Beyond Apps

We hear a lot about iPads and Apps in educational discussions. Plenty of people are more than willing to share their opinions about which app is best for school, or why we should use a specific app, but there is very little focus on workflows and combining a number of apps to achieve a desired outcome. I actually believe this is the most important part of the conversation about using iPads (or any other tablets, smartphones or computing devices).

This is all about moving away from the ‘one size fits all’ model of education that many teachers cling to as a the proverbial life raft. iPads are no different from any other tools and devices – Teachers can dictate specific apps and workflows OR they can assist students to develop a range of workflows and combinations of apps to achieve numerous and varied results. I certainly prefer the second option. (I still don’t understand how teachers can cope with marking 27 iterations of the same thing.) Surely it is more exciting for teachers to have a variety of products to assess, let alone the impact on students who can have the flexibility to express their thinking and learning in a format that works for them at the time.

30.3 _ choose love? [EXPLORED]

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Workflows should be part of the ‘teaching’ that goes with using iPads. Students should not have ‘lessons’ about how to use an app. Technology is not separate from subject or curriculum areas. It is one of the amazing array of tools and resources that teachers do (or should) have at their disposal.

In writing this post, I have been considering some of the workflows and app combos that I have used or witnessed others using. Even the simple process of creating a product and sharing it with your teacher has a minimum of 2 steps in the workflow (and that’s without planning!)

Consider this scenario… A student intends to make a short video to demonstrate their understanding of a topic.

A simple workflow would include planning, storyboarding, filming, production and distribution. In this instance, a sample workflow could include Popplet Lite for planning the event, Strip Designer for creating an annotated storyboard, filming relevant material using the Camera app, producing the movie in iMovie and then sharing the finished product by email or YouTube.

This is just one example of a workflow for this task. It could easily be achieved in a number of ways with a different collection of apps to achieve the desired outcome. In the end, it is about leveraging the potential of the apps you have available on your device. This is especially necessary in schools where iPads are shared devices. You don’t need to download hundreds of apps. A small collection of apps with developed workflows will be more powerful in the hands of students than devices loaded with hundreds of apps to choose from.

It’s time to move beyond apps and focus on workflows that enable quality teaching and learning.

Getting Started With iPads

One of the questions I get asked the most in my current work role is, ‘What apps would you put on iPads when you first start using them with students?’

It’s actually a difficult question to answer. I’m a big believer in finding resources to achieve an outcome but this is actually the other way around – find some resources then apply them to learning.

In the end I like to point people toward apps that have potential to allow students to be creative and develop higher order thinking skills. As such, I rarely recommend ‘education’ apps as they are frequently focused on lower order thinking and ‘drill & practice’ style learning. Whilst there may be a place for this in education, teachers already have access to loads of resources that meet this need. Consider the SAMR model – there is no point using an iPad app as a direct substitute for existing practices.

Anyway, the point of this post is to provide a basic list of apps for starting out with iPads in the Classroom. Most of these apps can be used across stages of learning and curriculum areas. I do not pay any attention to the cost of apps. Let’s face it, we seem to have become rather concerned about spending $5 on an app when we have spent years purchasing software for thousands of dollars.

The Basic App Toolset (These can be used for individual or shared iPads)

  • iMovie
  • GarageBand
  • Sonic Pics
  • Creative Book Builder
  • Strip Designer
  • Dropbox
  • Popplet Lite

For iPads in 1:1 settings

  • Evernote
  • Flipboard
  • Skype

Some people are quite focused on using iPads for documents and presentations. iPads are not designed for word processing – use a computer. Keynote is quite useful for creating presentations and slide shows.

There are obviously loads of other great apps available and this list is by no means a definitive list of all the best apps for education. In the end you need to find apps that will help to achieve your outcomes.

Try some of these websites for app reviews and suggestions for apps to use.

Let Them Create

Over the last few months I have worked with a number of schools and teachers to support them in the use of iPads in a range of classroom settings. From these experiences I can group people into two broad categories – those that are excited by the simple creative potential of the device and those who are trying to make the device conform to their existing practice.

Those teachers who are genuine in their pursuit to harness the creative possibilities of iPads are experiencing plenty of great success stories with student engagement and learning outcomes. Their students are inspired to participate and are regularly challenging themselves (and each other) to express their learning through a range of apps. These students are exploiting the capabilities that app developers have made possible. Making a movie is no longer a laborious task. Apps like iMovie, Sonic Pics, Sock Puppets and Silent Film Director have made simple multimedia production a positive experience for students and teachers. Even better – the learning curve for each of these apps is almost negligible so the focus is on the content of the production not on mastering challenging applications.

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To the other teachers who are diligently moulding iPads to their traditional views on education, please try something different. Your students will be inspired and you may well be amazed at what your students can achieve.

iPads are Personal

One of the great features of iPads and iPod Touches is that they are designed specifically to be personal devices. Having direct access to email, calendars and various cloud services such as Dropbox & Evernote enhances productivity and gives users constant connection to their information and services. This is the true power and benefit of these devices. I use my iPad every day and, coupled with my iPhone, I am more connected than ever.

Since the release of iPads, more and more schools are rushing out to by ‘sets’ of iPads for sharing or even lab-style setups. This rush to by devices seems to be driven by a misguided belief that technology drives curriculum change. Whilst this has always been an issue as school leaders try to gain an edge over neighbouring schools, the iPad revolution has made this issue more pronounced. Why else would schools buy communal sets of personal learning devices?

Pedagogy needs to be the force behind the purchase of technology. The technology will then be an enabler of the pedagogy. With this rush of schools to buy iPads, support agencies and consultants are being inundated with requests for support – “We’ve got iPads but we don’t know what to do with them.” “How do we use them to teach?” And my favourite question so far – “Who is going to buy the apps for us?” Was any planning involved prior to spending all of this money?

We are now faced with a glut of new devices in schools without any thought into how they will support pedagogy. Furthermore, too many classrooms are trying to bend the iPad to their will – no change to pedagogy but criticism that the device is not an efficient word processor and that powerpoint slide shows are a bit harder to make.

Schools who have purchased iPads as shared devices are faced with a number of challenges including having communal iTunes accounts, payment for apps, sharing of student work. Fortunately there are some solutions to these issues. You can synch multiple devices to a single iTunes account. The technical (and legal) limit, according to the copyright of the Apps, is 5 devices per account. Although this not currently enforced and schools are using this loophole to synch significantly more than 5 devices to single accounts. Rumour has it that this will not be possible after the release of iOS 5.

Another useful (and free) product is the iPhone Configuration Utility which is available for download from Apple. This lets you push network settings etc. to multiple mobile devices. There are other Mobile Device Management (MDM) solutions on the market. Casper Studio is one such solution.

However the reality remains – iPads are personal devices. If schools want shared devices, go back to laptops. Find a model that meets the pedagogical needs of your teachers. Pedagogy must drive technology use.