Teacher iPad Survey Part 6: External Constraints

Remember that scene form Star Wars when they are stuck in the garbage compactor? They’ve got the walls closing in on them and to top it all off there’s some icky creature who’s hungry for some human flesh.

Trash

It reminds me of that old saying: Stuck between a rock and a hard place. Sometimes that is what it feels to be at the forefront (well, at least in the middle ranks) of a new technology.

There were three major external constraints staff consistently identified as barriers for the effective implementation of tech in the classroom:

WALL #1: TECHNICAL CONSTRAINTS

On the one hand, there’s this new technology that we have embraced because of it’s enormous potential. We know it’s going to be great: to have everything in one place- textbooks, word processing, multimedia viewing and creation and so many other possibilities.

But though a lot of that is true now, there are still a few problems.

Compatibility:

There are still a lot of sites teachers rely on that use Flash. From simulations in science to french language exercises many teachers cite the fact that the sites they want to use do not work on the iPad and they have not been able to find an equivalent. This whole Apple feud on Flash is one of the big technical constraints with the iPad.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a way around it, but it still is a major inconvenience.

Writing:

The typing on the iPad is difficult for many people. In fact when asked about student writing on the iPad, many teachers stated that the quality decreased- typos, autocorrect and the lack of proofreading made some texts incomprehensible (although I would argue this latter issue is a behaviour that needs to be modified and is not exclusive to the iPad but true of any word processor).

WALL #2: THE MINISTRY

Sounds like a Dystopian novel doesn’t it? The ministry. By that I mean the curriculum and the rules for provincial exams.

The ministry exerts its constraints in different ways on the various subjects. Out of all the subjects, the Math department seems to have the most unforgiving curriculum. They have a lot to go through and are under a lot of pressure to make sure their students see everything they need to see before they move on. Here are some quotes:

“With Art there is enough liberty to explore and make mistakes. Not so with math because you have to get through the curriculum.”

 

“[Math teachers] still have to teach the same things you had to teach before computers.”

(This comment is referring to the fact that students still need to learn how to use a ruler, a protractor- that especially in geometry there are certain tasks they need pencil and paper for.)

“The curriculum acts as a barrier to trying new things as there is no time for trial and error. Instead of using [tech] to get them to think, I am using it to cover the basics.”

 

“There is no time in math to try and explore or use the students as guinea pigs… If I am teaching science [I implement tech in the classroom] very frequently. Math, not so frequently.”

Obviously this is a problem. There is no way you can try out something new if you have no leeway for it to crash and burn the first time (and crash it burn it will, at some point).

Another way the Ministry exerts its negative influence is through the dreaded provincial exams. Many staff expressed frustration at the disconnect between the tools the students have access to during class and the rules the ministry imposes for exams. Because the teachers must teach to the exam, they want to re-create as much as possible the conditions in which the exams will take place. Which means:

“The Grade ten and eleven’s exams are pen and paper so we do a lot of pen and paper.”

 

“Only students who are diagnosed can use a tablet for texts because the exams are on paper. I feel there is a need to revise the MELS stipulation of no devices.”

 

“The exam is all hand written. There is a disconnect between the government exam and what is happening in the classroom.”

So what do we do about this? My only answer, as inadequate as it is, is to write our ministry, get our voices heard and be patient. I am certain we are not the only school to express frustration at the fact that we have this amazing technology we are not allowed to use.

 Internal Policies

The third most common constraint voiced by the teachers in terms of feeling comfortable with the iPad was the contract they have been asked to sign stating they are responsible for the cost of the iPad if it breaks. This makes many teachers very nervous. Everyone agrees that if they drop their device or spill coffee all over it, they should pay.  But there are too many situations where their device is at the mercy of other forces- students; inadequate surface areas in classrooms; field trips, exchange trips. Teachers stated that though they were going to explore the iPad during the summer, they have decided not to bring it with them on vacation as they do not want anything to happen to it.

I hesitated to write this last bit because I am not sure what to do about this. But in the interest of full disclosure I decided to keep it in.

I see both sides: on the one hand- they are very expensive devices and the school has to have an insurance policy to ensure that people are taking care of them. On the other hand, teachers are placed in situations everyday where they must make the decision between keeping their device safe and actually using it in a classroom with a bunch of teenagers. For those people who have embraced the iPad, this is less of an issue. But for those who are not comfortable with the technology and who feel like it has been foisted on them to begin with, this is just another reason not to use it.

In Conclusion:

The constraints voiced by the staff are all valid and real. Still, I believe they are temporary. Already in the last couple of years of the iPad’s life the improvements have been vast. Publishers are scrambling to get on board with E-textbooks, apps are becoming more and more refined and built for education. All those who want their websites to be relevant will either have to make them compatible with the apple suite of devices. As for the ministry? Well, as always, the tectonic train of bureaucracy will get there eventually.

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Teacher iPad Survey Part 5: Attitudes Concluded: There’s No Despair Here…

If you’ve read the last couple of posts you might be under the false impression that our staff labour under a dark, ominous cloud of pessimism. It is not the case. I thought I would conclude the attitudes section of this Post-mortem with some of the positive comments I received about integrating tech in the classroom:

“Technology makes the class dynamic. If they have a question they will try to answer on their own instead of relying on me.”

“The grade sevens use it everyday from writing, to filming to showing stuff on screen.”

“The students respond well if you start using technology they have never seen before that has an impact. They have the ability to suck it up so fast because button pushing is now in their DNA so when you bring something new it excites them. You have to put these equipments in kids’ hands because that is the environment they are going to work in.”

“I am comfortable and %100 on board with the idea but a little less comfortable with the implementation.”

“I am very comfortable [with using tech] and by tech I mean all sorts and by comfortable I mean I am willing to try stuff even if it fails.”

Though many of the staff may not yet feel comfortable with the tool or feel like they know enough about it, they all had projects they would like to implement, things they would like to try. The following quotes are from a range of staff- not just those who have embraced the iPad:

“It would be good to have a list of apps that would compliment the program.”

“Would love to talk to Dan and the English teachers about what we can do with Apple TV.”

“Would like to get the kids to blog about math.”

“Would love to make iBooks instead of giving them all notes.”

“I have work to do in terms of the way I am thinking about the classroom.”

“I have no problem trying to learn it. Most things are made to be user friendly if you take the time to learn it.”

I think that the more concrete, subject specific examples we give on how the iPad can be used effectively in the classroom , the more we enable the sharing of ideas between teachers, the more those of us comfortable with the technology make ourselves available to those less comfortable as one on one resources, the more the hindering attitudes will recede back into the darkness whence they came.

Sorry- went a little Lord of the Rings there…

gandalf_vs_balrog

Teacher iPad Survey Part 4: Attitudes Cont.: The Failed Spin

ATTITUDES, CONT.

hammer_head2. The Failed Spin: YOU MUST USE TECHNOLOGY NOW!

I can’t think of any other way to put it except to say that this was a colossal mistake in the way some of us promote the iPad and technology in general. The problem stems from the difference between people comfortable with technology and people not so comfortable with comfortable.

I know, duh.

One thing I think people with technology don’t realize (and I place myself in the camp of these comfortable, clueless people) is that when we keep on repeating that the iPad is the wave of the future, that they need to start using it or a big crater the size of Chicxulub will fall on their heads and leave them in its pedagogic dust, well, that is not so helpful. In fact, it is downright intimidating.

A few teachers I talked to mentioned how this kind of talk has almost paralyzed them. The 2001-a-space-odyssey-ape-monolithiPad has become has big and scary as the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

This is not good.

We all see it in the students: how anxiety can cause the brain to shut down. Well, we have inadvertently done that to our own colleagues by touting its greatness and not reassuring them that it is simply another tool in their toolkit. And I will repeat this until my voice is dry and crackly, until I sound like Tom Waits with strep throat: a tool is only as good as the task you use it for.

The iPad is a great tool for students: they can research, write, study, create projects on it.But it is a little different for teachers. The fact is, many of the tools that can be useful for students have to be created on a laptop or a desktop. Look at iBooks- you have to use a desktop to create the iBooks that your students will view on their iPads. The role of the teacher when it comes to the iPad implementation is, in my humble opinion:

  • to be familiar enough with the tool to be able to help students who need it though many times it will be the student helping the teacher and that is totally okay, nay awesome!).
  • *****To use it when it makes sense– using a whiteboard app to present and record your lecture, to record students (which many are already doing). To bring it to meetings to take notes, or roam around the class helping and evaluating students. To use it to project to apple TV. Make your notes and hand outs into pdfs and stick them on the portal so the students can download them to their iPad. All the stuff that is easier to do on an iPad rather than a laptop. In science using it for measurement  or attach it to probes. In English use something like Haiku deck for the photo essay, or in history make a movie for a presentation.
  • To create lesson plans and workflows for the student to complete on their iPad. An iBook for the notes and paper handed out so the students always have a reference on their device. See what the lesson plans used now can be translated and made better on the iPad.

That is all. I think we need to be aware of our own attitude when we implement a new technology. It is good to be gung ho about something, to show enthusiasm. But we also have to show some humility and understanding when our colleagues don’t immediately jump on board or see how it can be useful to them.

Which bring me to the next attitude I have observed…

3. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?

Fair enough. The teachers at our school have been teaching for years and are very good at what they do. I know this as a colleague and as a parent of a Traf student- seeing the time and commitment they put in to helping the students is awe-inspiring.

And I agree, you shouldn’t try to fix what isn’t broken. But what about enhance? I was talking to a teacher the other day who teaches a subject with a very rigid curriculum ( more on this in following posts) and who has very little leeway to experiment inside the class. But as we were talking, we realised that she gives a lot of paper worksheets out. Paper that the students inevitably lose and then are forced to waste classtime going to photocopy again. What if those sheets could be distributed through the iPad? What if the students could write their answers on the sheet and simply email her their homework?

She would be continuing with what works in her class, but the experience would be streamlined.  I am in the midst of looking for suitable solutions to this problem. Will keep you posted if it works out!

4. I don’t want to rely on technology

How many times have you tried to load a movie and the internet is slow. Or pulled up your presentation and half of it is missing? Or used an app that is having bugs and keeps shutting down?

Technology is great. It makes life so much easier. But sometimes I want to throw it out the window.

A lot of teachers have negative experiences with trying to implement a project that requires tech in the classroom and have a whole period wasted because of technical difficulties. I get how frustrating this is. And alas, all I can say that nothing is perfect. yes, sometimes it bugs. Sometimes it won’t work.

Is there any good solution to this? Alas no. The only thing you can do is to go have a backup plan.

A lot of the time, these tech glitches can be avoided by a bit of prep. Trying the technology out beforehand. Going through the whole workflow for your students from downloading the app (or whatever) to how to submit it in the end. This might take some initial time, but once it is done it is like any other lesson plan- another tool in your toolkit, ready to be taken out when needed!

Next Post: EXTERNAL CONSTRAINTS

 

Teacher iPad Survey Part 3: Attitude #1- I don’t have time

Screen Shot 2013-05-16 at 1.27.25 PMNow that the data has been sorted and organized, I thought I would take a look at the copious notes I took during the survey. In many ways, this was more useful than the actual questions as people had a venue for expressing their thoughts and opinions.

I have parsed the comments into a few categories:

  • Attitudes: the frame of mind people had that either helped or hindered their exploration of the iPad.
  • Constraints: external barriers in the way of implementing the iPad in the classroom.
  • Classroom: the disconnect between current teaching practices and the use of tech as well as the actual physical classroom.
  • Student Behaviour: the big kahuna of complaints, comments, etc.

There will definitely be some overlap, but I will try to address each of these categories in subsequent posts.

ATTITUDES:

1. “I have no time to explore”

This is the big one. Many teachers feel like they need more time to explore how to use the iPad, that there is not enough time set aside for professional development. They want to know which apps to use, how they can enhance their classes and engage their students but don’t feel like they have time to try things out.

Here are some quotes from my notes:

“I have no prep time so I am using existing materials”

 

“I haven’t been shown and I don’t have time”

 

“I am very happy to do anything someone suggests to me but I don’t put aside much time to explore.”

 

“I don’t feel like I have time to play with stuff and see how it works before class.”

 

“I have not had time to learn how to use the iPad. I spend all my time marking.”

I hear this a lot. And though I sympathise with the fact that teachers are very busy, that there job is by no means done once they leave the classroom, I also find it frustratingly defeatist. As well, many people seem to be under the impression that last year when I started this blog  (in September 2011 when we first got the iPad) I had scads of time to devote to exploring. I would like to debunk that myth right now.

When we first got the iPads, I made a commitment to learn something new about it everyday.I was not sold on the iPad- I couldn’t see how it could be more than a glorified textbook, and at the time that wasn’t even possible as publishers are very slow to come out with a working model for online textbook purchasing. I know myself enough to know that I would never understand unless I tried it. Hence this blog- it was simply meant to document the experience of a neophyte. So I put aside 15 minutes of my day (granted- sometimes it took longer). Were these 15 minutes I had just lying around?

Umm, no.

 

In my experience, time expands to fit the tasks you have to do.I just added it to my extensive to-do list, which looks like this:

photoThat is why I chose the tagline for my blog: If I can do it, so can you. Since doing the survey, I have made weekly appointments with certain teachers where we work through a problem, a workflow or I show them an app. Did I have time in my regular schedule for this kind of one-on-one session?

Umm, no.

I make time. It doesn’t have to be much- Five minutes, ten minutes a day, ten minutes a week. The question I would concentrate on is how can this make your life easier- what is it that you currently do in the classroom that can be made better by the iPad? For example – you want to know how to mark your students’ papers on the iPad. Start looking at apps that let you write on PDFs.

Or do what I did just now- I thought I saw a track changes in Pages earlier on today.

Two seconds later:

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My comments are in blue:

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Here is a way to mark a student’s dictée they did on the iPad and emailed to you. You mark it up with your comments and send it back to them. That took me all of five minutes to ask the question, wonder if you could do it in Pages and then figure it out. I repeat- it doesn’t take much.

Okay. I have used up my 15 minutes ranting about no time and now, ironically don’t have time to go through the other attitudes… I guess that will have to wait until tomorrow when I have crosses some other stuff of my list!

 

 

Message In A Bottle: Mr. P Tweets about Twitter

I recently attended the QAIS IT conference at West Island College. While I didn’t learn much new stuff for myself, I did come back with a way to help my colleagues get the professional development they want.

The craziest thing is it was staring me in the face all along: The hashtag.

Of course.

What’s a hashtag, you ask? The hashtag is a search tool comprised of a keyword preceded by the number symbol. It is used essentially on Twitter to help you filter the massive feed of tweets that pop up every second so that you can view only what is of interest to you. Contributors to Twitter who wish to make content easily accessible to users use the hashtag in their tweets frequently and wisely. Essentially, it works like a search engine. But the advantage it has over Google is that you will mostly find references that have been put there by people in your field that thought this stuff is relevant.

First thing you need to do is set up a Twitter account. You don’t have to contribute content to use Twitter; you can simply be someone looking for info. Once you are all set, you can go straight to typing your query in the search box.

photo (2)

As you hit enter, you will be directed to a plethora of tweets that contain this specific hashtag:

photo (3)

You can also narrow your search by typing two hashtags in the search window.

photo (4)

This will reduce the amount of tweets to those who contain both hashtags, not one or the other:

photo (5)

It is a quick, easy and cheap way to get professional development ideas. You can even run a subject specific search.

photo (1)

Try it. The next thing you’ll know is that you will find yourself contributing to the Twittersphere, helping other people who, like you, had once thrown a message in a bottle.

Teacher iPad Survey Part 3: Results

To  continue my iPad Survey Odyssey, here are a few more results. I am not going to make graphs for every question, as the data is either too open-ended or, like one of the questions, totally useless. If you have an issue with this please contact the administrator of this blog. She will promptly read your complaint, go get a coffee and forget to respond.

WHAT DO YOU USE THE IPAD FOR?

I was surprised when I tallied the results of this question to see that half of our teachers use the iPad for recording peer and/or self evaluation as well as recording discussions for the teacher to evaluate. In Drama class they use it to record and then evaluate their performance. In history and french they record their discussions. In gym class to record their movements and evaluate whether they are doing the exercise right.  One french teacher even gets her students to record themselves talking French and then gets them to send her the recording via email. Or even for recording the oral evaluations so she can come to them later.

Research can either mean for professional or personal reasons. From searching for resources for a certain lesson, to sitting on the couch researching the movies playing in the cinema, this was the second way most teachers used the iPad.

Specific lessons refers to teachers that mentioned using it for a specific project in their classes.

WHATDOYOUUSETHEIPADFOR

 

Professional Vs. Personal

I think the big difference all of these mobile devices is making in our life is that it is blurring the lines between work and play. We no longer have the desktop at work with work stuff and the desktop at home with home stuff,. Everything is portable, shareable, accessible from many devices. It is with us every moment of the day. Facebook is not only a social networking tool for our friends but a resource and a source of inspiration (sometimes, that is. I tend to have friends who post a lot of articles and interesting tidbits, though the occasional, ” I ate green beans for dinner! post shows up). I made a point of asking teachers how they use it personally- like the kids, many of them play games on it, use it for recipes, knitting patterns, watch TV on it. Use it for travel (though a lot of the people who mentioned they used it for travel were with school trips.)

Is this a bad thing? I would argue no. Because they are playing. And what happens when you play? Hopefully something clicks and possible uses in the classroom shows up. They are getting used to the way the device works- how to swipe between screens, how to pinch and zoom, etc. I would argue that this is the first psychological step they need to make before they bring it into their classroom.

WHICH APPS DO YOU USE MOST OFTEN?

Apps most often used

 

This result makes sense when you pair it with the previous question, as the camera is the function teachers obviously find most useful. In fact, I just had a teacher ask me to borrow two iPads as she has a sub for the last period and wants the students to record their conversations while she is gone (yes, yes. She has a substitute.) The prevalence of youtube and showme also makes sense given that many of the teachers have begun using the whiteboard app to give and record their lessons.

Interestingly, Songza is super popular among the teachers for both personal and Screen Shot 2013-05-14 at 11.29.28 AMprofessional uses. I read a study a while ago that said listening to music can be beneficial to the workflow, especially during those sleepy periods ( mine is between 3 pm and 4 pm. I have a hard time staying awake…) Many teachers use Songza’s playlists to create a mood in the classes doing group projects or that are simply working on individual assignments.

WHAT KIND OF PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT WOULD BE THE MOST USEFUL FOR YOU?

AHHH! Now wer are getting to the nitty gritty! The results were very useful in terms of where to go from here:

TYPESOFPROFESSIONALDEVELOPMENBT

 

This was my favourite question because it really clarified what worked for people and what didn’t work.  It was clear that the large PED Day workshops given by an expert weren’t very helpful for people. The reason for this is because there is such a wide range of knowledge of the device that the people who are comfortable playing around with it and navigating it are bored, while the people who don’t know how to turn it on are lost.

It is clear from the findings that a several-tiered approach would be the best.  The teachers want concrete examples of how to use it in their classroom. They want subject specific examples and they want to be led through the different steps from how the kids can access the app to how they can share their work with the teacher. Essentially the whole workflow cycle.

Most of all, they want the time to play around with it. However, I have a big issue with this answer which I will address in my next post. (They tell me to always leave on a cliffhanger…)

Next post: Attitudes, Obstacles and Random Thoughts