Some thoughts on Content Creation and the iPad


Storyteller Katrice Horsley shows second grade teacher Christie Down PuppetPals HD in an Outdoor Education lesson.

The release of iOS7 on September 18th this year prompted the customary exchanges of views on the blogosphere about what was good and what was less good about the upgrade.  Design purists celebrated the apparent demise of skeuomorphism at the hands of Sir Jony Ive. Others took turns saying Apple has lost its way, scored another hit, become out of touch, proved once again it has its finger on the pulse, fallen behind, taken the lead and all the other polarised clichés that seem to accompany new technology releases these days.

Personally I was keeping an eye out for the return of that old chestnut “the iPad is fine for content consumption but it can’t do content creation”, and I wasn’t disappointed.  Several commentators who have obviously somehow missed Pages, Numbers, Keynote, PuppetPals HD, Morfo Booth, Evernote, Penultimate, Moxier Collage, Art Rage, Moodboard, Collabracam, Me Books, Showbie, Edmodo, Explain Everything, iMovie, GarageBand, Creative Book Builder, Book Writer, Strip Design, Hopscotch, Animation HD, Aurasma and so forth trotted out that line on various forums.

This got me thinking.  It simply beggars belief that all these people are in the pay of Google or Samsung.  Some of them probably genuinely believe that students and others cannot create meaningful content using iPads – or at least that they cannot create content that cannot be replicated on laptops or desktop computers (as, for example, the work created on the iPad apps for WordPress or Prezi etc. could be).  The visit of accomplished professional storyteller Katrice Horsley to our school campus this week gave me the opportunity to see how someone unconnected with our school and its recent history of iPad integration would approach an outdoor learning opportunity. To my delight one of the frist things Katrice did once she was out in the woods with our second graders was to introduce one of our newest staff members to the wonders of PuppetPals HD.



Katrice Horsley in full swing talking to the second grade shortly before tasking them outside

There is almost nothing in PuppetPals HD that qualifies as content consumption.  The power of the app lies entirely in its capacity to provide a vehicle for users to express themselves.  As a language teacher I have used PuppetPals HD for script capture ahead of practical work in drama.  In the case of Katrice’s outdoor learning lesson PuppetPals HD provided an option for storytelling.  The second graders told their stories today using traditional materials like sticks, rocks, bark and some novelty eyes that Katrice brought along.  But photographs of these characters, settings and objects can easily be incorporated into PuppetPals HD shows which can then also be edited within the app or in  other apps in an app workflow.

StorytellingSecond graders tell their stories to Katrice at the end of an outdoor learning lesson

PuppetPals HD happens to do this task extremely well, especially if one invests in the paid version of the app, but there are myriads of alternative apps out there.  Students are also using apps such as iMovie (now bundled with new iPad purchases) to tell stories, Pages (similarly bundled) to create eBooks (many other apps facilitate this too these days) and Garageband to create soundscapes and backtracks for their story creations.  The iPad hasn’t invented all this – any more than the development of the four treasures (paper, ink, brush and inkstone) in second century China “invented” writing.  It merely provides a much  tool for the job than was previously available.

I don’t expect the content consumption die-hards to surrender just yet.  I’m sure they will still be claiming that the iPad can’t create anything in years to come when work done on tablets constitutes a majority.  But then again, I read today that the Flat Earth Society still has nearly 2,000 active members.



A Pat on the Back

All being well, this term should see the culmination of the project that began on 5th January 2011 with a submission to the school’s governing board for just ten iPads.  In that time ACS Cobham has gone from zero iPads to a full one-to-one deployment in grades three through twelve, and a one-to-two ratio of devices to students for grades one and two – over 900 iPads in all.  We have published original research, presented our experience at numerous international conferences and blazed a trail for other schools and other educators to follow and contribute to.  Our programme has drawn plaudits from respected writers and researchers in the field such as Marc Prensky and Sugata Mitra, as well as from renowned pioneers of iPads in education such as Fraser Speirs and Vickie Bacon.  We are proud of the progress our students have made in their learning and we are equally proud of our teachers for having faith in their own ability to maintain the focus on learning when there are all too many temptations to be distracted by shiny bells and whistles.

Along the way to our current status we have evolved from manual syncing to mobile device management – and within that field we have graduated from free services to paid services (we basically outgrew Meraki in a matter of weeks!)  We have absorbed the opportunities and challenges of VPP and expanded our support staff structure to accommodate a recast vision of the IT Coordinator’s role and several IT integrationists whose job it is to ensure IT is part of the fabric of the curriculum from early childhood to twelfth grade.

Steve GallowayIT Integrationist, Steve, mans a morning Genius Bar in the High School – and distributes the new Griffin Survivor cases to the students receiving their new iPads.


Naturally, we’ve made some mistakes (clue: manual syncing is a big one!) but we’ve also discovered new stuff no one knew before.  Professor Mitra himself revisited his own research when I described  ACS Cobham’s primary study in 2011-12, and he acknowledged differences in optimal ratios that accommodated our observation that his SOLEs 1:4 ratio doesn’t seem to be an effective model in students under the age of eight (our study suggested 1:2 is the ideal for the first and second grade).

So as we near the date when every student we intended to get an iPad actually does receive one in their eager hands, it’s time to reflect a little and give ourselves a quiet pat on the back.  I came to ACS in 2010 from another school I won’t name at which the Head had refused even to consider looking at iPads and yet where the single biggest problems we faced were battery life for our ageing laptops and the time it took students to log on (up to twenty minutes of a forty-minute lesson).  iPads solve both these questions comprehensively, and I am happy here to give due credit to our then Head of school at ACS Cobham, Tom Lehman, whose first question when I made my submission back in January 2011 was “Why buy only ten?”!