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Using iPads to Support Learning
Brittany Holsapple

Brittany Holsapple is a Learning Support Specialist at Leysin American School. She joined us in August 2015. She already had previous experience using an iPad as a teacher, but she was not part of the roll out to students in her previous employment. Fortunately, she was able to explore a small roll out with us at LAS. Brittany works in a very specialized program supporting six students in the classroom and in the evening in our Extended Learning Support Program (ELSP). As Brittany defines her role and the ELSP’s role, she is exploring different strategies to support and engage students. Using technology is a large part of this. Brittany’s students have been identified as requiring special educational needs and she shares some surprising results.

There are thousands of articles about how technology can support student learning, what is your take on technology in this sense? There are obviously great examples of technology supporting students in learning, from simple but engaging apps that develop discrete Mathematics or English language skills, to higher order skills like collaborating on Google Docs. One of the students I support is currently writing a paper in History, and even though I can’t physically be with him, he really enjoys that he can send an email to me asking for help, and I offer him feedback right inside the document. It maintains that supportive feel, and we stay connected - I do it right on the go with my iPad and that’s one of those examples of technology allowing me to do something otherwise impossible.

Also, I really like how engaged my students are when they are playing an apparently ‘childish’ game, but yet they are still learning. I have to say though it’s a real double-edged sword, often the students that need the most support are the ones most incapable of focusing on the task at hand - technology is now providing students with easy access to distracting content. The trick is to unbalance the learning so good technology use outweighs the bad.

Having just spent six months using iPads in your program, can you summarize how it went? It’s funny, I started with my own iPad in our small group evening sessions and the students were curious about it, “Can we have a go, miss?” they would say. I quickly realized that I could use this as a behavior management strategy with the students and I’d offer an extension or reward task on the iPad. It worked really well. So much so that within a couple of weeks I requested a class set from our IT support, and when it was up and running I was reaping the rewards - the students all bought into the idea that using an iPad was cool, so I just ran with it. I spent a lot of time researching apps and I set up the iPads in an individual way, so students have their own set of apps to use. It took a lot of time, but it has been worth it.

What challenges did you face with this project? The biggest challenge I faced was an unexpected one: the students are too motivated. Students will now rush through their work just so they can start to use the iPads. At times this meant poor quality work in favor of speedy completion. I started to check their understanding a lot more and this led me to another problem. I really want to build an element of trust, allowing students the flexibility to build their own learning tools and paths, but the moment I ‘check-up’ on work completed and refuse access to the iPad until the work is at an acceptable level, I receive a little push back as I become an authoritative figure. It’s really hard to balance. Another big challenge is the tendency of some students to jump around from app to app, especially the students with ADHD. A colleague showed me how you can use parental controls and triple click to lock apps, and while I can see that being effective in some cases, it breaks down the trust that I try to build in our small group, not least the fact that it limits access to multiple apps at once - like when researching on the internet and creating a paper in the Google Docs app. I have no concrete answers on how to solve this yet.

What about infrastructure and acquiring iPads, were they easy to set up? From the moment I wanted to move from one iPad to a small set six for the class, I placed a request with my IT support and I had a response within two hours. Credit to the team, we do have a lot of support with IT at LAS, when they came back to me with a response within two hours I was very pleasantly surprised. The downside to that was that I felt the need to implement immediately and without really thinking it through I used my own personal login on each iPad. Nothing malicious was ever done, but it meant I had to request an extra layer of support to go through and remove any sensitive data or access credentials. Never underestimate the strength of your IT department, the least you can do is ask.

What advice would you give to a new faculty member who enters into a similar research project? Research the devices and decide what you need them for, regardless of what technology you use. I read so many articles about iPads and titles with ‘Best apps for...’ are a good place to start, but really look in depth at how the apps can be used. I found so many great uses for an app when at first glance it looked really simple. A good example of this is Explain Everything, it’s much more than a whiteboard, read about it!

Play with the apps before you give them to students, and understand that age appropriate estimates are not always accurate. I have one student who declared an app childish while another loves it and won’t put it down (Zombie Math). I have an ESL student with a reading age of 4.8 but she is in ninth grade, so it really does depend on the student. The key is to play with the app and you can decide whether it is age appropriate for your students.

Planning is key, I jumped in a little fast and I could have set up my iPads in a better way for each student without using my own credentials. I’m aware that Apple is trying to make it easier by setting up iPads without an Apple ID, the ETA of 2016 is a little too far off for me. It’s important to scout for a little information in your school: Was there previously a project? What did users learn? It could be anything from policies on allowing students to own the iPads to learning that volume purchase programs are not fully set up in your country. I could have learned all this from a few conversations at the start.

My final piece of advice is to understand that there is no such thing as a silver bullet. Cut yourself and students some slack. There will be good days, where the students will work great, the tech is functional, and everything’s going your way. Then there will be bad days, the exact opposite will happen and you’ll wonder why you bother. Just think back to those lessons where the students were really enjoying what they were doing, and remember the trick is to unbalance the learning so the good technology use outweighs the bad.

What’s next for you? I’m going to start incorporating the use of an Apple TV, I’ll see how that goes - I want to see if it all ‘just works’ because I have heard of a number of problems with crashes when mirroring an iPad. For this reason, it’s good for schools to start with just one or two in various places. I’d also like to step back a little and replicate prior studies at LAS. I now know we have generic student Apple accounts so I’d like to see how I can use these and just generally investigate best practices for iPad implementation at LAS. Perhaps one day every student will have one, or even every teacher will have access to a set so that they too can come up with new exciting and innovative lessons.

Summary

Brittany has really developed a good sense of how an iPad roll-out can be achieved on a small scale. She has shared her experiences and we have realized the power of the iPad, but we have also realized what we need to be able to do to support an iPad initiative. One issue surrounds the culture of technology use and developing responsible learners. This means looking into the expectations of students when using technology and also finding ways to allow faculty to use an iPad that supports and enhances learning and embraces the power of the iPad as a motivational tool. Most surprising for me was the idea of students becoming “too motivated” by the iPad, leaving other work by the wayside. It’s not a problem that one would immediately consider, but it’s definitely worth thinking about.

Small scale studies like this one really set the path for schools like ours. We can build on this and in time we might just have the tools we need to use technology to support learning at the highest level. The next stage for us is to solicit feedback from a few students, engage them in discussion about what it would mean for them to buy and own their own iPad, and ultimately plan for next year. Our IT team will be crucial in all this and they have built up a wealth of knowledge on how to support teachers with iPads. It’s exciting to think what could come of this.

 

  • Panorama 2016