Monday, 16 June 2014

Stop Motion Art & Animation in Grade 3


What happens if you take 180 Grade 3 students, 2 magnificent Art Teachers, 24 iPad (Justand) stands, clamps and 24 iPads?

Well, you achieve a level of creativity that is truly inspiring—and that is the only word to describe the fever pitch that has been Grade 3 Art classes this past month, the synergy between 'real life' art work (paper, scissors, paint) and the literal bringing to LIFE of these creations using the stop motion animation via the iPad app - Stop Motion Studio was exactly that, INSPIRING. You don't need to look any further than this is to see the true embodiment of the '4 Cs' of '21st Century Learning' described by UWCSEA profile in action.

Creativity | Collaboration | Communication | Critical Thinking
  • Creative and innovative
  • Collaborative; and Communicators
  • Critical thinker and problem solvers

A brief look at Caroline and Siân's learning intentions for this unit reveals how powerful this kind of activity is in providing experiences that facilitate this kind of learning:
  • How to use animation software to retell a story. 
  • How the creative preparation for an animation differs from other forms of art 
  • How to use mixed media to create scenes and characters. 
  • Look critically at their animation and consider how it can be changed. 

Video compiled by Caroline Sebunya

Watching the students in action it also became quickly evident that there was a great deal of 'Critical Thinking and Problem Solving' happening—not something the teachers had expected or consciously planned for but, I can assure you, if you ask them now they will tell you that this became a very powerful aspect of the students' learning - from assembling and adjusting the stands, to the realisation that they need to storyboard their animation to troubleshooting issues with the App, to making judicious choices about the kinds of materials that would help them to tell their stories—even logical mathematical reasoning as they wrestled with frame rates per second!

So the question is, how do we really teach creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration? These are right brain skills, those that are most difficult to teach in a codified, regimented way. With most school systems now fixated on measurable outcomes (usually test scores), how do we make these 'soft skills' a genuine priority when they are so hard to measure? Well ... one way is through Digital Art.


Saturday, 14 June 2014

Don't Just Stand There, Reflect on Something!



"Don't just do something, stand there!" 


That could just as easily have been the title of this post, except I wanted to get the critical word 'REFLECT' in there somewhere. The point is, in the midst of the frenetic pace that is our typical school today, it is rare occasion that anyone actually makes time to stop. Stop and think.

Reflection has to be one the hardest things to encourage students to do well, and yet, if we are serious about our students retaining what they learn, cultivating the self awareness that is at the heart of the UWCSEA Profile it's something we not only cannot afford to ignore, but something we need to make a regular, essential element of our classroom practice.



A common objection when this subject comes up is something along the lines of,

'I would if I could, if I had time' 


But as the research highlighted in this post highlights, the fact is, if you want the time you invest in teaching your students to really matter, if your students are going to have any hope of retaining, long term,  what they learn in your classroom, then

... you can't afford to ignore making time for your students to reflect on their learning


Why? Because they only learn by thinking about what they have learned.

The conversation about what kids need to know and to be able to do by the end of high school has gradually shifted over the past several years to emphasize not just rigorous content goals, but also less tangible skills, such as creative thinking, problem-solving and collaboration. That shift has brought schools that are practicing “deeper learning” into focus.


The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation has been a big supporter of this work, defining deeper learning as a model that focuses on critical thinking, communication, collaboration, academic mindsets and learning how to learn, all through rigorous content. New research conducted by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) has found that the deeper learning model does have positive learning outcomes for students, regardless of their background.



“One of the things that we saw in these schools was that the teachers and students themselves were constantly engaged in thinking about what students were learning, and the students were reflecting on their learning and trying to improve it.”


Learning by thinking

Learning by Thinking: How Reflection Aids Performance: a team of researchers from HEC Paris, Harvard Business School, and the University of North Carolina describe what they call the first empirical test of the effect of reflection on learning. By “reflection,” they mean taking time after a lesson to synthesize, abstract, or articulate the important points.

Participants completed a math brain teaser under time pressure and wrote about what strategy they used or might use in the future to solve the problem. This group did 18 percent better in a second-round test than their control-group counterparts, who were not given time to reflect. In the field study, groups of newly-hired customer-service agents undergoing job training were compared. Some were given 15 minutes at the end of each training day to reflect on the main things they had learned and write about at least two lessons. Those given time to think and reflect scored 23 percent better on their end-of-training assessment than those who were not. And these improvements weren't temporary—researchers found they lasted over time.

This study sheds more light on this practice than ever, and what follows is my attempt to sum up their findings as succinctly as I can.

Emphases and content [inside brackets] are mine.

You can access the original paper here.


Research on learning has primarily focused on the role of doing (experience) in fostering progress over time. In this paper, we propose that one of the critical components of learning is reflection, or the intentional attempt to synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience. Drawing on dual-process theory, we focus on the reflective dimension of the learning process and propose that learning can be augmented by deliberately focusing on thinking about what one has been doing. [...] We find a performance differential when comparing learning-by-doing alone to learning-by-doing coupled with reflection. Further, we hypothesize and find that the effect of reflection on learning is mediated by greater perceived self-efficacy. Together, our results shed light on the role of reflection as a powerful mechanism behind learning. (Abstract)

...
Individual learning can be augmented when individuals can not only “do” but also “think” about what they have been doing. In doing so, we depart from previous work equating direct learning with only learning-by-doing and introduce the construct of “learning-by-thinking”—i.e., learning that comes from reflection and articulation of the key lessons learned from experience. (p 4)

Reflection— is the intentional attempt to synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience. Reflecting on what has been learned makes experience more productive.


Reflection builds one's confidence in the ability to achieve a goal (i.e., self-efficacy), which in turn translates into higher rates of learning. [Or appreciating ones own capacity, efficacy, achievements; eg, I am good at/better at ...] (p 5)


The automatic, unconscious process of learning generated by “doing” becomes more effective if deliberately coupled with the controlled, conscious attempt at learning by “thinking.” In doing so, we extend literature claiming that the capacity to reflect on action is necessary for practitioners to learn (Schön, 1983) [from surface to deep] (p 6)

It's not enough to just think about it, you have to express it, share it.

The process of transforming tacit into codified knowledge requires a cognitive investment that generates a deeper understanding of this knowledge. 


We contribute to this literature by providing empirical evidence of the benefits associated with knowledge codification and uncovering the mechanisms behind them. Our findings suggest that the benefits of codification are not affected whether its purpose is for self-reflection or for sharing know-how with others. [Whether it is a private diary, or whether it is a public journal, like a blog.]

The automatic, unconscious process of learning generated from experience is coupled with the controlled, conscious attempt at learning by reflection. (p 8)


The automatic, unconscious process of learning generated by doing can become more effective if deliberately coupled with controlled, conscious attempts at learning-by-thinking. In particular, we expect individuals to perform significantly better on subsequent tasks when they think about what they learned from the task they completed. (p 9)


Theories of knowledge codification (Cowan, David, and Foray, 2000; Nonaka, 1994; Nonaka and Von Krogh, 2009) shed light on another potential benefit to the knowledge holder of sharing knowledge. Those theories suggest that,

... the reflection effort needed to create the insights to be shared with a counterpart may end up generating a deeper understanding of the problem space itself. 


This deeper understanding benefits the knowledge holder in terms of improved problem-solving capacity. In particular, we would expect the improvement in problem-solving capacity generated by reflection aimed at sharing to be greater than the improvement generated by reflection alone. In other words, one can expect performance to increase the most when reflection and sharing, i.e., thinking and teaching, are coupled. This line of argument should be familiar to those who teach and subscribe to the adage that one learns the most on a subject by being forced to teach it. (p 10)


Though reflection entails the high opportunity cost of one's time, we argue and show that reflecting after completing tasks is no idle pursuit: it can powerfully enhance the learning process.


Learning, we find, can be augmented if one deliberately focuses on thinking about what one has been doing. In addition to showing a significant performance differential when comparing learning-by-doing alone to learning-by-doing coupled with reflection, we also demonstrate that the effect of reflection on learning is mediated by greater self-efficacy. (p 26)
...

Individual learning can be augmented when individuals can not only “do” but also “think” about what they have been doing.


Learning Journals

Our results also have important practical implications. In our field study we showed that taking time away from training [teaching] and reallocating that time to reflection actually improved individual performance. Companies [Schools] often use tools such as learning journals as a way to encourage reflection in training [teaching] and regular operations. Our personal experience is that individuals of all ages may not treat these exercises with much seriousness; however, our findings suggest that they should. Our study highlights that it may be possible to train [teach] and learn “smarter”, not “harder” (p 27)
...

Individual learning is enhanced by deliberately focusing on thinking about what one has been doing. 

Together, our results reveal reflection to be a powerful mechanism behind learning, confirming the words of American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey:

“We do not learn from experience...we learn from reflecting on experience.” 

Self-aware - Reflection

Practical pointers

So how does this look in our Learning Journals? As we use Google Sites as our learning platform, I've posted examples/models on our Google Site here

Reflection inline on a site page

Reflection as an ongoing journal within folder

In fact any file that is stored within Google Drive allows the ability to comment, and even have a reflective/feedback dialogue with within Drive:


Here's a slideshow of some possibilities to make this simple, and therefore easy to build into regular lessons:



Further Reading

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.
Søren Kierkegaard
Getting into the Habit of Reflection
Purposeful Reflection
Learning Through Reflection

Or if you prefer, here are my annotated versions:

References

Di Stefano G, Gino F, Pisano GP, & Staats BR (2014). Learning by Thinking: How Reflection Aids Performance. Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper, (14-093), 14-093. Chicago

Murdoch K (2005). Take a Moment: 40 frameworks for reflective thinking. Seastar Education Consulting.

Schön D (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Screencasts, Misconceptions & the Benefits of Reflection

Explain Everything & Doodlecast Pro - Fantastic Screencasting Apps

Screencasts are amongst some of the most powerful and potentially transformational digital tools we have, and it's great to seeing them being used regularly, whether on the Mac with Quicktime, or arguably more easily, on an iPad with one of the plethora of screencasting Apps that are available.


 A digital recording of activity displayed on a screen

Screencasts are also a powerful way to get students to articulate their thinking, even if the only person who ever gets to see the screencast is themselves, their parents, or maybe a friend.


ScreenChomp Subtraction SMc from UWC South East Asia on Vimeo.

"students learn more deeply from reading a science text if they are prompted to explain the material to themselves aloud as they read." p162 (My emphasis)
Pellegrino J W, & Hilton M L (Eds) (2013). Education for life and work: Developing transferable knowledge and skills in the 21st century. National Academies Press. 

Reflection is critical

Cited in Black & Wiliam's pivotal 'Assessment and Classroom Learning' (1998),  a review of European research by Elshout-Mohr (1994) pointed out both that students are often unwilling to give up misunderstandings—they need to be convinced through discussion which promotes their own reflection on their thinking—and also that if a student cannot plan and carry out systematic remedial learning work for himself, he or she will not be able to make use of good formative feedback. Both of these indicate that the kind of self-assessment fundamental to reflection is essential. Similarly, Hattie et al (1996) argue that direct teaching of study skills to students without attention to reflective, meta-cognitive, development may well be pointless. Pointless.

A more recent study entitled 'Learning by Thinking' (Stefano et al, 2014) focuses on the importance of reflection as one of critical components of learning; reflection as "the intentional attempt to synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience".  In short, if you want your students to retain what they have learned long term, you have make time for students to reflect on what they have learned (not just what they have done) in fact far from bring a 'maybe if there's time' option, this is something you can't afford for your student's NOT to do.
"... individual learning is enhanced by deliberately focusing on thinking about what one has been doing. [...] Further, we find that the effect of reflection on learning is mediated by greater perceived self-efficacy. Together, our results reveal reflection to be a powerful mechanism behind learning, confirming the words of American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey: “We do not learn from experience...we learn from reflecting on experience.” (p29)

But,

Yes, you knew there was a but coming.

I see them used only for summative and not formative assessment, where the student creates a wonderful screencast that demonstrates mastery of the content... Which just leaves me wondering, well where was the learning? Did they already know how to do this? If not, where is the 'journey', you see I find teachers habitually orient to capturing summative demonstrations but rarely, if ever formative ones, specifically capturing mistakes, misconceptions, errors. This seems to 'run against the grain' of  teaching instinct.

Worse still, if a student 'gets it wrong' the tendency is it to ask them to scrap it and try again.

The truth is, misconceptions are a fantastic opportunity for a great lesson using a two stage screencast, stage one, the misconception, duplicate to another and overwrite with a correction. As John Hattie explains:
"A safe environment for the learner (and for the teacher) is an environment where error is welcomed and fostered – because we learn so much from errors and from the feedback that then accrues from going in the wrong direction or not going sufficiently fluently in the right direction." p23  (My emphasis)
Hattie J (2013). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Routledge.

All you need is to set an activity that is focused on a common misconception that you know students often have, here's an example adapted from a recent article by Jan Chappuis Adapted from "Thoughtful Assessment with the Learner in Mind" (Educational Leadership, March 2014)

"The challenge with misconceptions is to correctly identify them and then plan lessons to dislodge them. Misconceptions are stubborn: They can't be corrected by papering over them. To illustrate, let's look at a misconception that's common in middle school science. Newton's first law of motion states that a force is not needed to keep an object in motion, yet many students (and adults) will tell you that if an object is in motion, it will require a force to stay in motion, which seems like common sense. (Aristotle thought this, by the way.) Memorizing the principles of the first law—“an object at rest will stay at rest” and “an object will continue with constant velocity unless acted on by an unbalanced force”—is generally not enough to counter what our senses tell us about force and motion: If you want a book to keep moving across a table, you have to keep pushing it." 

So, having given the class Newton's first law of motion, the teacher could ask the students to create a screencast that explains the forces that are in motion in order for them to, for example, make a ball roll slowly along a floor, and to describe the forces are that in action that could affect it and why...

While the students are engaged in this activity, the teacher is actively monitoring, as a keen observer, the teacher is constantly watching what students do, looking for clues about their learning progress, and asking for input from students about their status, what have they learned, and more importantly what do they need to unlearn. The teacher walks among their students as they work, listening for clues about their understanding, asking questions that probe their thinking... Looking for any evidence of misconceptions that will fuel the next intervention or episode of teaching. Having established the extent of understanding, the next steps will be to teach to correct. Depending on the extent of the misunderstanding, correcting this could be a 10 minute clarification, or maybe require a series of lessons and activities designed to explore this issue thoroughly.

Following this, the teacher asks the students, to continue their screencast, not to delete or amend the initial misunderstanding, but to continue the learning 'story', to identify the misconception and contrast it with the correct interpretation.

"Finally, when students are able to do so, have them explain why the misconception is incorrect. Misconceptions, whether in science, social studies, mathematics, language arts, or any other discipline, require an intentional approach tailored to the nature of the misconception because the teaching challenge is to cause  conceptual change—to have students give up the inaccurate conception they currently hold in favor of an accurate one." p24

Another but...

But this leaves another problem; what do you do with the 20 to 30 short videos? 

Watching them all could take maybe an hour, and that's without feedback, that could be time worth spending considering the richness of the data it contains, arguably a better way to spend your time than 'marking'. Alternatives include, peer assessment, or 'P2P' (Pupil 2 Pupil). Name stick random checkups, choose 5 to view carefully (don't tell them who it will be, use name sticks near the end of the lesson).

What do you do with the kids who on the first attempt were able to show that they understood the situation well, no misconceptions evident? 

Well the short answer is differentiate, other suggestions could include...  Promote them to 'teacher assistants', as 'assistants' they are invaluable in helping determine whether the 'corrected' screencasts of the other students are actually really correct. Challenge them to find another misconception to set the class (in the same area of learning) see if it can 'trick' the class? Create another screencast to explain why the misconception exists?

7 powerful ways to use screencasts

Black and Wiliam describe 7 indicators of understanding in their seminal work, Assessment and Classroom Learning (1998), and it just so happens these exact same indicators are fantastic ways to focus the ways you ask your students to make screencasts.

These indicators of understanding are especially relevant in terms of the kinds of evidence that screencasting is uniquely equipped to capture, ask students to use screencasts to make their learning visible - explicit by creating a screencast that models the following: extension, modification, pattern finding, shortcuts, explanation.

Tacit indicators will be persistence and enthusiasm.

"After studying and discussing video extracts and transcripts of lessons, seven 'indicators of understanding' emerged [...] as a series of potential clues to the level of the student's understanding,
  1. extension of a concept: students who have understood something often take the idea further on their own initiative; 
  2. making modifications to a pattern: students who understand, spontaneously start making their own modifications, while those who don't understand imitate or follow rules; 
  3. using processes in a different context: students who have understood a particular idea often start seeing the same patterns elsewhere; 
  4. using shortcuts: only students who are sure of the 'big picture' can short-cut a procedure so that thinking up or using a short-cut is taken as evidence of understanding; 
  5. ability to explain: students who have understood something are usually able to explain it;

    Tacit indicators
  6. ability to focus attention: persistence on a task is taken as a sign of understanding."
  7. changes in demeanour: students who had understood were 'bright-eyed' while those who had not appeared half-hearted; 
(p 57)

I'd argue that the reverse is true as well, namely, if a student does not show any of these indications, then it is likely they don't understand it, so capture their attempt, teach into their struggle, and then get them to capture a later more successful attempt.

SAMMS - Transformation with Tech
Social: A great way to manage a class load of videos such as those generated by a class full of students creating screencasts is to ask the students to post them on a class online platform, such as a Google Site or blog.

Access: They can search for clarification on specific elements they find confusing, maybe particular vocabulary, or inspiration for their demonstration.

Mutability: In response to feedback, students can easily duplicate and revise their screencast and post a second screencast that shows clear evidence that relevant criticisms have been resolved.

Multimodality: Of course this entire medium is multimodal, combining image, drawing, audio and video.

Socially Network & Situate: Now it is online, you can facilitate a P2P homelearn* activity. Assign assessment buddies to feedback on each others screencasts at home, of course the teacher can now easily monitor the quality of these online interactions, and interject, support, clarify, redirect as necessary.



Looking for inspiration for misconceptions? Google it... "common misconceptions students have" or something similar, will give you plenty of material to get you started.

For example ... http://www.apa.org/education/k12/alternative-conceptions.aspx 

*as opposed to 'homework'.


Paul Black & Dylan Wiliam (1998): Assessment and Classroom Learning, Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 5:1, 7-74

Elshout-Mohr M (1994). Feedback in self-instruction, European Education, 26, pp. 58-73.


Hattie J, Biggs J, & Purdie N (1996). Effects of learning skills interventions on student learning: a meta-analysis, Review of Educational Research, 66, pp. 99—13

Di Stefano, G., Gino, F., Pisano, G. P., & Staats, B. R. (2014). Learning by Thinking: How Reflection Aids Performance. Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper, (14-093), 14-093. Chicago

Monday, 9 June 2014

Learning Journal Downloads


The school year is drawing to a close, and with it the final upload to each child's Learning Journal in the Infant School.

The vehicle we use for these 'Learning Journals' is Google Picasa, which is merged with a twin Google product called Google Photos, within Google+. This year's content will be removed from each teacher's account before the start of the next school year in August.

With this in mind you may wish to download some or all of your child's learning journal before then. In this post I will outline how you can do this.

In Picasa you can download images, one by one, but you cannot download videos.


So it's much easier of you 'upgrade' to Google + and then you can download individual photos, videos, or even the entire album. You will be able to view all your Picasa media from within Google+.


Click on the Picasa link your teacher sent you, and it should automatically redirect to Google+


Use the drop down menu on the right to download the entire album.


Click to enlarge

Troubleshooting

Some parents are finding that this still doesn't work, the link just directs them to Picasa. This is due to a 'cookie' that is preventing the redirect from Picasa to Google+. If you clear out your cookies (something you should do regularly anyway) it should work. 

For normal (non techie) parents, Cookies are bits of code that are stored by websites on your computer to enable a site to 'remember' or 'recognise' you when you return to their website, like remembering your preferences etc. Or in this case 'remembering' that you want to use Picasa, not Google+, except now you DO want to use Google+! So clearing out cookies, effectively wipes that browser's 'memory' of  your preferences relating to the sites you visit.

Confused? Never mind, in the Chrome browser, just click Chrome on the Menu, and choose 'Clear Browsing Data' tick or untick as you see fit, just make sure the Cookies box is ticked, and then click the 'Clear browsing data' button. Don't panic, you can't do any major damage to your computer here.



Another alternative in Chrome is to right-click on the link in the email you were sent and open it in an incognito window, which will open the links in google+ since no cookies are stored.

Note:

This will download all the content, ie, images and video, but not the comments; to keep those you will need to screenshot the relevant pages instead.

Any problems - please forward the email your child's teacher sent you to me at smc@uwcsea.edu.sg and I'll see if I can resolve it for you.



Download albums you own as follows:



Click on Home and then Photos:

More > Albums

Choose the Album you want to download:

Sunday, 1 June 2014

iPads vs Macs

Why use an iPad in the classroom, if you can use a Mac?

OSx vs iOS

This is a question that has plagued me for some time, and behind it lies the assumption that if you are going to use an iPad, then you should make sure that you're using it to do something that you couldn't have just used a Mac for. Of course this assumes that you have the choice of using a Mac or an iPad, for the sake of this discussion I assume a context where the students would use an iPad in the classroom exclusively in place of a MacBook or an iMac. After some initial scepticism, I now believe that these devices do have a unique contribution to make to the classroom; below I will attempt to outline my reasoning as to why I believe this may be...

Cost

Cheaper than MacBooks at about a half to a third of the price (depending on the generation you buy), this means that you can get double or triple the tech for the same cost, especially important if you're attempting to get as many devices per student as possible. This can be the difference between one computer shared between four, or the difference between a classroom that is 1:1 or 1:2 compared to a classroom that is 1:2 or 1:4. It has to be said that iPads in particular lend themselves to a 1:1 context, as sharing them is not as easy as sharing a Mac, as they do not support multiple user accounts.

There are 'hidden' costs to consider, you most likely need to include a case, (I don't believe in screen protectors) a trolley for syncing/storage, and don't underestimate the amount of tech support required to sync and keep them updated, which is most likely much greater that that required for laptops etc.

Simplicity & Efficacy

iOS is a much simpler operating system than OSX, this means, especially with younger students, the operating system gets out of the way and students instead can concentrate on actually using the tech to learn, which is the point, right? Simply put, this means that students do not need to navigate through menus, create folders, filenames, organise files and folders and navigate the many additional conventions that would be expected by using a typical desktop operating system. Of course the question that follows this is ... When do we teach students how to use these operating systems? Surely that is also an important consideration…?

Apptasticicity (Is that word? It is now.)

The plethora of applications available for this device at a low cost or even zero cost makes for an extremely powerful learning tool. Yes, there are also plenty of Applications on the MacBook and iMac, but the Apps on the iPad are cheaper, and especially focused on doing very specific things. One App for spelling, one App for TimesTables, one App for drawing - I think you catch my drift?

The power of iOS apps versus full on computer applications is another major benefit. These are generally much, much simpler versions of their big brothers. Even the Pages App on the iPad is a much simpler pared down version of the full Pages application on the Mac. Often it seems to me that when using the full version of Applications on the Mac etc., most people are using 10%, maybe 20% of the capability of a program but the Apps on the iPad appear to focus on just doing the 10 to 20% that most people actually need. This means from a teaching perspective, we focus on the use of the tools in a way that is very effective and avoid getting sidetracked by less relevant or less important features that are not required for the task at hand.

Control

Especially for younger students the freedom from having to control a mouse device to manipulate the cursor on the screen is a huge advantage, very few younger students have the necessary fine motor skills to control a device as (relatively) large as a mouse and often struggle to do so, especially managing left and right, and double clicking, never mind the dreaded drag 'n drop. The iPad, by using a haptic interface touch system completely bypasses all of these issues and is as easy for a three year old to control as for a 43 year old to control.

The iPad is a much more "modal" device, that is, the user is focused on one 'mode' or application at a time, you don't have the problem (or some would say, the advantage) of having multiple Apps open and accessible and usable at the same time. With the iPad it is very much one thing at a time, better for teaching and learning.

Tactility

Whether you choose to use a stylus or to use the digits that God gave you (no I'm not a big fan of stylii) it has to be said that it is a much more natural, authentic experience to 'draw' or ''paint' on an iPad and it has ever been or is on a Mac, even if you try to use the trackpad as a substitute surface. 'Screencasting' Apps in particular are absolutely revolutionary on this device; I really cannot see any App on the Mac that comes even close to offering the power of annotation combined with drawing and talking offered by apps like Explain Everything and Screenshot et al. When this facility is applied to drawing, painting and image manipulation Apps, it takes on a completely new level of experience - with the ability to intuitively smudge and blur with tactile swipes and dabs there really is a sense of interaction with pixels which is almost as physical as print. Yes, I said it.

Mobility

The portability of the device makes it particularly appropriate for capturing content with the on-board camera or capturing video, and then seamlessly knitting this content together in a meaningful way on the device with a minimum of hassle. Yes, this can be done with a MacBook, but trying to use a MacBook as a camera is something which would be impossible for small children to do and not advisable even for older students and adults. You have to bring the content to the MacBook whereas with the iPad you can bring the iPad to the content- particularly useful for field trips or subjects that are not portable, ie cannot be brought to the device.

Organisation

The ability to group apps into folders very easily very much assists the pedagogical process as teachers can direct students to a group of apps that are focused on a particular skill, this is not often the case with a typical computer operating system.

No desktop. This saves a lot of trouble for the teacher, as the desktop paradigm leads to many problems, with a plethora of icons scattered across that virtual space - trust me this is the bane of my tech integration life. Students and teachers alike struggle with the organisation of files and folders and this often leads to work that is hard to locate or difficult to save in a way that allows the same files to be easily retrieved. The way iOS stores files within the application makes things much easier for student and teacher alike.

Sharing of student work is easy, utilising the Reflection App on a Mac (although using a classroom Apple TV makes this an option for MacBooks running Mountain Lion or later). Sharing iPad content with students using AirPlay is as easy as a couple of clicks, and then the content of the student's iPad is beamed onto the board for the whole class to see.





So why would you ever use a Mac?

Using an iPad is often very much about working around the limitations, although it has to be said that what a techie person might call "limitations" is what an ordinary student or teacher might call a welcome relief from complexity. Put bluntly, a full powered computer offers so many options that it easily becomes overwhelming - the simplicity of the iPad very much restricts what is capable of being done, but for most ordinary people this restriction is a relief rather than a frustration. But, no the Mac is not dead, not for more 'demanding' users anyway. There are times when you really need to use the other 80% of features left out of iPad Apps. Here are a few of the aspects of an iPad classroom that require some patience:

Professional/advanced Applications

If you are one of those few people, (especially High School/FE teachers/students) who actually need to use more advanced applications, I'm thinking particularly here of high end video editing, production, design, VFX, 3D modelling, CAD CAM, and applications that can that model dynamic simulations, then using an iPad is far from satisfactory. All of these require a 'proper' fully featured operating system like that afforded by an iMac or Macbook, or even a PC! But, in my experience, that puts you in the bracket of the few people who know how to use the 80% of the capabilities of a professional app that are ignored by 80% of 'normal' computer users.


Difficulties with printing 

Although there are ways around this, but you actually might not want to bother, as although this seems to be a problem with the devices, I think it highlights our over zealousness for hard copies. I actually feel this is really an opportunity to discourage the propensity for teachers and students alike to print everything that they can. The iPad encourages users to find digital medium to share their work rather than relying on printed paper.

Lack of Web 2.0 support

The '3 Cs' of Web 2.0 (creativity, collaboration and communication) are arguably one of the foundational elements of what is commonly called "21st century learning" and due to the kind of cutting edge web technology these websites require, many Web 2.0 sites will will not function as effectively (if at all) on an iPad - although this is changing everyday. It should be noted that many of these Sites provide App versions of their content, albeit usually scaled down. The Google suite of Apps are definitely more iPad friendly than ever, but they still have frustrating restrictions, like not being able to edit tables in Google Docs. If you really want to utilise Web 2.0 (bear in mind that most require students to be at least 13 years of age) you are still almost certainly better off using a Mac rather than an iPad.

iPads make it more difficult for users to share their content on third party platforms, eg, Google Apps, Sites or Picasa etc., most of these platforms cannot be exported to directly from an iPad and requires a mediating device, eg a laptop or desktop computer.

Export

Getting content off the iPad is tricky. I've been using a central email account to make this easier, so students can just email content to the teacher, straight from a generic account on the device. Exporting captured video is more problematic, while it can, in theory, still be exported wirelessly, this in practice is extremely frustrating. Students do need to be taught the explicit skill to be able to transfer video from an iPad to a computer using a cable; on a Mac this is much easier if they use the Image Capture application instead of iPhoto. Sharing to Youtube, Vimeo, Soundcloud etc. are an option, but not if you want to avoid a whole lot of account detail entering ... Students can also utilise share Apps like Dropbox and Google Drive for this but these boil down to being variations on the email idea, and are just as useless for transferring video in my experience.

Distraction

Distractions are a common temptation, this is true of any computing device but especially so with a device like the iPad that is now commonly seen by students as a gaming platform. The student may be intending to read an eBook but with the plethora of distractions only a swipe away this is something which will require close monitoring... That said this kind of monitoring is required for any activity is it not? I found plenty of ways to get distracted with pens, pencils and paper when I was a kid - yes, noughts and crosses, boxes, passing notes, paper aeroplanes, spit balls and biros, I'm looking at you.

There is no support for multiple user accounts; this means that in practice sharing an iPad is much more tricky than sharing for example, a MacBook. Because all of the content created by users is shared on the same device this mean they will need to be particularly careful about respecting work created by others and not deleting content that does not belong to themselves.

No Flash support

While this is gradually becoming less of an issue as more and more website shift over to content like HTML 5 etc, it is still far from being a non-issue, especially considering that so many educational websites still rely on Flash as their media tool of choice. It is possible to get around this issue by using for example the Puffin Browser App, but it is still far from satisfactory.

Logistics

Logistics are a major headache with managing these iOS devices, and there are so many ways to do this although I personally find cloning one device onto multiple machines is the simplest solution. The biggest problem concerns the fact that these devices were designed to be used by one person who owns the device and not to be shared, this is clearly an argument for 1:1, but with young children many of the 'Cloud' services that are designed to make these devices so easy to use are not actually legally available for anyone under the age of 13. This effectively makes using Cloud services like Google Drive and Dropbox etc quite challenging, as it often means the teacher having to create an account which is then individually created or cloned onto each one of the class and devices; with 1:1 this is easily 22 devices or more, very time-consuming and very tedious. This is something that any user of an iOS device should be wary of, the time consuming/tedious nature of attempting to configure devices individually one by one - something I believe should be avoided as far as possible! Which is why I still rely on a mediating platform, ie, a class iMac which the students can use to offload, transfer, archive, share content, etc. That said, on a literally daily basis the ever expanding capabilities of Apps like Google Drive continue to make many of these points obsolete, iteration by iteration, eg Picasa used to be a no no, but 3rd party apps like Web Album now allow students to directly upload video and image directly to their Picasa accounts, even allowing management of albums etc, what will there be next week?

Caveat Emptor

All of these devices are changing, fast. For for all I know the next release of iOS could well make all of my concerns history - the next App update could make a tool that was a fiddly frustration into a dynamic delight; the Google suite of Apps comes to mind, although these are still far from being as effective as their equivalents on a desktop operating system.

The bottom line to me is sometimes less is more (more often in my experience less is just less) and that is often the case with the choice of an iPad over a MacBook or an iMac - for the kind of things that we want our students to use these devices for, we need LESS - we rarely need a state-of-the-art computer, a state-of-the-art tablet may well be much a more appropriate choice.

Using an iMac or MacBook for just web browsing and word processing really is just using a Ferrari to deliver milk.

Feel free to add your ifs, yes buts, and whys and more besides in the comments below.


Thanks to Shaun Kirkwood @shaunyk for providing the impetus for this post and some great feedback.