A Light Bulb Moment – overcoming my barriers to mobile technologies in the classroom

Our June guest blogger is Cathy Clarkson, an Advanced Teaching and Learning Coach from Kirklees College. Below, Cathy shares her reflections on using mobile technologies in the classroom, the focus of her practitioner-led action research project in 2014 – 15.

In 2013 I undertook an action research project, through LSIS and sunCETT, titled “I’m not an Apple Salesperson but …” It would certainly be true to say that I love my iPad & had used a previous grant to buy several iPads which I’d given out to tutors and students to use as their own devices. I would be asked “how do you use them in class?” and I would give a politicians answer by talking about how useful they are as a personal device and quietly admit I’d never used them in class.

During the project I had a ‘light bulb’ moment.

I realised that I had significant barriers to using iPads in the classroom. The college didn’t have any devices to be used in the classroom so had never done it. I suddenly realised there was a big gap in my practice.

Action research for me has always had two common themes. One has been around the use of technologies. The other has been about creating a space for collaboration with tutors (and students). Therefore, I decided to bring all my iPads together to create a class set & found some great colleagues to explore using them in their classes.

That was two years ago.  I now have some answers to the question “how do you use them in class?”

Student-Led Activities.

  1. Student choice (within a set task.)

The iPads are available throughout the lesson but there is not a specific task that is designed to use them. The students can choose when and how to use the iPads to help with any of the classroom activities.  For my low level ESOL students they may use a translation app or Google images. For example, during a lesson on hygiene products and parts of the body, the three groups all used the iPads differently to draw and label a person.

  1. Guided Free Time.

There is a time set aside, usually at the end of the lesson, for students to use the iPads as they choose. In an E3 maths group the students enjoyed the freedom to choose and use maths apps. In a 16-18 Functional Skills class the tutor used this time as a reward for completing their work early. In my ESOL class I also used this method as an extension task – in the same lesson on parts of the body, as each group completed their diagram I directed them to two apps and left them to choose which to use.

The class set of iPads have been particularly useful for lower level groups. We found this year that higher groups (a GCSE maths and a PGCE group) all had their own devices. In these classes the class set had limited use. Students preferred to use their own devices. However, we found in the lower level groups there were more students who didn’t have their own devices, or someone in the house may have one (usually their kids) but they never used it and didn’t know how. In these groups lots of technical support was needed initially to learn how to use the iPads, eg the role of the Home button, how to access and close apps, how to navigate.

Teacher-Led Activities

I still find this the most difficult question to answer. Almost all the tutors involved in the project over the last two years have taken the student-led approaches.

There are lots of apps available, and this has been one of the issues. Last year I used a whiteboard app called Ask3, which was then closed down last summer. This year I switched to an app called Show Me, but there are lots of apps available with similar functionalities (explain everything, educreations, screen chomp)

With many of these apps there are three main ways you can use them:

  1. They have a bank of videos made by other tutors that you can direct your students to.
  2. The tutor can made a video for the students to watch.
  3. The students can make their own video.

When I have considered planning a task that requires an iPad app I have found the SAMR model useful. I think it is a good model to help decide what the benefits are to using technology in your lesson.

When the project first started I felt a lot of pressure in each class to be using the iPads. Now I am feeling more confident about the decisions I’m making – including the fact that it is OK not to use them. We should never be pressured into using something that we feel is not useful for our students.

So now when I’m asked “how do you use iPads with your students?” I have lots of examples. I know that I wouldn’t have the same knowledge, skills or confidence without my amazing colleagues, and I have found their enthusiasm and motivation to challenge themselves, me and each other invaluable.

You can find my research report at collaborativeCPD.com