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Posts in category 'Education'

24 March 2014

Crowdfunding for design: ITC-ILO campaign for training and facilitation card set

fishbowl

Are you a trainer? Do you facilitate meetings?

The International Training Centre of the International Labour Organization (ITC-ILO, a specialised, not-for-profit UN agency and an Experientia client) is currently experimenting with crowdfunding to finance a set of 60 cards featuring participatory knowledge sharing methods. The cards are a handy tool to help workshop facilitators and trainers make informed decisions about the appropriate methods, tools and resources to conduct learning activities.

The cards will feature training and facilitation methods that are frequently used by the ITC-ILO. They have been carefully selected and validated in workshops by the ITC-ILO over many years, and the full-length descriptions are currently available on their Compass website.

Since creating the Compass website, ITC-ILO has had many requests from their own trainers to create a portable tool that is easy to travel with, can be used in offline situations, and offers a brief synthesis of the selected methods.

The card set is highly useful for anyone who conducts training activities, prompting the ITC-ILO to use crowdfunding to develop the project. It not only lets demand drive the project, but offers the available knowledge to a much broader audience. Donors to the campaign receive rewards ranging from digital versions of the eventual card set to varying numbers of full printed sets. The donations will help to fund the design and printing of the cards.

The Compass card set is ideal for people who:

  • need a quick-reference tool to select the right learning methods for a workshop or training session;
  • need a quick refresher on a specific training technique, while actually running workshops and sessions;
  • want to explain to stakeholders how workshops can be participatory and what the variety of training methods can achieve;
  • want a short and visual explanation of participatory knowledge sharing methods, instead of large manuals or tools that are only available online.

Watch the video | Go to the crowdfunding campaign

31 December 2013

Solving problems for real world, using design

dschool1-articleLarge

Formally the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University, the D.school has made a global impact by encouraging students to find out what is most useful. Nicole Perlroth reports in The New York Times.

“At the heart of the school’s courses is developing what David Kelley, one of the school’s founders, calls an empathy muscle. Inside the school’s cavernous space — which seems like a nod to the Silicon Valley garages of lore — the students are taught to forgo computer screens and spreadsheets and focus on people.

So far, that process has worked. In the eight years since the design school opened, students have churned out dozens of innovative products and start-ups. They have developed original ways to tackle infant mortality, unreliable electricity and malnutrition in the third world, as well as clubfoot, a common congenital deformity that twists a baby’s feet inward and down.”

Related feature:

Products of Design Thinking
The design institute at Stanford University, known as the D.school, pushes its students to rethink the boundaries of industries. The students are taught to forgo computer screens and spreadsheets and focus on people. So far, that process has worked. In the eight years since it opened, its students have churned out dozens of innovative products and start-ups — everything from ways to tackle infant mortality and unreliable electricity in the third world to a mobile news-reader app. This feature contains a few of those ideas.

22 October 2013

How teachers in Africa are failed by mobile learning

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Only projects that work with existing education systems will improve learning and cut poverty, says Niall Winters of the London Knowledge Lab at the University of London, and he argues for a user-centred approach (rather than a technology-centric one) that is focused on understanding teachers’ practice, co-designing interventions with them and providing them with training

“There is a vibrant Human-Computer Interaction for Development community that promotes user-centred approaches to technology design, use and evaluation. In my own work over the years, including in a current project for training community health workers in Kenya, we extensively use participatory approaches to help design and develop mobile learning interventions.

The idea that techno-centrism or even solely content-based solutions can address important educational challenges by themselves must be dropped. Research shows they can’t.

The path to success is clear: the risks of increasing the marginalisation of teachers — and by extension students — can only be ameliorated by understanding teachers’ practice, co-designing interventions with them and providing them with training.

Projects which work with existing educational systems, not against them, should have priority funding. Only then can mobile learning be seen to work for teachers, for their students and for the alleviation of poverty among those at the margins of society.”

15 October 2013

Experientia redesigns online learning and training toolkit for UN affiliate

Screen Shot 2013-10-15 at 14.52.19

This week, the ITC-ILO officially launched the Experientia-designed website Compass: the right direction for learning and training.

The site is a toolkit comprising 60 methodologies, with the aim of diffusing learning and training knowledge and tools within the ITC-ILO organisation.

Experientia conducted a complete redesign of the ITC-ILO methods library (the Compass) of tools that can be used during training sessions and in the field. The redesign updates the visual look and feel of the Compass tool, as well as the methods themselves, refreshing the communications style of the contents, and developing a new system for cataloguing and navigating through them.

The ITC-ILO is the training arm of the UN’s International Labour Organisation. Based in Turin, Italy, ITC-ILO runs training, learning and capacity development services for governments, employers’ organizations, workers’ organisations and other national and international partners in support of Decent Work and sustainable development. The Compass is a project of the Centre’s DELTA unit. DELTA is made up of a team of specialists who combine expertise in learning and knowledge sharing methodologies with professional backgrounds in international development.

The Compass uses the metaphor of a navigational instrument to guide people through a repository of participatory learning, training and knowledge sharing methods. The new site significantly improves the information architecture and organisation of the available content, ensuring that the methods are easily findable, and offering guidance on the kinds of learning and training situations each method is suited to.

The Experientia team included Yosef Bercovich, Erin O’Loughlin and Gabriele Santinelli, under the guidance of the partner for communications Mark Vanderbeeken.

Experientia has worked with the ITC-ILO previously, designing their website, and a mobile site (iOS and Android compatible) to promote mobile learning methods.

14 October 2013

New qualitative research report on tablet use in UK schools

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Tablets for Schools, a UK campaign organisation that seeks to “prove the categorical case of tablets in schools”, has just published its second qualitative research report.

“The report summarises findings from an evaluation study that is looking at the feasibility and educational impact of giving one-to-one Tablets to every child in school. Research for this stage was carried out between September 2012 and April 2013.

The research included an evaluation of four secondary schools that had chosen to give pupils one-to-one Tablets in September 2011, two schools that had introduced Tablets in autumn 2012, and three schools that were given Tablets by Tablets for Schools for Year 7s between 2012 and 2013. Methodology included qualitative and quantitative research. Results suggest that long-term use of the Tablet has a profound effect on pedagogy, and that pupils benefit from having access to content both at school and at home.

Pupils appear to have greater engagement with learning, collaboration with peers increases, and teachers can monitor individual progress effectively. There are some concerns about pupil distraction and managing time effectively. It is clear that schools need time to adjust to the introduction of one-to-one devices, and that the functions of the Tablet need to be understood by teachers, together with the changes to pedagogy that are brought about by an increase in independent learning. Strong leadership helps this process. Infrastructure, insurance or self-insuring, and protection for the devices need to be considered before introduction takes place, and access to appropriate content is key to using the devices effectively. For schools considering the introduction of one-to-one Tablets, learning from schools that have undergone this journey is highly beneficial.”

The Tablets for Schools team has summarised the key research findings below.

The benefits

  • Pedagogy: Tablets enhanced pedagogy by enabling teachers to adapt their teaching style to suit the needs of individual students, and allowed for innovative ways to learn. This was particularly beneficial for special needs students.
     
  • Engagement: Tablets improved student, teacher and parent engagement with learning. In particular, parents engaged more with the school and with their child’s education… “Somehow that engagement [learning composition] was much more intense with the tablet, and they were much more motivated and engaged, and worked quicker. The task didn’t feel like it was work.” – Teacher, Dixons City Academy.
     
  • Independent Learning and Collaboration: Tablets were found to foster both independent learning, and collaboration with teachers and other students.

Dealing with issues surrounding tablet use

  • Infrastructure. Infrastructure (including security) is a concern and one of the keys to successful implementation. Participants indicated the limits of their expertise, for example, schools are not experts in procurement so how can they compare the different costs of Wi-Fi?
     
  • Sourcing Educational Content. Finding reliable resources (particularly for maths) is an issue. However, teachers continued to be creative in terms of both customising content, and creating new content for teaching purposes (including multimedia tutorials) “…on the whole teachers like to create their own content because they know the content…it’s much more difficult to teach without your own notes…” Deputy Principal, Wallace High School
     
  • Students Being Distracted: Observation sessions noted that students multi-tasked during lessons (with messaging apps, etc). Though when asked what they did on their iPads during learning sessions, 95% said they focussed on work”. The concept of “distractibility” is unclear. For example, some students claimed music helped them concentrate, others were unable to multitask, and it was also found that a large number of the 5% of students who were “distracted” during lessons were actually “also” doing work. However, the key is to have clear rules, effective classroom management, and educating students in using tablets responsibly.
     
  • Teachers being Constantly Available: One of the key benefits for students was near-constant access to teachers. Teachers were comfortable setting their own boundaries around the resulting increased communication. One teacher pointed out that answering a student’s email on Sunday afternoon could save “significant amounts of time” on Monday morning.
     
  • Training and Preparation: There was a need for strong leadership, and the adoption of initiatives such as “device champions” and “parental consultation evenings” were identified as beneficial for implementation. Adequate preparation (such as training for both parents and teachers) was also essential.

A conference is planned on Monday 9th December in London, where attendees can gain practical experience of successfully implementing tablets from some of their research schools.

3 October 2013

Interaction-Ivrea, Arduino and Intel’s Galileo

 

Interaction_Ivrea_arduino

Intel’s Arduino-compatible open-source Galileo development board was launched today in Italy at Rome’s Maker Faire. Rightfully so, as the initiative has such deep Italian roots.

In 2004, a group of programmers, students and teachers at the highly regarded Interaction Design Institute Ivrea (Italy) developed the Arduino platform in order to create a small and inexpensive tool that would help students “prototype interactions.” The Arduino project, which was led by Massimo Banzi, was actually based on an earlier board, called the Programma 2003 (named after the world’s first desktop computer the Programma 101, designed by Piergiorgio Perotto and launched by Olivetti in 1964).

Interaction-Ivrea strongly supported the project and backed Massimo Banzi in keeping the Arduino open source at the end of Interaction-Ivrea in 2005. This enabled Arduino co-founder Massimo Banzi and his team to expand the initiative, grow the Arduino community internationally, and in the end allowed Intel to create the Galileo, as a fully Arduino-compatible board.

One of the people involved in Interaction-Ivrea then, Experientia’s Jan-Christoph Zoels (who is now my business partner), dug up a visual – designed by Giorgio Olivero – that was the very first presentation of Arduino. (Click on the image above for the full pdf). It shows the history of the project, and lists the group of people involved at Interaction-Ivrea.

(Disclosure: I also worked at Interaction Design Institute Ivrea, and Experientia’s CEO, Pierpaolo Perotto is the son of the Programma 101 creator).

Congratulations, Massimo.

5 September 2013

Experientia designs mobile site for UN affiliate to promote mobile learning

mobile-promo

This week, the ITC-ILO, a United Nations affiliate, officially launched an Experientia-designed mobile site to promote mobile learning tools within the organisation.

The mobile site is an internal communications tool to showcase best practice mobile learning use within ITC-ILO, and it has been designed to be optimally viewed from a smartphone or tablet.

The ITC-ILO is the training arm of the UN’s International Labour Organization. Based in Turin, Italy, ITC-ILO runs training, learning and capacity development services for governments, employers’ organizations, workers’ organisations and other national and international partners in support of Decent Work and sustainable development.

With the dominant shift to mobile learning, ITC-ILO is keen to demonstrate how it uses mobile tools within its programs and frameworks, and to promote future use of mobile tools to extend ITC-ILO’s activities into a variety of settings, through a broader range of interactions with people, exploiting different types of content.

mobile.itcilo.org focuses on the three key advantages of mobile learning: improved ability to engage participants, with dynamic content, and lasting contact; more opportunities to share knowledge, from one to many, and from many to many; and the ability to connect and interact with information in new ways, generating meaningful insights and providing access to expertise and resources.

Experientia designed the site, and helped to develop the content and promotional materials. The site is optimised for iOS and Android, offering an excellent user experience from smartphone and tablet, as well as from desktop PC. It’s online at mobile.itcilo.org.

28 August 2013

Exploring the use of tablets in educational settings

mindshift

MindShift, a service by KQED and NPR, has published a four-part series to explore the four dimensions of using tablets in educational settings, examining how teachers can take students on a journey from (1) consumption of media, to (2) curation, (3) creation, and (4) connection.

Each of the instalments explores the challenges ahead using the Someday/Monday template:

“The Someday/Monday dichotomy captures one of the core challenges in teacher professional development around education technology. On the one hand, deep integration of new learning technologies into classrooms requires substantially rethinking pedagogy, curriculum, assessment, and teacher practice (someday). For technology to make a real difference in student learning, it can’t just be an add-on. On the other hand, teachers need to start somewhere (Monday), and one of the easiest ways for teachers to get experience with emerging tools is to play and experiment in lightweight ways: to use technology as an add-on. Teachers need to imagine a new future—to build towards Someday—and teachers also need new activities and strategies to try out on Monday. Both pathways are important to teacher growth and meaningful, sustained changes in teaching and learning.”

1 August 2013

EthnographyMatters on ethnography and education

 

This month’s edition of EthnographyMatters is dedicated to education. Says editor Morgan G. Ames, “ethnography is unique in being able to dig below the surface and uncover the complicated processes and contingent effects of education and education reform.”

Some personal highlights:

Why digital inequality scholarship needs ethnography
by Christo Sims, Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of California, San Diego
Ethnography of a technology-focused public school in New York that inexplicably had many of its less advantaged students transfer out. With his research, Christo was able to say why this was happening and what it means for other efforts for digital inclusion.

Interactive eBooks and reading comprehension – I’ll meet you there
by Sheila Frye, literacy innovation researcher
Research on interactive eBooks, which promote active reading habits – a crucial part of literacy – to children who may not learn this skill otherwise. Sheila uses ethnography to take a close look at both the benefits and the potential drawbacks of interactive eBooks.

Interview with Mizuko ‘Mimi’ Ito
Interview of education, ethnography, and digital inclusion with Mizuko ‘Mimi’ Ito. Mimi has some impressive experience with the topics covered this month: she is the Research Director at the Digital Media and Learning Hub, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Chair in Digital Media and Learning, and a Professor in Anthropology and Informatics at UC Irvine (after getting two PhDs from Stanford).

13 June 2013

To get the most out of tablets, use smart curation

tabletsdashboard

In a second article in a four-part series on the use of tablets in educational settings, Justin Reich of MindShift examines the topic of curation.

“As technologies have developed, the tools and objects of curation have become increasingly accessible. For decades, teachers have arranged collections on bookcases, but now we create playlists of songs, folders of bookmarks, albums of photos, wall posts of life events, and portfolios of academic work. With this abundance of platforms for curation, teachers no longer curate to distribute works, they curate to model curation. [...]

In a world of portable supercomputers and ubiquitous access, the task of the teacher is no longer to collect and distribute, but to empower students to curate their own collections of intellectual resources.”

Justin Reich is a Fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society and co-Founder of EdTechTeacher. Beth Holland is a Senior Associate with EdTechTeacher

22 May 2013

The future of tablets in education: potential vs. reality of consuming media

tabletschool

Justin Reich of MindShift has launched a four-part series to explore four dimensions of using tablets, such as the iPad, in educational settings, examining how teachers can take students on a journey from (1) consumption of media, to (2) curation, (3) creation, and (4) connection.

Each of the instalments explores the challenges ahead using the Someday/Monday template:

“The Someday/Monday dichotomy captures one of the core challenges in teacher professional development around education technology. On the one hand, deep integration of new learning technologies into classrooms requires substantially rethinking pedagogy, curriculum, assessment, and teacher practice (someday). For technology to make a real difference in student learning, it can’t just be an add-on. On the other hand, teachers need to start somewhere (Monday), and one of the easiest ways for teachers to get experience with emerging tools is to play and experiment in lightweight ways: to use technology as an add-on. Teachers need to imagine a new future—to build towards Someday—and teachers also need new activities and strategies to try out on Monday. Both pathways are important to teacher growth and meaningful, sustained changes in teaching and learning.”

For now, only the first part – on consumption – has been published:

“[The iPad] was a device made for reading and watching, for sitting back, for passively consuming media. One of the signature challenges of the surge of interest in iPads is helping educators imagine the device as more than a library of books or a rolodex of apps, but as a flexible, mobile device for creating multimedia performances of understanding. Educators using iPads should start by thinking about how the device can foster critical reading of text, images, audio, and film, but consumption should be the point of departure on a journey towards more active student engagement.”

20 May 2013

Ericsson studies on people’s behaviors and values

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Ericsson’s ConsumerLab studies people’s behaviors and values, including the way they act and think about ICT products and services. Here are some of their recent publications:

How young professionals see the perfect company
April 2013
A new study from Ericsson ConsumerLab called “Young professionals at work” looks at the latest generation to enter the workforce: the Millennials.

Mixing schoolwork and leisure
March 2013
According to a ConsumerLab study, almost half of Estonian pupils use school computers for leisure activities. Many pupils also bring their own mobile phones and tablets to school to use for study purposes. This bring-your-own-device behavior blurs the boundary between leisure and school work.
> Video

Consumers’ TV and video behaviors (video)
March 2013
Niklas Heyman Rönnblom, Senior Advisor at Ericsson ConsumerLab, shares insights about consumer’s TV and video behaviors and priorities. The consumer insights highlighted in the video include the importance of HD quality, super simplicity and allowing consumers to personalize their own TV-packages.

Keys for success in the Personal information Economy
February 2013
A new report from Ericsson ConsumerLab shows that consumer awareness of how their information is being shared is still low and anonymous big data is rarely perceived as a big issue.

Network quality and smartphone usage experience
January 2013
New findings from Ericsson ConsumerLab have underlined the crucial role of good connectivity and network quality in smartphone user experience and operator loyalty.

On the same level as the ConsumerLab, sits Ericsson’s Networked Society Lab, which researches ICT-driven transformation in society, industry and service provider business.

They recently published a report on the future of learning:

As technology continues to transform our society, those responsible for our current systems of learning and education are facing overwhelming pressure to adapt.

Education technology, connected learning and the rise of the Networked Society are transforming the established concept of learning, teachers’ roles and even the nature of knowledge itself.

In an associated video (YouTube | Vimeo), Ericsson asked experts and educators to explain how learning and education are shifting away from a model based on memorization and repetition toward one that focuses on individual needs and self-expression. Obviously based on very friendly Silicon Valley-inspired technology that supports it all.

23 April 2013

Report: Survey of European schools on ICT in education

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This study collected and benchmarked information from 31 European countries (EU27, HR, ICE, NO and TR) on the access, use, competence and attitudes of students and teachers regarding ICT in schools.

ICT provision and use in European schools is improving but several obstacles remain. First, teachers still believe that insufficient ICT equipment is the biggest obstacle to ICT use in many countries. Second, whilst teachers are using ICT for preparing classes, ICT use in the classroom for learning is infrequent. Teacher training in ICT is rarely compulsory and most teachers devote spare time to private study. Third, students and teachers have the highest use of ICT and ICT learning-based activities when schools combine policies on ICT integration in teaching and learning. However, most schools don’t have such an overarching policy. Therefore it is not surprising that teachers generally believe that there is a need for radical change to take place for ICT to be fully exploited in teaching and learning.

The study was carried out for the European Commission by European Schoolnet and the University of Liège in Belgium. The report was published on 18 April 2013.

- Press release
- Project site

13 March 2013

Will mobile education arrive in the developing world

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(As if it hasn’t already).

In developing countries, where smartphones and dependable cellular networks are still scarce, it’s been difficult to gauge the real impact of the mobile education movement. But with the combination of different factors — the advent of new technology, decreased pricing for data, a worldwide lust for mobile education, and a persisting patience for smaller screens and lower connection speeds in nations with little alternative — the landscape in developing countries may be at a tipping point.

By the way, make sure not to miss the mobile education image (here reproduced in small)!

28 February 2013

How teachers are using technology at home and in their classrooms

KidTablet

A survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project of teachers who instruct American middle and secondary school students finds that digital technologies have become central to their teaching and professionalization. At the same time, the internet, mobile phones, and social media have brought new challenges to teachers, and they report striking differences in access to the latest digital technologies between lower and higher income students and school districts.

The survey finds that digital tools are widely used in classrooms and assignments, and a majority of these teachers are satisfied with the support and resources they receive from their school in this area. However, it also indicates that teachers of the lowest income students face more challenges in bringing these tools to their classrooms:

Mobile technology has become central to the learning process, with 73% of Advanced Placement (AP) and National Writing Project (NWP) teachers saying that they and/or their students use their cell phones in the classroom or to complete assignments

More than four in ten teachers report the use of e-readers (45%) and tablet computers (43%) in their classrooms or to complete assignments

Teachers of low income students, however, are much less likely than teachers of the highest income students to use tablet computers (37% v. 56%) or e-readers (41% v. 55%) in their classrooms and assignments

Similarly, just over half (52%) of teachers of upper and upper-middle income students say their students use cell phones to look up information in class, compared with 35% of teachers of the lowest income students.

> See also this FT blog post

16 February 2013

Tablet use in California and Ontario high schools – Field observations by Experientia collaborator

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Francesca Salvadori (Italian blog) is an Italian high school teacher who runs a 1:1 iPad pilot program in her school, and collaborates with Experientia on the topic of digital publishing. A few weeks ago she visited five schools in California and Ontario. Putting People First provides an English translation of the first part of her Italian report:

How far along is the introduction of new technologies in American schools? How are tablets used in the classrooms of Silicon Valley and how easy was it for teachers to adapt to the use of these tools in their daily activities? Do tablets actually help students to learn better, or learn more?

A trip to California and Ontario became an opportunity to come to an initial understanding of how technology is being used in schools on the other side of the Atlantic.

The scope of the research

I did what was possible during a single trip and visited five schools in seven days (two of which I was down with the flu!). Notwithstanding the limited number of schools visited, the technical and educational findings are quite clear, and at least partly, generalizable beyond the schools observed.

The five schools are of course not representative of the “average” American school: they are private institutions located in an area where the use of technologies is probably more advanced than anywhere else. Moreover, the selection was not systematic: knowing that I was going to visit the Bay Area, I approached institutions that had published some information online on their 1:1 iPad programs, so it is entirely possible that there are other deployments in the area that I am not aware of and that may have implemented different ways of working.

However, the analogies between the current practices at the five schools were striking. There is clearly an emerging trend that is driven by a careful methodological preparation and a precise assessment of the objectives these schools set out to reach.

With such a clear trend, I think it will not take much for these practices to spread like wildfire.

Tablet use in Bay Area schools

The Saint Ignatius Preparatory High School of San Francisco was the first school I visited, thanks to the great support I received from its Educational Technologist, Eric Castro.

It is a private Jesuit school with 1,300 students and a 1:1 iPad program that started in 2009. It is in fact one of the largest iPad deployments in the Bay Area.

Eric is a real expert, with deep technological knowledge but also with a healthy critical approach that comes from his background in social sciences. Those interested in technologies in education should definitely explore his Restless Pedagogue blog.

I asked Eric how widespread tablet use is in Bay Area schools at the moment. The answer (confirmed the next day by Albert Boyle, Director of Technology of the San Francisco University High School) is that only 12 schools have 1:1 iPad deployments at the moment. They are all private, with yearly tuitions between 17,000 and 35,000 USD.

The State of California is financially nearly bankrupt and has great difficulties to guarantee the regular functioning of its public schools. I was told that it is therefore impossible for them to finance tablet based learning programs. Less populated States such as Maine are in a different situation.

But is money really the decisive factor? I thought of some of the tablet programs in Italian schools such as the Lussano Lyceum of Bergamo or the Majorana school in Brindisi, which are also public schools without huge funding. Yet they found a way to embark on tablet initiatives which are now systemic and involve nearly their entire student bodies.

How to manage the digital transition? The role of teacher training and Educational Technologists

One of the key goals of my trip was to understand the ways in which the transition to tablet based learning practices is actually managed. What training do the teachers get once the leadership of the school has decided to introduce iPads?

There are analogies with what is happening in Italy, but also deep differences.

All the people I spoke with told me that teachers obtained their iPads some considerable time before they were introduced in the classrooms, and could decide freely if and how they wanted to use them in their classes. There was no pressure how quickly they have to be introduced or on the way they ought to be used. In short, the approach was one of a gentle ‘invite’ to change.

Vince Delisi, Director of Technology and Innovation at the Holy Trinity School of Richmond Hill, Ontario, told me a story about one school that he knew where teachers who didn’t want to make the technological leap, were offered a golden handshake, with the suggestion that they might have to find themselves a new professional challenge in life. But this was clearly the exception to the rule.

All the schools I visited preferred a “soft” transition, taking into account the fundamental impact of this change and the importance of adapting the didactic practices of the school to the capabilities and styles of each of their teachers.

I didn’t find any evidence of substantial training support from the State or Federal Government. To be honest, Based on what I heard about the inclusive political initiatives spearheaded by Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education of the Obama administration, I was actually expecting a more widespread diffusion of technologies in California, also in its public schools – and the absence of such might also be the reason for the lack of widespread training support. Thus, the deep divides that characterize the American school system, exemplified by the profound hiatus between public and private schools, create a situation where those who are more informed and have more financial resources can de facto act in full autonomy.

This does not mean that teachers had no training.

All the schools that I visited, from Saint Ignatius with its 1,300 students to the Drew School which has “only” 350, have staff members whose role it is to support and help the teachers in this transition. A much more structural and long-term approach therefore, than the brief training sessions that textbook publishers tend to organize in schools when they want to sell their multimedia products (as is often the case in Italy), or than the afternoon sessions that schools organize for their teachers just to be able to say that they too train their teachers.

The support staff I met are real specialists in technology applied to education. They work full time in their schools and have a double role: they support teachers in achieving their educational objectives with these new digital tools, while also keeping them continuously informed on whatever becomes available in this rapidly developing market. The training is both serious and long lasting. It is lifelong learning in the field, based on research and constant updates, which allows teachers to make a smarter use of the technologies available to them.

Hail Mary! The difference is all in the mindset

But how did teachers react when they were asked by the management of their schools to change their ways of working and to question their established teaching practices?

All educational technologists – Eric, Albert, Tom, Kate and Vince – told me that in the end all teachers have shown interest, goodwill, and often enthusiasm to the idea of using tablets as part of their teaching. Yes, there were the occasional refusal, but in absolute numbers these were isolated cases.

Moreover, this openness to change is not affected by one’s age or the number of years one has been teaching: the best example was Mary McCarty, a powerhouse under a helmet of white hair, who has enthusiastically embraced the tablet in her late career.

With great ease she moves through the classroom with her iPad, demonstrating me the use of nodictionaries.com, an innovative site that integrates key Latin texts with an interlinear word list, that students are constantly referring to in their translation exercises.

Mary is the evidence in person of people’s capacity to adapt. She demonstrates that the desire to be effective in a transforming world is not based on age. It is not true, I think, that the young are more able and quick to adapt to the new and to welcome the challenges that technologies have to offer. It is, I think, all based on one’s mindset and adaptability. All that’s needed is a desire to continue learning, and the willingness to make mistakes and to take on the challenge to find new ways to communicate with students. A pragmatic and non ideological approach is also essential – which might be a challenge for Italian schools where teachers often have strong ideologically biased views on new technologies.

Understanding the difficulties

But what about the varied and sometimes unpredictable reactions of teachers? The most interesting insight on this came from Kate Miller, Instructional Technology Specialist at the Menlo School (Atherton, CA).

Menlo is the school of the 1%. Kate does the same work as Eric [Castro], but in an even more privileged environment.

We are at a stone’s throw from Palo Alto and Cupertino, in the heart of Silicon Valley. Menlo’s dream campus with its impressive and luminous spaces, its very advanced technologies (all devices are last generation Apple), and its highly professional teachers and staff bring it close to our – somewhat unreal – image of the “perfect school”.

Kate told me that she taught in environments that are far less exclusive. Probably because of that she has an empathy for those who are not so enamored by technology, and might even nurture resistance towards it or at least a profound detachment.

Despite her role as a technology “specialist,” Kate understands those who do not want to spend hours playing games on their iPads or try out the latest apps, but prefer to do something else (like reading a printed book). The challenge for those who support the digital transition, she thinks, is to understand the difficulties of those who are not so digitally adapt and have different mental models than those who design these devices and apps.

Teachers may never become real “technology experts,” but it is crucial that someone competent and sensitive is there to help them, someone who understands what is needed to make their professionalism more powerful. From that point of view, an intelligent psychological approach, such as Kate’s, is not the only determining factor. Equally important are solid technical expertise and the willingness to quickly find solutions to the practical problems that technology often creates for teachers.

Eric Spross, Director of Technology at the Menlo School, is gifted with this important combination, and gladly makes his insights available to those less technologically savvy, like myself. Even though I am not even working at his school, Eric gladly showed me which tools to use to replace Apple TV when the class uses different operating systems. In the end, I was able to return to Italy with a clear idea of what to do and what to buy. If I had to find and evaluate all the relevant technical info by myself, I would have spent much more time and energy.

After all, the rules of the game are that the technology has to be made available to us, and not the other way around…

How the use of tablets is changing teaching and learning

One of my main interests was to understand how teaching itself is changing with the use of the tablet. I had developed my own thoughts, based on my personal experiences using tablets in my classroom. Observing the work of colleagues who are working in a school and educational context that is so different from our own, brought the question even more to the fore.

Using a tablet in the classroom means first of all saying goodbye to frontal teaching, while providing space and guidance to students’ independent research, writing or other creative activities. In this new world, the classroom changes from a conference room to a practice room, which implies that pedagogical practices need to be inverted. The students I saw working away in their classrooms, had absorbed the lecture contents at home – through readings, videos, etc. – which at school were then elaborated upon by the teacher. The teachers’ role of the latter has changed fundamentally: they are mainly providing stimulation and guidance to the research and exercises of the students (the so-called “inverted classroom”).

But if students become researchers, the main teaching objective is to bring them to ask the right questions and to stimulate their critical thought. The classes that I was sitting in on struck me foremost because of their dialectic approach: the focus was never on the facts – interesting to notice how that transforms History teaching – but on the underlying questions. Students are asked to reflect upon these, but also to argue their proper point of view. This dialectic approach is of course not really new in the Anglo-Saxon educational context, but the use of technologies pushes it even more: the real issue is no longer finding the facts but selecting, understanding and interpreting them.

The end of the digital whiteboard

I didn’t see any interactive whiteboards. Anywhere. I asked why and the answer was always the same: “not useful and way too expensive.”

All classrooms are equipped with a projector that is connected wirelessly to the tablet of the teachers or the students – depending on the type of work – by means of a video streamer (e.g. an Apple TV) that projects its screen image onto a scroll-down screen, a whiteboard or a white wall.

No maintenance, no burnt-out bulbs, no walls that cannot be used for anything else. If you use tablets, you have no longer any need for interactive whiteboards. No need to throw them away, but we need to find ways to make them work with the new touch devices (a solution could lie in connecting them directly with a video streaming device, which seems to be possible, or through an Airplay mirroring app such as Reflector). And we should stop buying new ones.

The contents: an open challenge for schoolbook publishers

From Eric Castro to Shane Carter (History Teacher at the Drew School) to Stefanie Portman (History Instructor at the Menlo School) to Ohad Paran (English Teacher at the Menlo School): all have declared war on textbooks.

While it is certainly true that textbooks never had the central role in the American educational system that they have in our own, it is also true that I heard a unanimous choir of complaints on how publishing houses are reacting to the challenge of digitalization.

Teachers and school administrators underlined the inadequate offering of the publishing houses and their nearly hysterical obsession with the copyright of their products – which has made it nearly impossible in the USA to commercialize digital textbooks, without substantial limitations in their use. What’s more, they also point out that publishers simply do not understand the “open” nature of the web.

My observations herald a future that looks quite worrisome for publishers: teachers of various stripes and with various backgrounds, who only share the use of the tablet in their classrooms, have jointly decided to no longer use textbooks in their teaching practice. Instead they have opted for materials that they themselves have selected, assembled and shared, taking advantage of the immense archive of the web, including Open Educational Resources (OER) and whatever else can be useful in classroom activities.

The unsurmountable problem of textbooks lies in their lack of adaptability to a teaching practice that has become increasingly creative and personalized, thanks to digital tools. Hybrid solutions, which seek to salvage the old by packaging it as something new, have therefore little potential of success.

So should we sing the funeral mass for the publishing houses? I don’t think so. The “big three” in the USA – Pearson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and McGraw Hill – are preparing for the future by buying up or partnering with start-ups that are able to create contents of a new generation, and by building platforms that combine highly modularized copyrighted contents with OER materials.

The various directions will show their strengths and weaknesses very soon. The only certainty now is that the current wait-and-see approach of the publishing housesand the underlying unwillingness to deeply reconsider the role of their services and offerings, will only bring about a situation where teachers create their own books even more rapidly, exactly like they want them.

But does tablet use improve student performance?

No. Or at least, we don’t know yet.

Some iPad programs, like those at the Menlo School or the San Francisco University High School, are very new (initiated only this year), while others, e.g. those at Saint Ignatius or at the Holy Trinity School, are now in their second or third year.

Everyone told me that tablets are but a tool that no one should expect miracles of. Paul Molinelli (Director of Professional Development at Saint Ignatius College Preparatory School) said that the primary goal for the staff of Saint Ignatius, is not to raise the academic scores but to make the classes more “engaging”, closer to the language and the communication style of the students. With great honesty, Paul mentioned that the digital transition may even have created some setbacks: e.g. one class did less well than normal because students needed time to adapt to the new educational requirements and to the evaluation methods which had partly changed.

Also Vince Delisi insisted on the need for a bit of patience in evaluating the results. He underlined that it is still too early to evaluate the academic performance of tablets. We move ahead and wait, he said, because the praxis needs to be perfected and consolidated before we can see tangible results: the most encouraging fact at the moment is the enthusiasm of the students and their families.

The resources of the private school

We discussed earlier how the role of the Educational Technologists is fundamental. Their involvement is not something that came about by coincidence; there is a deeply rooted awareness in these schools of the digital revolution currently taking place, and of the importance to seriously commit to strong support to all protagonists in the educational process in this phase of digital transition. These schools understand that such a radical paradigm shift cannot be left to chance, but requires the involvement and the support of experts who know what they are talking about.

Of course, the extraordinary organization and the amount of resources that a private school system can avail itself of, cannot but impress an Italian teacher. Perhaps we need to reflect on the consequences of our (Italian) obsession with equality, that has created an educational system that will never have schools like Saint Ignatius and Menlo.

Notwithstanding the empty pre-election statements here in Italy or the feel-good declarations to make our public servants happy, we have to admit that no one really invests in our schools. Not the state. Not the private sector. The result is an old and somewhat marginal educational system, with occasional points of excellence, that are often due to the heroic efforts of individual teachers or headmasters.

Let’s push for leaders who are seriously committed to investing in our future.

 
I want to thank all those who have welcomed me through their writing, or by providing me with guidance, picking me up at train or metro stations, guiding me around, or being available for conversations or interviews during this very interesting journey. In particular I want to thank Eric Castro, Paul Molinelli, Tom Wadbrooke, Juna McDaid, Shane Carter, Kate Garret, Albert Boyle, Kate Miller, Eric Spross, Ohad Paran, Stefanie Portman, Vince Delisi, and John Edgecombe for their extraordinary availability.

7 February 2013

Recent studies on the impact of tablet use in schools – an overview

 

2012

One-to-one Tablets in Secondary Schools: An Evaluation Study
(see also here and here)
Dr Barbie Clarke and Siv Svanaes, Family Kids and Youth, UK, 2012
Research was carried out between September 2011 and July 2012 and included a literature review, a review of global evaluation studies, and an evaluation of three secondary schools in Belfast, Kent and Essex that had chosen to give pupils one-to-one tablets in September 2011.

iPad Scotland Evaluation Study
(see also here)
Kevin Burden, Paul Hopkins, Dr Trevor Male, Dr Stewart Martin, Christine Trala, University of Hull, UK, 2012
Case study of mobile technology adoption from eight individual educational locations in Scotland that differ significantly in terms of demographics, infrastructure, the approach of the Local Authority and readiness to implement the use of tablet technology for learning and teaching.

Learning is Personal, Stories of Android Tablet Use in the 5th Grade
(see also here)
Marie Bjerede and Tzaddi Bondi, Learning Untethered, USA, 2012
Project explored the differences in student performance using tablets for writing versus using the more traditional netbooks, as well as the appropriateness of Android devices as an alternative to the popular iOS devices.

The iPad as a Tool for Education – A study on the introduction of iPads at Longfield Academy, Kent
Jan Webb, NAACE, UK, 2012
Research on how the use of tablets in a Kent school impacts teaching and learning.

Decoding Learning: The proof, promise and potential of digital education
Rosemary Luckin, Brett Bligh, Andrew Manches, Shaaron Ainsworth, Charles Crook, Richard Noss, NESTA, UK, 2012
Nesta commissioned the London Knowledge Lab (LKL) and Learning Sciences Research Institute (LSRI), University of Nottingham, to analyse how technology has been used in the UK education systems and lessons from around the world, in order to set a clear framework for better understanding the impact on learning experiences.

23 Monate #iPadKAS: Review 2012 und Perspektiven (in German)
A.J. Spang, Kaiserin Augusta Schule, Cologne, Germany, 2012
Report on a 23 month iPad program in a German school.

iPad Trial – Is the iPad suitable as a learning tool in schools?
Smart Classrooms, Department of Education and Training, Queensland Government, Australia, 2012
A study in two schools on the use of the iPad, as part of the Queensland Department of Education and Training’s technology initiatives.

2011

Beyond Textbooks: Year One Report
Virgina Department of Education, USA, 2011
Findings on the implications of introducing traditional textbook alternatives into fifteen pilot classrooms

What do Students Think of Using iPads in Class? Pilot Survey Results
Sam Gliksman, School Director at Los Angeles High School and editor of iPadsInEducation, USA, 2011
Results of survey of 126 students.

“There’s an App for That”: A Study Using iPads in a United States History Classroom
Emily R. Carcia, USA, 2011
Study investigates the effect of Apple iPads on achievement in an eleventh grade U.S. history classroom. Spefically, the research explored the impact of the Explore 9/11 application on student achievement.

How are students actually using IT? An ethnographic study
Christopher Cooley, Thomas M. Malaby and David Stack, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, USA, 2011
An anthropological ethnographic analysis of student practices relating to the use of information technology on the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) campus.

2011 Horizon Report for K12 Education
Larry Johnson, Leslie Conery and Keith Krueger, New Media Consortium, USA, 2011
The NMC Horizon Report series is a research venture that identifies and describes emerging technologies likely to have a large impact over the coming five years in education around the globe.

2010

The Technology Factor: Nine Keys to Student Achievement and Cost-Effectiveness
Thomas W. Greaves, Jeanne Hayes, Leslie Wilson, Michael Gielniak, and R. Peterson, Project RED, Pearson Foundation, USA, 2010
A detailed report looking at the use of technology in the education sector. The report examines 997 schools and produces outputs for 11 diverse education success measures and 22 categories of independent variables (with many subcategories).

Looking to the future: M-learning with the iPad
Karen Melhuish and Garry Falloon, New Zealand, 2010
Paper explores the potential affordances and limitations of the Apple iPad in the wider context of emergent mobile learning theory, and the social and economic drivers that fuel technology development.

The Effects of Tablets on Pedagogy
Jeremy Vrtis, National-Louis University, USA, 2010
The study examines the effects tablet computers have on the pedagogy of instructors, and students’ perspectives of the instructional uses of the tablet.

7 February 2013

Study on the introduction of iPads in UK secondary school

naace

Naace, the UK’s educational ICT association, published a report last year (July 2012), entitled “The iPad as a Tool for Education – A study on the introduction of iPads at Longfield Academy, Kent“.

“After a successful implementation at Longfield Academy in Kent and two terms of embedded use, the research shows some incredibly positive impacts on teaching and learning. The report outlines the conclusions of one of the most extensive studies so far undertaken into the use of tablets for learning. As one teacher put it, “The iPads have revolutionised teaching”, with appropriate use of iPads helping to enhance learning across the curriculum and encouraging collaborative learning. Whilst it’s early days for evaluating the impact on achievement, there are significant gains in quality and standard of pupil work and progress and potential for extending use even further. As more schools across the country consider adopting the use of tablets in classrooms, the messages from this research will be incredibly helpful for those who are deciding on their next steps.”

29 January 2013

New MA at UC London combining anthropology, materials and design

cmd-logo

“The material world is a world of social potential. Social scientists should be better equipped to engage with materials and objects through ethnographic, critical, analytical, presentational and collaborative skills. Designers, artists, engineers, architects and curators should be better equipped to work with people using similar skills.

The MA in Culture, Materials and Design is for people who are interested in developing their people-skills, and ways of thinking about culture and society, to work alongside, and with, designers, engineers, heritage professionals, environmentalists, materials scientists, and others with a pragmatic interest in materials and design.

The course is about anthropological analytical skills and ethnographic methods, with some presentational and studio group-work skills. We mainly apply these skills to exploring the cultural and social implications of materials and design. We do social science in ways which have an affinity with design and related fields.”

3 January 2013

Research on the impact of tablets in secondary schools

tabletsforschools

Two months ago I wrote about what was then one of the first qualitative studies on the impact of tablets in schools:

“Carphone Warehouse (corporate site), a UK mobile phone retailer, recently commissioned the Family Kids and Youth research agency to conduct a qualitative study of schools situated in Belfast, Kent and Essex where children are already benefiting from tablet use. The aim of the research, which ran from April to July 2012, was to find out more about how tablets are actually being used in education.”

Now the full report (95 pages) of that study is online on a new Tablets for School website.

“The report summarises findings from an evaluation study that looked at the feasibility of giving pupils in secondary schools one-to-one tablets. Research was carried out between September 2011 and July 2012 and included a literature review, a review of global evaluation studies, and an evaluation of three secondary schools that had chosen to give pupils one-to-one tablets in September 2011. The three schools were in Belfast, Kent and Essex, with the main focus of the research on the Essex school, and included a nearby ‘control school’ that did not have one-to-one tablets, plus two feeder primary schools. Interviews with school leadership were carried out in all schools, plus observation of tablet learning in the three Tablet schools across a range of subjects. In addition eighteen focus groups were carried out with pupils, parents and teachers. Results suggest several benefits to learning including an increased motivation to learn; increased parental engagement; more efficient monitoring of progress between pupil and teacher; greater collaboration between teacher and pupil and between pupil and pupil. It appears that one-to-one Tablets offer a sense of inclusion that allow children, irrespective of socio-economic status or level of attainment, an opportunity to thrive through a new pedagogical model of pupil-led learning.”

The research summary page also lists separate downloads of the key findings (Word, 8 pages), executive summary (Word, 17 pages), and executive presentation (PowerPoint, 70 slides).

In the coming weeks a new, follow-up research project is about to start.

Most interestingly, the site also links to four other research studies that are worth exploring:

2011 Horizon Report for K12 Education (40 pages)
The NMC Horizon Report series is a research venture that identifies and describes emerging technologies likely to have a large impact over the coming five years in education around the globe.

Smart Classrooms, Queensland – Is the iPad suitable as a learning tool in schools? (51 pages)
A study in two schools on the use of the iPad, as part of the Queensland Department of Education and Training’s technology initiatives. Throughout the trial, participating students and teachers evaluated the iPad’s performance in a day-to-day school setting.

Project Red : The Technology Factor (180 pages)
A detailed report looking at the use of technology in the education sector. Project RED provides unprecedented scope, breadth, and depth, examining 997 schools to produce outputs for 11 diverse education success measures and 22 categories of independent variables (with many subcategories). These include demographic measures and the effects of various student-computer ratios (1:1, 2:1 etc).

Virginia Department of Education : Beyond Textbooks, Year One Report (29 pages)
In November 2009, the Virginia Department of Education launched a project to explore the implications of introducing traditional textbook alternatives into classrooms. The Beyond Textbooks pilot was part of Learning without Boundaries, an initiative of the Virginia Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology that incorporates wireless mobile handheld technology into teaching and learning.
This report shares findings from Phase 1 of the project. Fifteen classrooms — representing four school divisions — participated in the pilot. Using a design-based research approach, evaluators collected data through formal and informal interviews, direct observations, web site posts, and e-mail messages