Content Creation is the Future on the iPad

You do still sometimes hear people saying the iPad is only good for content consumption, not for creation.  But it’s heard less often these days, and generally not from people who spend much time working with children using iPads.

The drill and practice apps will always have a role to play because it is fun, often cheaper, sometimes more challenging and occasionally a superior learning experience to work through drills and educational activities on the iPad that traditionally were done with real manipulatives such as dice, counters, cards and measuring tapes.  That’s one of the reasons why I think there is little harm in devoting the occasional lesson or part of a lesson to playing Math Bingo or the app version of the games that come with various mathematics schemes the world over (and I have to confess to a slight addiction to EDM’s Baseball Multiplication in my weaker moments!)

Such apps and such an iPad deployment model also represent a comforting entry level accessibility for teachers (generally students don’t require this) who are taking their first tentative steps into using mobile technology in the learning space.  The familiar content is simply delivered in an unfamiliar setting.  Most of us can handle that – and we see the same thing going on in (can we be honest here?) countless classrooms where the IWB is used exclusively as an expensive projection screen with scant or no attention paid to its possibilities as an interactive device.

What this leaves out is the iPad’s incredible scope as a content creation tool.  Many of the apps  now used daily by the teachers in ACS Cobham’s lower school are designed to help students create new work, not simply consume the content the app developer has put there for them.  Students are writing using StoryBuddy (and frequently writing using PuppetPals HD too); they are making movies using the inbuilt camera and editing them using iMovie; they are creating mood boards in … er … well, in Moodboard; they are mind mapping in popplet; creating ePub documents using Pages, making soundtracks using GarageBand and baking real cupcakes using CupcakeCreator Lite.

OK, I made that last one up (but how long will it be?)

Above and below: Second grade students writing and illustrating stories using StoryBuddy (other content creation apps are available!)

The release this month of iBooks Author for the Mac and iBookcreator for the iPad promises to give a whole new lease of life to one of the most intuitive members of the content creation apps family.  Where before it was necessary to create a document in Pages and then publish it as an ePub (making sure that all the images were aligned, not floating, and dealing with page divisions that suited the program rather than the author) budding writers can now look forward to writing and designing an iBook with text, images, movie footage and interactive features in one smooth app workflow.


To be fair, this isn’t entirely new; students were able to design impressive ePub documents using existing tools such as InDesign CS5 and other similar programs.  But iBookcreator and the (at time of writing it seems) even more impressive Mac app iBooks Author promise to put this capability in the

hands of much younger and more inexperienced students (and teachers), and even to have their creations displayed and distributed via the iBooks store.  This is an exciting prospect and one that holds great promise for increasing the motivation of young writers.


It’s early days yet, and the reviews of iBookcreator show that it is a long way from the finished product yet (but what app can ever claim to be that?)  Some teachers at ACS are sticking with StoryBuddy for now, but iBooks Author and iBookcreator represent a very good start on a new chapter in content creation using the iPad.


One TC-approved View of the Future of Education – iPads!

Those of us who have been using The Writers’ Workshop in international schools over the past decade are very familiar with the research work done by the Teachers’ College at Columbia University.  It was with a special interest in their research programme, therefore, that I attended the recent guest lecture at ACS Cobham given by Dr. Susan Fuhrman, TC’s current president.

Dr. Fuhrman explaining the research supporting the importance of the teacher's role in education

I didn’t expect it to have much to do with the focus of this blog but when I asked her what gave her cause for optimism about education in the future she replied with just one word “Technology”, going on to explain that “the iPad alone, is revolutionary”.

Much of what Dr. Fuhrman had said in the previous ten minutes could arguably have been stated any time in the previous ten years.  Naturally, formative assessment has gathered more support as the research has matured, and developments such as fMRI have led to a better understanding of how the brain works which, in turn, has enabled better planning and targetting of learning strategies.  But technology, and in particular mobile technology such as the iPad is proving to be a game changer.  Dr. Fuhrman’s belief is that the iPad stands to put into the hands of large numbers of school learners a tool to unlock the future.

That’s an extremely powerful thought – and a daunting challenge for teachers and school administrators.  But we would appear to have little choice but to accept that this is at least once significant part of the future of learning.

The International Educator

The first of two articles featuring ACS Cobham’s Project i was published this month in The International Educator newspaper.  Although I was aware that TIE has a readership of thousands of international teachers around the world, I was agreeably surprised by the number of new enquiries the publication of my article generated on my Linked In, Twitter and Facebook accounts.  It seems we are a well-connected lot!

One of the great things about great international schools is the way teachers who move on stay in touch with past alma maters.  Three teachers, all of whom are now in different continents never mind different countries, had in common the fact that they were at the American School of The Hague with me half a dozen years ago or so.  All are now heavily involved in iPads projects – including one in Colorado that is one of the largest public school iPad deployments in existence.  Knowing the quality of these teachers it comes as no surprise to me that they are leading successful and exciting innovative projects in their schools, but it is also noteworthy that we have independently arrived at the conclusion that the iPad is potentially a revolutionary tool and that its capabilities, appropriately guided and supported, could genuinely transform the way students learn and reflect their learning in schools.

This debate has barely begun, but I note the irony that it took an old school technology (i.e. newsprint) to spark the reconnections in the new media that I have enjoyed making with former colleagues these past two weeks.

Marks and Marks Visit ACS

It was great to have Drs. Leah and Dougie Marks from respectively the Universities of Glasgow and the West of Scotland down to visit us this month – albeit they had to fly in, visit the school and fly back all on the same day!

Leah and Dougie are two of the co-authors of a groundbreaking study into the effect of iPads on student engagement submitted for publication in the British Journal of Educational Technology.  They conducted their study in Cedars School of Excellence last year and it is fair to say that our own study owes much to the work they did and so generously shared with us.

Second graders show their work in progress in a Story Buddy writing activity

Leah and Dougie visited classes in Early Childhood, Lower School, Middle School and High School during their visit (see gallery above), and concluded a massive day by presenting their study to faculty in the iLC.  The interest they sparked has fed continued debate and will no doubt lead to continued communication and collaboration between our three institutions.

High School media students capture movie footage on their iPads for later emulation using Mac apps

Back in the lab the High School media students try to emulate the hand shake of captured iPad movie footage for an animated video game. Emulating the shakiness of handheld video camera footage helps make the finished animation look more authentic.

Dr. Leah Marks assists with ACS Cobham's online quick survey designed to capture qualitative data from each student at the end of media lessons.

Dr. Dougie Marks discusses High Schoolers' use of iPads with Steven Cliff and Keith Farr of ACS Cobham