We spoke with Apple Distinguished Educator Coby Reynolds about his work to help launch iTunes U across Victoria International School of Sharjah in the UAE, his game design projects and more.
Tell us a little about yourself and your background. I am a 28 year old primary teacher from a small place called Ballarat, Victoria Australia. I graduated my Bachelor of Education in 2009 and began working at a small country school of 150 students, a great way to start my teaching career. More recently I have been studying my Masters of Education, specialising in Information Technologies, which has been a fascinating insight into how fast education is changing even for a young teacher like myself.
What led you to the UAE? I was looking for a chance to travel and teach at the same time. Many teachers from Australia tend to move the UK to work and travel - especially teachers. I, however wanted something different and what more different than the UAE. Another attraction is my current school (Victoria International School of Sharjah, VISS) is an Australian curriculum school, so the transition was made that little bit easier. It is also a great base for travel and the social life here is fantastic.
How long have you been using iPads in the classroom? What do you see as the biggest benefit of iPads in education? I began experimenting with iPads in 2010 on a small scale and immediately loved the portability of learning the iPad offered. At this point in time I was mainly utilising the 'content' apps where student would practice times tables and word associations.
Moving forward my move to the UAE opened up an opportunity to trial a 1:1 program in 2012 which led to the expansion of the current 1:1 program at VISS, encompassing grades 4-9. This program now has changed the way I view the educational benefit of the iPad.
Now I encourage student and colleagues to utilise the iPad in creating and collaborative ways. Using it as a tool to enhance their learning by providing a platform for students to individualise their creativity and display their learning in a variety of different ways which suits their learning style.
What would be your 'desert island app' - the one educational app you couldn't live without? Well, what a tricky one.... I could name about 4 or 5 which are my go to's.... I will have to go with Book Creator. As far as versatility across grade levels and subjects I think it is an extremely powerful app.
I love it because it can be used for students to display their learning in SO many different ways. The ability to add text, pictures, videos, voice and drawings in a creative and engaging way makes it great. The ability to then share that book with others makes it extremely powerful. I love having my students show off their books by send thing them to their parents, and I have even had a student send their book to family overseas - very cool.
Obviously the clear notable mentions - Explain Everything and iMovie, which I think I love just as much as the kids.
You have recently spearheaded a huge iTunes U initiative at VISS. What was the main objective of this? Yes, we recently launched 35 public courses as well as many other in house courses for students. The main objective was to begin to redesign our curriculum utilising some of the key features and apps of the iPad, to create more engaging, authentic and individualised learning opportunities for our students. Some of the other key benefits are as a school it allows us to streamline our curriculum for the 21st century. Also as an international school we have teachers coming and going so iTunes U is a great way for us to create that consistency within our teaching and learning.
How many courses have you created? I myself have created about a dozen courses which some are published publicly and others which we use internally. When creating a course I always start from the final product, what do I want my students to create, display and/or understand. Once I have that I use iTunes U to structure and guide my students on their learning journey supported my materials and resources to assist them. This allows the students to become more independent in their learning and to use me as a facilitator of learning rather than the deliverer.
What was the biggest challenge of the project? One of the biggest challenges was changing mindsets. If you are driving change with any form of educational technology within your school, you'll know what I mean. We as a school had the support of the very talented Joe Moretti who supported us along with this project. Trying to encourage teachers to move away from a teacher led learning environment to a more student led environment wasn't easy, and is still and ongoing improvement our teachers are being challenged with. By supporting and encouraging them to think more creatively about the way they are delivering their curriculum is changing their pedagogical approach to their teaching and learning. iTunes U is our platform to support teachers in this transformation process to inevitably improve our students’ learning outcomes.
You've also been doing some cool stuff with game design using the Pixel Press apps. Tell us a little more about this. Yeah, as I mentioned before I love the creative opportunities the iPad can have for students. This even comes to the terms of using apps like Pixel Press' Floors and more recently Bloxels. I am always looking to new way to engage my student in their learning using game design apps as the vehicle for this. I have put together an iTunes U course titled 'Engaging young writers' (https://itunes.apple.com/au/course/engaging-young-writers/id1083161958) which takes students on a challenged based learning journey to create, explain and market their very own game. This guides the student to write in a range of different text types about things they are interested in, a great way to engage those young hesitant writers in our classes.
I am working on another similar course for Bloxels with a similar focus on writing and character and setting development, which I am excited about too. For more information about it subscribe to the course, or feel free to contact me.
In 2015 you were recognized as an Apple Distinguished Educator. How did that feel? Being recognised as an ADE in 2015 was a real honour. Considering I still feel very young in terms of my experience as a teacher I was very humbled. Often in schools, educators trying to implement change with the use of technology seem like they are hitting their heads against brick walls some days. So for me to have the opportunity to attend the ADE Institute in Amsterdam last summer and to meet other educators with similar 'frustrations' and passion for education was a breath of fresh air. I am looking forward to doing this again this summer again at the Global Institute in Berlin.
What's next for you Coby?
Well, after 4 years in the UAE I am moving on. Not home just yet, but to Hong Kong. I have recently accepted a primary teaching position at Independent School Foundation Academy, which I am super excited about. I have already made some contacts out there in education so looking forward to extending my professional learning network and continuing learn off of others. I will also finish my Masters in June, so looking forward to spending some more time outdoors.
How can our readers get in touch with you and keep up to date with what you are doing? I post a lot of my happenings on Twitter @coby_mr
Also, now when I complete my study I will have some more time to add some more updated content to my website - www.tashandcoby.com
Thanks for speaking with us Coby. We wish you the very best for your imminent move and the future.