Imagine the very typical scene of a class in an ICT suite. I am sure you would simply visualise each individual student working away at their own computer – such is the basic paradigm of ICT use that we have all internalised. What is typical is snapshot of the near catatonic bliss of individual students disappearing into a virtual world of ICT – their terrain, their world! In my experience as an English teacher, students would often use an ICT room to be researching on the web, perhaps some aspect of the social context of a given text, like researching Great Depression America when we study ‘Of Mice and Men’. Each ICT room is built to encourage purposeful individual learning; group work is a concept left for our usual classroom spaces. When working with ICT simply putting students in pairs can have a radical impact upon their learning. A good teacher knows that group work is key – collaboration can lead to greater creativity – students can better enhance their knowledge base and understanding by working together. When working in pairs on the same task as mentioned above students can synthesis their ideas and judgements, debating and evaluating their evidence. Why can’t the new technology of tablet devices, like the iPad, and mobile learning more generally embrace the same principals of effective group work and collaboration?
With any education technology it is important to put great thought into implementation and how it will shape effective pedagogy. The iPad is clearly leading the charge for mobile technology in the classroom. Now, issues of price and effective usage are abound with the iPad and other similar devices. By making the iPad a tool primarily for group work and collaboration it can greatly enhance learning in a myriad of ways – not only that, it is highly cost effective. In a time of fiscal austerity good pedagogy may well be a way of preserving dwindling budgets.
Here’s an example I made earlier:
Now, there are many ways in which students can use the iPad as a collaborative tool to enhance learning. Take a single task in my subject area of English – related to the aforementioned ‘Of Mice and Men’ – the filming of dramatic monologues created through purposeful group work. As a group, students can formulate effective open and closed questions for a range of the key characters in the text. Students can then hone their questions to a top four or five, thereby evaluating their understanding together, synthesising the best of their ideas. These can then be streamed and shaped by the teacher or other students through critical formative assessment of their ideas. Also, if needs be, they can use the iPad to search the text or the web for useful supporting information as they learn. Each of the group can then take a role as one of the characters being hot seated and answer their formulated questions. They can then use the iPad as a tool to film and record their performances using iMovie. These films can be streamed instantly to the class projector, with other groups peer assessing the quality of the questions and the appropriateness of the answers relative to their understanding of the novella. Their film can be saved and stored in Dropbox to be used again, recycling the learning easily where necessary (repetition is the one of the keys to mastery). Now, this task could be done with a video-camera, but the iPad does it with ease and is brilliantly multifunctional. It is a camera, a Visualiser, an Interactive Whiteboard and a PC all in one! The film can be made simply and quickly, edited by students as they film.
The iPad is simply a great tool to record, store and share, annotate, assess etc. It functions brilliantly for group tasks – allowing for group annotation, shared reading, shared writing and a tool for oral presentations (ExplainEverything is my favourite app which can record oral commentaries over presentations – you may never need PPT again!). Coupled with the ability to stream work instantly to the projector using Airplay, it is a great way to formatively assess their group learning with immediacy, whilst heightening the sense of purpose for almost all students.
Almost all of the research into mobile devices centres upon the one-to-one approach. This is coupled with the less popular, but emerging, ‘bring your own device’ approach. Both have obvious benefits. Each individual students having a device opens up a host of options that the collaborative approach cannot. However, there are also prohibitive costs related to this approach and the emphasis on individual work can inhibit the deeper learning as shown above. Having seven iPads as a ‘class set’ also allows many more classes to use the devices at any given time, multiplying the potential benefits. By approaching the new technology as tools for collaborative learning schools can make significant savings in a time of fiscal austerity – not only that, the benefits to pedagogy are still clear. It may take a paradigm shift in how we envision the use of technology and mobile devices, but the collaborative approach could be the way forward for many schools looking to implement iPads and new technology more generally in our era of slashing cuts – making a virtue out of necessity.