Breaking Down The Walls
In November 2013 we presented at Dubai Tech Fest at fairly short notice. Knowing that the audience would include parents as well as educators, we put together a presentation entitled Bridging the Gap that focused on using the iPad both at home and at school to learn.
For our final presentation at this year's Global Education Forum! we decided to rework and expand on that concept. This time our audience would be educators alone and the original idea evolved into Breaking Down The Walls, a look at learning anywhere, the flipped model and apps that both allow and encourage students to lead their own learning. A huge thank you to Kids Discover who provided us 30 free app codes to give away as a part of the presentation. Also it would be remiss not to mention Digital flaneur Graham Brown Martin, whose work inspired some of the ideas incorporated here.
Before reading any more, you have a task to complete. Don't worry, it's very simple. Watch the video to the right. I was first shown this by Graham at an iPad event last September. This open letter from a US student is passionate, honest and a little scary if you are rooted in traditional teaching methodology. The lecture driven delivery of higher education is perhaps the best (worst) example of the stagnancy that is compromising some educational institutions. This video always reminds me of the quote by Einstein "the only thing that interfered with my learning was my education."
Back in 2012, I presented alongside my good friend Asa Firth at a KHDA (think Department for Education in Dubai) event on the subject of mobile technology. Our school had implemented iPads in late 2011 and we there to share our experiences so far. One of our opening questions was this - when is a classroom like an airplane? The analogy was simple but efficient. You get on a plane, face forwards, turn off all your devices and rely on the person at the front to get you where you need to go.
Flash forwards two years and what's changed? Educators are finally coming around to the idea that through technology, students can be partly or even completely responsible for their own navigation. Myself and fellow iPad Educators Luke Rees and Simon Moore sat one afternoon contemplating the analogy and trying to redraft it.
We started with the Vikings. The idea of the longship and everyone pulling together to direct the boat seemed fairly appropriate at first (plus we joked that we could present wearing Viking helmets!) but soon was picked apart and dismissed. True, they pull the oars as one to the beat of the drum but they still all face front and have to do exactly the same thing. It didn't work.
We returned to the plane and I suggested that what we needed to do was metaphorically kick everyone off of it. An idea developed around skydiving and credit is due to Simon for running with it and making it logical and clear.
To skydive, you need instruction first to ensure safety. You take a leap and guide yourself. If needed, you can tandem skydive with the help of an instructor. You all have an idea of where you are heading but can choose you own path to get there. You may even land in different places but would then regroup and discuss whee you got to and how you accomplished it. You are responsible for yourself and share the experience with others at the same time.
Transferred to education, this works well. Students should be given the freedom to pace, direct and implement for themselves. As such the concept also bells well with what I have come to refer to as the three C's of child-led learning - CHALLENGE, CHOICE and COLLABORATION. They have the same basic objective but it can be accomplished in varying ways and it doesn't have to happen inside the plane... or classroom.
In this day and age, should the idea of a classroom exist any more? Does it have to be a room? In our connected world, we interact with people all over the world from the comfort of our homes. Apps allow students to take virtual tours of museums that they may never have the chance to visit. When technology can facilitate learning anywhere, why box it into the geographical and chronological restraints of a day in a building labelled school. I'm not talking about homeschooling here nor simply homework; I'm talking about genuine, deep learning away from the desk they sit all day. The development of knowledge and skills that are relevant to the world that they shape through their learning of it.
The flipped classroom model works well in this respect. Many of you will already be familiar with it but for the uninitiated, the premise is simple: send the direct teaching home for students to work through at their own pace then spend class time directing more practical, constructive tasks based on the learning. Like any educational model, it has its pros and cons but the important fact is that it can actually work today thanks to the connectivity that modern, mobile technology offers.
Apps like Knowmia Teach, Explain Everything, Edmodo, Showbie and even Dropbox allow for teaching content to be sent home. iBooks Author on the Mac allows text books to be developed by the educator to suit the specific needs of a class or group. Companies like Kids Discover are producing first class interactive ebooks that engage the learner beyond anything a traditional text could offer. The options are there, educators just need to take that leap of faith.
One app we spotlighted at length during the presentation was Ask3 by Techsmith. Ask3 allows teachers to set up a class then post short video screencasts to their classroom channel. Students join the class, watch the clips and can comment either in video or text form. I'm currently using this with my maths set. I might add a fake request for help with a concept and the kids provide me guidance on how to tackle it. They can also add their own request for help or just post tutorial videos of their own. When someone helps you, you give their post a star and the app logs the total stars achieved for each student, with a gold, silver and bronze leaderboard giving them something to strive for.
It has been working brilliantly and students who may not normally have been confident to speak up in class, have found a forum to share their understanding and help others. We are creating a web of support and learning with myself being one part of it rather than the epicentre since they can all contribute and rate responses. I highly recommend checking it out, especially if you are a BYOD school.
Some educators are now delivering or supporting whole courses and schemes of work via iTunes U. We had our colleagues from Los Angeles, Sabba Quidwai and Dr Rebecca Osborne, present this aspect via video as a part of the presentation. You can view that in its entirety to the right. Again we're looking at choice of pace and depth - students could follow the course along to support in class learning or use it as needed to reinforce concepts they struggle with. The power is with the people, the students. This is true differentiation of learning. Differentiation that they are involved with, can identify and adjust as they wish.
Paired with this is the idea of giving them choice in both the tasks they complete and the manner in which they complete them. Again the range of apps available to the on the iPad facilitates this tremendously. Try setting your maths students an open ended problem and allow them to use any app they like to solve it. You'll be surprised at what they produce. I recently had one boy use Minecraft to model an answer in a virtual world. Rather than penalise students who don't conform, they should be encouraged and praised for their creative thinking.
These are the students who will create the future.
Is it time to jump out of the plane?