Discourse on Apps

One of the most popular parts of any meeting between educators who are pursuing iPads in the classroom is the chance to share favourite apps.  Monday’s visit to ACS Cobham of six teachers and administrators from the American School of London, Channing School for Girls and Hazelwood School was no exception and the lunchtime talking shop was dominated by discussions about deployment models and best apps in practice.

One question teachers consistently ask is how do I know where to find the best apps for my subject?  Obviously, the iTunes Store has made some strides in the direction of categorising its apps, but it remains true that most of the time teachers are not actually looking for an “educational” app.  Often apps designed to assist people in business-oriented skills such as time management or organisation are equally applicable to the learning environment.  The exception would be apps designed to do single-function tasks such as practise maths facts, but these are now a minority interest among teachers at ACS Cobham and other schools that have long since decided that content creation is the best way to use iPads.

I do recommend three magazines to teachers.  MacFormat, iCreate and Tap have occasional features on iPads (and other iOS and Apple products) in the education setting.

Moreover, Tap recently published an educational supplement that carried some of the lessons learned (and generously shared) by Fraser Speirs and his colleagues at Cedars School of Excellence in Greenock.  This was the school that Apple acknowledges was the first in the world to implement a one-to-one iPads programme for all students.  However, not everyone has the time or money to buy magazines and trawl through them to find the latest apps, and Tap in particular seems to be maddeningly difficult to find in stores.

So if buying iPad-themed magazines (or downloading the screen versions to one’s eReader of choice) is not the complete answer, what is?  Predictably, there’s an app for that.  Recently, there has been a proliferation of apps that find other apps for you and sort them into convenient categories.  Although I use several, I have to admit Chomp is the one I tend to turn to first.  Occasionally, app developers announce days or time periods when certain apps are free.  These offers are generally made for a limited time but they can be useful.  For example, last summer McGraw Hill, the publishers of the University of Chicago’s popular Everyday Mathematics course, made all the apps that accompany their maths games free for one day (they normally cost £1.49).  It was part of a drive to encourage American schoolchildren to continue practising maths throughout the summer holidays.

Of course, one had to know that this was going to happen in order to be ready to download the ten apps on offer.  This is where alert apps like Chomp can come in handy.  They can flag offers on a daily basis leaving the browser to select the ones he or she thinks might be useful.  Chomp also indicates trending apps in both free and paid for categories.

Chomp was one of the apps recommended in the round table discussion on apps last Monday.  Others were

iBrainstorm – hosts a virtual corkboard onto which students can flick virtual Post It notes from their own iPads, iPhones or iPod Touches.

iBrainstorm Companion – the client app for students to use when the teacher is using iBrainstorm.

ImagetoText Free (iPad version) – take a photo of any iamge that contains text (e.g. a road sign, a pdf document etc.) and it renders it in an editable format and sends to you via e-mail or Evernote.

Image to Text (iPhone version) – does the same thing as ImagetoText Free but designed for iPhones

iTranslate Voice – Translates between an impressive choice of languages.  You say “Mia hamburguesa es desmasiado grande” and it says “My hamburger is too big” back to you.  It also gives you the printed text (including the traditional or simplified Chinese characters for the Mandarin option)

MyScript Memo – you write something by hand on your iPad screen and it converts it to printed text.

The Research Canon – and Thoughts on Deployment Models

The summer term has started (although you’d hardly know it from the weather) and we have a full programme of training, new iPad lessons and visitors to keep us busy until we break up on June 19th.  Following the publication of my second article in The International Educator in April I’ve been receiving more widespread interest in our project – from teachers as far spaced as Colorado and Kobe with Delhi, Doha and Dorking in between!  It’s a fascinating dialogue to be a part of – and I often wonder if teachers who took those first tentative steps with calculators or computers back in the seventies felt the same excitement.

Certain collaborative projects work beautifully with shared iPads

The first surveys of iPads in Schools are emerging this spring.  Most of them are restricted to the popular press as few of them meet the rigorous criteria for internal and construct validity that peer-reviewed journals demand of any research study.  Consequently, the majority are impossible to verify or even subject to an appropriate level of scrutiny.  The level of debate in even well-reputed discussion forums such as Linked-In’s various groups debating technology in education remains mixed, and even Marks et al.’s excellent study of engagement in Cedars School of Excellence remains unpublished for the time being.

One study that is available on EBSCOhost, ProQuest and other respected repositories of academic research is Bush & Cameron’s (2010) study from Pepperdine University in California.  The writers considered the iPad’s potential as an eReader for PDF files distributed among students on three Masters courses and faculty at the university, and included in their study consideration of the PDF editing app iAnnotate.  The researchers concluded that the majority of students in this study perceived electronic course materials on an iPad in iAnnotate to be as good as or better than printed course materials.  Both students and faculty preferred and recommended digital course materials for students on a tablet device over traditional paper.

Moreover, the multi-modal functionality of the Apple iPad “augmented personal study and classroom learning, and the personal use positively contributed to academic use of the device”. This is a finding that supports the view of the iPad in the academic arena to be best deployed as a personal device emulating its use in the consumer niche.  Faculty observing students in this study found the iPad had negligible effect on student participation, comprehension, or academic writing.  The view of iPads as personally owned devices to be used by a single owner rather than shared is clearly gaining ground.

Bush & Cameron (2012) is a single study in one particular area of education but it is representative of a recommended view of deployment that not only solves problems such as syncing, storing, safeguarding and the bulk management of apps, but one which fits with how iPads were designed to be used.  Hitherto at ACS Cobham, we have had success with a 1:2 deployment of iPads in first and second grade up to now but the day is coming when one to one is the logical step even for students as young as these grade levels.   The second grader pausing midway through a PuppetPals HD show needs to be assured that when she returns to the project a few hours or days in the future it will still there for her to work on – not wiped (accidentally or maliciously) by another user of the same iPad.  The new WebDAV facility recently opened to teachers at the school now permits the saving of work direct from the device to a safe storage point external to the iPad, but even with WebDAV the third and fourth grade are looking forward to a one-to-one model for the forthcoming school year that we hope will open to these students and their teachers opportunities to create new projects and explore new ways of learning.