At one point last year, during a meeting of my school’s leadership team, referred to as a Curriculum Area Leader meeting, I said “Sign me up.” This is the kind of statement I have been known to make when somebody throws out a wild idea that fits my educational philosophy. Implicitly, I attempt to express support for an idea in this manner. Explicitly, I agree to take part. Which is why I now teach in a classroom twice the size of any other at my school, and why that classroom has no doors, separated from our giant hallways, known as coreways, by a partial wall of glass.
This has positives:
Amazing space for flexible furniture arrangements, including a couch and a tall round table with stools
An open classroom fits my philosophy and approach – come on in! We’re a community.
Classrooms are awkwardly small in our building, which was built to encourage breaking out of classrooms into the gigantic hallways. We get the best of both worlds with the new room.
Lots of light!
We now have a water fountain in my room, which is great. Hydration is life.
We get to play with a new generation Smartboard projector. After three years of trying, I get a regular whiteboard to use! Wahoo!
The downside is that I keep tapping the whiteboard with my finger when the beamer is on. The pen is an awkward tool thus far.
Drawbacks also exist:
The classroom can become suddenly swamped by noise. For some reason today, the PE teachers were rocking out to AC/DC and the door from the gym to our floor was open. Loud. Two teachers choose to communicate between stairwells – loud. Giggles – loud.
Somebody overheard me talking about 50 Shades of Grey in AP Literature, which led to some light teasing. I was making a profound point about genre… 🙂
It is now totally impossible to do any high quality recording in our classroom for digital journalism purposes. The ambient noise is too unpredictable.
The coolest thing about this classroom is that it is a leap toward a more open school. I am always surprised by the reticence of some colleagues to have others enter their classrooms; I understand concerns about interruptions, but have never found this to be an actual problem. My guess is that my classes will grow more and more comfortable with class that isn’t behind walls, less likely to be disturbed by people wandering in and out, and immune to the ambient noises. We’ll see.
The coolest thing that happened today, tangentially related to the classroom layout, was that a student asked to sometimes drop by the new Digital Journalism 2 course for help with her writing. We discussed how she could choose to write for some editions of the student newspaper, stopping into the class (which coincides with a free period for most 11th and 12th graders) whenever she wanted feedback from a peer or from me. She was stoked enough by the idea to join in for class today and get a preview of our Basecamp setup for managing the paper. The open classroom sets a tone, reinforced by students opting into some sessions of the course during their free periods. I can’t help but think this sends a cool message to the kids who are enrolled – others want to be here, too!
Certainly, this is a bit of an experiment at school, and I’m honored to be leading the charge. Another colleague teaches two courses in the space, while I teach a full load of five courses there. I will regularly reflect on our experiences as they accumulate.
Today was interesting with our iPads in Digital Journalism. Students are working on a first podcast based on a short current event article written last week. I provided links to tutorials on two ways of making a podcast – one in Garage Band and one in Aviary on their laptops. Most students dove in, playing with different options and experiencing some real frustration with inflexibilities in Garage Band. However, many swiftly figured out ways to make Garage Band work or found other apps for recording voice and sound.
Two students spent almost the entire period searching the App Store for paid apps that would “make the podcast,” as they described it. They ignored the tutorials even after redirection and lost an hour looking for simple solutions for sale. Is this the design of the iPad and App Store?
Another student found the Stitcher Smart Radio app and explored podcasts, listening to several. She reported that she “just listened to a lot of podcasts to know how it should be.” This is an example of using models to learn and playing to the strength of the iPad – media consumption.
A number of students in the class are almost finished with this podcast project and stand ready to help their peers along toward completion themselves. Already, kids have gravitated toward one another based on percieved strengths and natural cooperative learning seems to be taking place, although for one student who dislikes and is uncomfortable with technology, I’m concerned he’s taking a backseat and not learning hard skills of media creation as a result. We spoke about how they are working together today and this is something I will keep an eye on going forward.
Finally, it was interesting to hear how students are developing strategies for the podcast, some working solely on the iPad or fluently on the device, as some might say. Others are offloading to their laptops or Macs at home in order to create the product. They will submit their podcasts by uploading them to their Posterous blogs (or Spaces, as they have recently been rebranded). I have an open mind right now about which way is best and figure the proof will be in the pudding!
Please excuse any weird formatting or lingering spelling or grammar errors. I wrote the first draft of this on my iPad in the WordPress app and uploaded photos from the iPad through that app. It was awkward at best, and I have endeavored to clean it up on my wife’s netbook with a German keyboard. This hasn’t been my favorite blogging experience ever! I think I like my Android phone for blogging more than the iPad. Hmm…
As part of the action research project we have embarked upon with students in my Digital Journalism class as part of the iPad pilot, we asked kids to read and edit our school’s Responsible Use Policy for the iPad. This policy is intended for a 1 to 1 tablet laptop environment, and the students immediately began digging in and turning up lots of incompatibilities, from points intended to protect the network from viruses to the hackable nature of the iPad. One of the first “ah-ha” moments came over the school publishing policy, which is well outdated and well-meaning, but not compatible with an environment chock full of digital publishing and sharing. As a result, a conversation has been initiated that I hope will lead to substantive, progressive changes, but we’ll see. In terms of what we could actually change ourselves, we edited the policy in bold print as follows:
Faculty, staff, or students may not transmit or seek access to materials which violate laws, infringe on copyrights, or have threatening, obscene, or racist content unless in the context of investigative research.
This change made sense in a journalism classroom. I applaud the young woman who pointed it out and re-wrote it.
I understand that streaming video or music, social networking sites, instant messaging and chat, video games are not allowed during class time unless used for completion of classroom activities or permitted by a teacher;
This change probably says more about the power of iTunes than any other, but the iPad is a media machine, so this policy without the change handcuffs the functionality of the tool. The next change is related to this one:
I will not intentionally disrupt school network traffic with high bandwidth use for personal entertainment such as downloading music, videos, or online gaming;
The next two relate to the nature of the iPad. We synced all class iPads to a single account with no way to purchase apps, but shared the password to allow the downloading of free apps:
— I will not give out my password to anyone nor use someone else’s password or log-in identity and I understand the dangers of giving out personal information;
— I will not share the ZIS Digital Journalism account information with anyone;
This next change comes from our savviest Apple student who proudly hacks his family iPads to allow for free app use. He is clearly the expert in the room. This point initially dealt with viruses, worms, etc.:
— I will not deliberately introduce any harmful or nuisance program or file including executable files from untrustworthy websites, or deliberately circumvent any precautions taken by the school to prevent this from happening;
Again, from our 15 year old Apple expert:
— I agree to comply with trademark, copyright laws, data protection laws and computer misuse laws, and to give credit to all sources used. I also agree not to jailbreak or otherwise hack the iPad in any way for any reason;
The next changes were necessary to navigate the tricky nature of a 1 to 1 iPad setup, because kids can authorize the iPad on their own iTunes account and put a lot of money in apps, music, and other media into the iPad, only to give it up in the spring. Of course, de-authorizing the iPad should mean they lose nothing from this activity, but we also wanted to circumvent students begging for apps from parents that are “necessary” for school. If they pitch the idea to the class, we can get paid apps, but they don’t need to be buying them on their own.
The user accepts responsibility for all software on the machine. The user agrees not to alter the core configuration of the iPad, but may install additional software or apps without approval by the ZIS IT Department. However, any apps purchased by the student for use with their iTunes account are their own responsibility, must adhere to previously stated policies of responsible, acceptable use, and will not be reimbursed by ZIS for any reason.
Finally, the iPads were provided with funds separate from our 1 to 1 program and intended as a pilot. As such, the iPads don’t carry the same sort of insurance as their laptop brethren. So we added the following, which I think is totally fair:
The user accepts responsibility for the physical security of the iPad. The machine is not insured under the school’s insurance policies and will not be replaced irregardless of accidental or purposeful damage or destruction. Additionally, if a user is deemed negligent they may be held responsible for replacement of the iPad, such as the iPad being left unattended and in view in a car or unattended in a public place, in which case the user will be held personally liable for any loss or theft.
We provided students with big, burly cover for their iPads and wished them well. In order to take their 1 to 1 iPad, students returned the cooperatively modified RUP with signatures from themselves and their parents, as well as with an action research informed consent letter that I’m happy to share if anyone is interested (just comment). This week, we are off and running, students are keeping reflective notes in shared Google docs as we go, and I’m excited to see what happens next.
Today we put iPads in the hands of the students, and it was pretty fascinating to watch. Immediately, students began following their interests and trying to shape the platform to fit their needs. One student signed up his student email account, got a Google app for Docs, Mail, and Reader all lined up first thing. Another set of kids set up Facetime unsuccessfully, switched to student emails, and threw on Dropbox between hilarity with Photo Booth and video. Another kid read several articles on The New York Times and then grabbed the app once he worked out how to navigate the App Store. Yet another interviewed a fellow classmate for an article he is writing while another peer made videos into films in iMovie. And this was in the first fifteen minutes.
Students kept notes in Google Docs while they worked, noting questions and tracking their decisions as they went. Questions arose about using multiple accounts, sharing apps and media downloaded via their personal accounts, and connectivity (which was surprising and is something I still don’t really understand – they were working on the wireless just fine).
As we reflected after the fact, we broke down several categories of users that emerged instantaneously:
The utilitarian – give me the apps I need to succeed in class and make my life easier
The social networker – let me talk, chat, and share with my peers
The media maven – let me have my music and find the entertainment and information I want
The creator – smile for my camera, mug for my video camera, and talk to my recording device. I will alter, cut, slice, and splice until my little heart’s content
The pragmatist – I will use this device for what it gets me of value and want to know how I can use to make something of value
All students veered between these categories at least a little, but some landed pretty solidly into one category. Surprisingly, I didn’t see a single student who fell into the social networker category alone. The kids who sweated over Facetime and Facebook also were first to arrange their student email accounts and set up Dropbox. Something is happening here and it’s exciting. My first impressions are much more complex than I had anticipated and suggest that we have made the right moves in allowing kids a great deal of flexibility, ownership, and a transparent role in the action research component of the pilot. I think they feel honored and excited to be feeding back information and teaching the teachers. More to come soon!