology. But when sticks became a way to create fire, THAT was innovative and progressive. I would argue the same could be said of modern technology. Replacing the product of the printing press with an ebook is arguably more effective, but not transformational. I fear that a LOT of effort and satisfaction is being gained by taking words, reformatting them into a digital space, and thinking the job has been done. Please, at best one is taking a club and making it into a mace. There is nothing transformational about this, so please stop using this word until it is applicable. The use of words is of course valuable as a means of transmitting knowledge that cannot be gained otherwise. Methodology-wise, it is the poor cousin though to what might otherwise be learned through experiencing. Granted, there are numerous situations where this might be the only reasonable avenue, but folks, with today’s technology, much of what we want students to learn can be experienced by them virtually. To turn away from this, to dismiss it, to let one’s fear of this become a paralysis that prevents pursuing the possibilities is to abrogate our responsibility to exploit the best possible means of supporting student learning. Behind this door are miracles waiting to happen, open the doors of education while the students are still willing to knock on it. Until you do, technology will remain a tool, but not a progressive or transformational one.

During dinner the table groups focused on discussing the two questions: What does technology look like in your school? How might you use technology as a lever to transform instruction and impact student learning? If you want to see how the evening went, you can refer to our district’s twitter hashtag #sd36learn. A table of secondary school principals tweeted this: @sheilamoris: Table 4 says best workshop in 10 years! Digital discovery series #sd36learn

Sharon Cohen, our Deputy Superintendent, brought the evening to a thoughtful close. She challenged us to think about what one thing, with one colleague, we might be able to do within one week, to stretch our digital learning. Many people at the tables made a commitment to do that. We look forward to the learning that will take place before our next session. And as people walked out the door, we handed them a QR code and instructions for what to do with it. You can find it here: http://transformingstudentlearning.wikispaces.com/

Have fun!

Ipads: Six weeks in the classroom

How are the iPads being used in our district? I sit on the District Technology Advisory Committee (DTAC), which makes key decisions about directions in technology. The Superintendent posed the question and I needed to find the answer. We have twelve schools in the Innovative Learning Designs (Digital Focus) pilot. I did a quick email survey of the principals. The responses represent the perspective of the principals of the schools–as seen from their vantage point. At the time of the survey, we were just six weeks into the school year.

1. Are the mobile devices being used on a regular basis (defined as 3 to 5 times a week)? If so, please give a short description of how. If not please indicate why?

The devices were being used regularly in 11 out of the 12 schools. In some schools, such as Frank Hurt Secondary, the students were using them daily. At Johnston Heights, the iPads were also being used daily by the students in the 21st Century Learning Module. These students use them in an integrated program of studies that includes SS 11, Math 11, English 11 and Theatre/Leadership. At a site visit to this school, the principal made the opening statement, “ The teachers say they can never go back.”  The teachers’ experience of teaching, using an integrated curriculum and collaborating as a team, has totally changed their teaching.  The teachers’ experience is not a result of the iPads, but the technology has created a leverage point for change in the design and delivery of student learning. As Sheila Hammond explained, “It is having a huge impact on all the teachers involved in the project. The iPads are the technology tool, but the integration of curriculum and collaboration time is having a more significant impact. The iPads have broadened the teacher’s perspective on teaching for the 21st century.” Thanks to Rob Killawee, JH Vice-Principal for preparing the following video.

Each of our elementary schools uses the iPads differently, depending on the educational focus of the school team. For George Vanier Elementary, the iPads are being used with the younger primary students and special needs individuals. At Hillcrest Elementary, the intermediate students are using them to create personal collages while one of the classes is embarking on a personal inquiry project.

2. What impact do you perceive it is having on teacher practice (your personal perspective)?

The iPads are creating an opportunity for teachers to engage in “professional dialogue and sharing.” Antonio Vendramin reflected, “It’s definitely getting people to think about alternative approaches—effective and transformative integration rather than simply doing the same activity but with a different tool. The project has also enhanced discussion and collaboration, since there are no true experts, and we are all venturing into unchartered territory. There is much to be learned from everyone.” Another principal concluded that, “Teachers are working and learning together.”

3. What impact do you think it is having on student learning (your personal perspective)?

One principal described the iPads as “absolutely motivating.” The same theme came from many other schools with students identified as “very excited and eager to use these devices.”  One principal noted, “It is forcing them to think and act differently.”  Another principal analyzed it this way,  “This technology allows many points of access. The children ‘satellite’ their discoveries and bring each other (and their teacher along as they discover new and engaging ways to demonstrate their learning…”

Throughout the comments, the themes that emerged were increased teacher collaboration, teacher exploration and student engagement.  The project design, along with the iPads, were creating an opportunity for individuals—both students and teachers—to explore learning in new ways. For only six weeks into the school year, the journey has been pretty amazing.

iPads: A Bolt or a Lever for Authentic Learning?

Yesterday I attended my first webinar. I probably shouldn’t admit that but it is true. There are other first experiences that I’m hoping to have before my summer is over. I consider this my summer to play with technology. I registered for this particular ASCD webinar because it was focused on using the iPad as a production tool for authentic learning. I wanted to compare what the speaker had to say with the direction we have been moving as a district. We have been repeating the mantra, in various forms: it’s about the learning and not about the technology. Mike Fisher, the presenter, opened with:

Fisher referenced Alan November’s book Empowering Students with Technology (2009) for his discussion on using technology as a production tool in education. November describes automating–using technology to bolt on top of existing educational practices–as limiting. Fisher’s example was using the Smartboard as a traditional blackboard rather than using it as an opportunity to change instructional practices. The goal would be to move from automating to using technology for informating or amplifying. November explains,

You get very different results when you informate. The real revolution is information and communication, not technology. Let go of the word technology. If you focus on it, then you’ll just do what you’re already doing.

Amplifying is the idea of publishing or broadcasting your work. When you think about using technology for informating or amplifying, it it similiar to Bernajean Porter’s notion of using technology to transform learning. It empowers students to use the tool to access information and engage in the creation of a new product. Fisher emphasized the need to shift to student-centered work; the student is the producer rather than consumer. To make this happen learners need ample opportunities with authentic tasks in alternative instructional contexts. The pieces fit together.

So how can the ipads be catalysts for this pegagogical shift? He talked about apps that provide students with the opportunity to be creative. For example, ShowMe is an app that allows student to make their own simple videos adding audio and text. He also gave an example of Easy Chart, an app students use to create bar, line, pie and sidebar charts. He gave a quick demonstration of Comic Life for the iPad. Many teachers in our district are familiar with this software on the Mac and now it is conveniently available as an app. iMovie was the last app that he walked us through. Again, we use this as well and it is a great app on the iPad. He then provided a list of other suggested apps, including Dragon Dictation, Corkboard, Doodle Buddy, MindMap Creator, and Storykit.

When it came to resources, the item he identified as most useful for teachers was Livebinders. Unlike google, it’s a curated search where you get the information that is most relevant to your needs as an educator. If you search iPads in Livebinders you can find lots of folders with excellent information. The folders are rated with stars and the number of users so you have a sense of the popularity of the information inside the folder. Check out Mike Fisher’s folder as a good example. When I attended the CUE conference last spring, Livebinders was also named as a key resource. I suggest you bookmark it.

As we move forward with the iPad technology, it will be important to remember, it can be a powerful tool to leverage student learning. It is teachers, however, who will make the difference. We can simply bolt the iPad onto what we already do OR we can look at it as a lever to unleash constructivism-teaching strategies. Bolt or lever–what will you choose?

Networked, Instant-on Computer, 24/7

Guest Post: Orwell Kowalyshyn, ICT Helping Teacher with the Surrey School District.

After reading this (the previous post), it reminded me of an interesting comment I read recently from teacher and blogger Fraser Speirs  who stated in a tweet that students today will, for the rest of their lives, be carrying a computer in their pocket. I would add to that, a networked, instant-on computer, available 24/7.

The lifetime implications of this, if you care to think about it, are enormous. The convergence of a number of key technologies has created this “perfect storm” — a mobile internet tsunami, to quote a popular financial TV host. What has been often talked about and theorized for the last fifteen or so years, since I was an undergraduate, is now firmly reality.

Two to three times a week, I commute by public transit. For 35 minutes each way, I am amazed at the number of people – young, old and really old – who are reading, listening, and writing on these 150g computers. I can tell you from months of observation, its not a small number. And the numbers would seem to indicate the technology is obviously meeting a particular need. Many, I’m sure don’t use it to the extent they could, but then nobody has probably taught them how.

Personally, many of those 70 minutes are my PD time. I engage with and contribute information, however insignificant, to what a colleague has referred to as the “known universe”. For me, it’s a very intriguing and intellectually fascinating part of my week. The point is, the genie is out of the bottle and it will never go back in. Its also not about the technology. It’s really invisible, fading for the most part into the background.

It’s about taking the opportunity to work with students or any learner on making meaning, extending thought, and connecting the dots from information that is just a tap away.

As educators, we need to engage and figure out how to ask better and harder questions given this new reality. We have students now who will be living this way for the next 60 or 70 years. In 2081, some of our students will be in their 7th or 8th decade of living in a socially networked and fully connected world.

You really have to stop and think about that. Giving them a bit of a head start today just might be a good idea.