We have come to a point in the education technology journey where it seems rather dull to still be asking if the iPad is the right option for the classroom. The answer, in case you’ve missed the last few years of debate is that it is a great option, but this is not universally accepted and never will be. Nonetheless, one of the attributes you’ll hear put forward is that it is easy to use because of the intuitive nature of iOS. This is absolutely true; you can put the iPad into the hands of almost any child and within a short period of time they will have mastered it.
So does it then follow that you can out the iPad into the hands of teachers and expect the same results?
If you give a child a device they will sit and play with it until you ask them to stop and perhaps even after that they’ll still keep playing. If you give one to a teacher, they’ll do what they can when they can, but it might well sit in a drawer for a long while before they get the opportunity to really test drive it. Beyond the constraints of time, it is also worth remembering that there are plenty of teachers who learnt their trade in schools where technology simply didn’t exist and many who don’t see it’s value.
So, if the technology is valuable, and I believe it is, then it is the job of those that do have the knowledge to pass it on and ensure that they take as many other staff with them as possible.
If you’re rolling out a 1-to-1 program, iPad or any other tablet for that matter, it is essential that what precedes this is a detailed, thoughtful training schedule for the staff. Without this, the project is likely to flounder or fail. A school’s management cannot expect meaningful teaching and learning with technology to happen by simply handing out a device.
What often happens with a big deployment is that as part of the package schools will be offered a certain number of hours of training from external trainers. This can be a great way to kick-start your campaign but it is not the conclusion. A few hours of support is simply not enough; the support needs to come from in-house on a day-to-day basis and not just from a technical perspective. Teachers need to know there is someone they can come to and say ‘this is what I would like to do, is that possible?’ And for the person they ask to be able to tell them yes or no, and ‘this is how you could do it to make sure you’re focusing on teaching and learning rather than showcasing an app.
Too much training is about apps. Obviously apps are important, but building ideas for lessons around specific apps is a short cut to short-changing your students. I think that teachers are better served being taught about a core set of tools that create a workflow that meets the majority of their needs. Beyond that there will be a need for personalised responses.
Technology has been hailed as giving the opportunity for individual, personalised learning. In order for that to happen teachers need to have received the same thing. If they can sit down with people they trust and talk through their options, discuss ideas they have, get help utilising the resources they already have and get support in their lessons and feedback after they’ve tried something new, then the use of technology will more likely be embedded into the culture of the school over time.
In my school, every member of staff receives at least 7 hours of training in small groups over the course of about 3 months. They are getting this before the rollout of student iPads so that they are prepared for what happens next. They have an environment where they are able to learn without the immediate pressure of putting it into practice before they’ve had the opportunity to evaluate what it is they want this new string to their bow to look like. We have class sets of iPads that can be booked so they can experiment with what’s being learnt but the face to face training is also supported by an iTunes U course which goes over everything that we talk about in ‘class’. So this means that training can be scheduled and self-paced simultaneously. Teachers can pick out the things they like from one session and work this through to its conclusion and then come back to other things over the holidays when there is a bit of time to take on board other new ideas. Beyond this, teachers also need to be able to drop in or be dropped in on to figure out what their next move is.
The iPad is an intuitive device. For me it is the best device for education right now. But, though it might be a bit old hat to still be talking about digital natives and digital immigrants, it is important to remember that teachers are natives when it comes to teaching and learning; that is their language and they are fluent in it. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that when learning a new language there is a need for intensive support, that there will be things that are lost in translation, some mispronunciations and frustrations. The flipside of this is that our students may be ‘digital natives’ (the term is much debated), but they still need to learn about how to harness this knowledge, and that is why they need our teachers to be trained up with this new and powerful technology.