Recently, a student in my Digital Journalism class decided to do a feature article on the experience of closing his school-supplied Lenovo tablet laptop for the week and only using an iPad. His article is spectacular student writing in our nascent culture of journalism at ZIS, and I found the scope of his successes and challenges enlightening in one particular respect: We are not asking students to use their computers in new ways. Students like this are creative with their computers like I was creative with a darkroom and a typewriter in 1989, and the creativity is still great. Students also use their computers as textbooks, as notebooks, as Trapper Keepers, as easels, as paper, as media studios (this bit gets me excited), as telephones, as shopping malls, as billboards, as video game consoles, as televisions and movie theaters, as the conference social (think networking), and as printing presses. But, none of this is new, really. Almost everything our students do digitally has an analog in the real world. If this young journalist had to program, had to build new opportunities for other computer users, he would have had many more problems with only an iPad for the week.
Only. I realize, as one who taught in a very resource deprived American public school, how ridiculous that sounds. I know every teacher and student on Earth would take an iPad if offered, but they’d use it to keep doing the same things they are already doing. While he concludes forcefully that it would be a “huge mistake” to replace the laptop with an iPad, which I agree with, if the infrastructure at school supported Mac, much of what happens on a daily basis would still be possible for students. I don’t know exactly how to change that – maybe offer programming, as a start, and give lots of time and freedom for students to choose such courses – but I recognize that it is a problem. At any rate, if you’ve read this far, be sure to read the piece linked above.
These days, now that the shine has worn off, students involved in the action research project involving iPads more regularly come to school without them. This may sound minor, but considering the initial buzz around the iPad in the classroom and the school, it marks a shift. Indeed, when students are accessing information, consuming media, or producing media, their overwhelming choice is to use their tablet laptops, not the iPad. In fact, the savviest students use the iPad as a kind of sidecar, like an extra monitor for holding text that they can use while they make things on their laptop. This is anecdotal and it remains early days, but the sense I’m getting is that the iPad is not as good as a full-powered computer for what students do most.
My students have just completed a unit of discovery based on creating video news reports. The idea in the course is that students are trying to use the iPad, but not past the point of frustration; in short, they are problem solving when the iPad gets in their way. Students found that it was difficult to get decent video with the iPad and that the audio was very poor. iMovie on the iPad was deemed by students to be useful for sprucing up a single video clip for quick upload to Facebook or YouTube, but not for anything else. Additionally, video was difficult to get off of the iPad. Email attachments have size limits and, for some reason that I am sure is related to copyright protections, they couldn’t put any video file longer than one minute into their Dropbox accounts.
When students had video off of their iPads, they opted not to use our Lenovo tablets’ native Windows Movie Maker, which really is awful in Windows 7, but opted instead to edit the video at home on Macs with the full version of iMovie. I found this really interesting, and wonder if Microsoft hasn’t punted a bit on their formerly useful Movie Maker software as a concession to the primacy of Macintosh in this arena. The Windows Live adaption is just weird and I can’t understand how this is better for users. Final video products, which I will share once I ask students for permission, show decent fluency with the medium, but also show clearly the limitations of the iPad for academic or amateur quality video products.
The verdict is clear. No students said they would edit video on the iPad. Only three said they would shoot video with their iPad again, and several said they would rather use their smartphones. The limitations of the iPad for quality media production appear obvious.
My Digital Journalism class has finished their podcast news reports and the process was as interesting as the products. We began this project by listening to model podcasts, such as Radiolab’s amazing short “Four Track Mind.” Once students listened to some models, they edited our English department’s oral presentation rubric, resulting in this modified podcasting rubric, which I expect to modify further. Students sought to build upon earlier news reports in these podcasts, so the subject matter was not an obstacle.
Students worked in a variety of processes. Some students recorded all their audio on the iPad in Garageband. Others downloaded free apps, recorded in those apps, and offloaded to laptops; still others recorded everything on their 1 to 1 laptops. In my opinion, the most fluent and engaging podcasts were those created entirely in the iPad. Students couldn’t upload their podcasts to their blogs via the Posterous iPhone app and the files were too big for Dropbox, so they emailed the files to themselves and uploaded them. Each student reflected briefly on the process and product once they were finished and all podcasts linked below include a reflection. All podcasts shared here are shared with student and parent permission.
The podcasts show incredible attention to the conventions of media, suggesting to me that “digital natives” may not come into the classroom equipped with media creation skills, but that they do bring with them a vast experience with media consumption and a finely tuned sense of how to sound cool in a medium. The structure of our course is discovery learning, so students struggled a bit at first, and then built a good deal of fluency in the podcast medium in only a week or so. This podcast features excellent aural variety, an engaging voice, good sound quality, and smooth editing. The subsequent reflection is here. This podcast mimics many aspects of the Radiolab model and even spins some conventions onto their head, messing around with a lighthearted sense of ironic awareness even in their first attempt. The second example is also a pair project, self-selected by the students. One student took the lead and allowed the other to stretch his legs a bit with the language and acting portion of the podcast, but also covering for some technological discomfort on his partner’s behalf. The reflection briefly alludes to this. For their current video project, all students will produce a single video, even if working in groups, in order to build skills in this introductory unit. The final podcast example is smooth and straightforward, lacking the depth and complexity of the other two, but featuring good use of details and facts, as well as a clear speaking voice and subtle use of radio-style conventions. The final reflection shows depth and specificity about the process employed.
The iPad works well for podcasting, but even as I made one myself as a teaser for a “Speed Geeking” professional development opportunity this week, I found that I liked playing with music on the iPad but preferred building the podcast in Audacity. In our current video introductory project, I see more laptop use. Students seem to be recording video on the iPad and transferring it to MovieMaker. We’ll see what they wind up doing in the end.
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!
Syncing – not that big of a deal, for the most part. We will sync the iPads to a single MacBook Pro and a single iTunes account, purchasing apps with a gift card so as not to leave an open tab for HyperAngry Birds 18 to be downloaded at 1 am and so on. I don’t think this is going to be a bother for students in terms of “ownership,” but I may be wrong. Of course, because of the locked down proprietary structure of the iPad, following RSS content is not totally smooth if not routed through the Apple system. For example, if students set up a Google Reader account, they can easily read blog posts, watch video, and listen to podcasts from a single location, but, alas, the Google Reader apps cannot stream podcasts and the podcast links don’t work in Safari. So, the iPad is not a one-stop shop for digital content without each student having an individual iTunes account to which the iPad is synced or unless the paradigm is teacher centered, teacher directed media consumption, which is not a way that I will operate with secondary school students. So, new question: Is there a way to make the iPad into a totally functional media machine without individual iTunes account syncing?
Accessories – they are legion. They are expensive. They are often necessary for the functions we have come to expect from our digital companions. So, better budget for them, educators! A case is a must, a stylus comes in second place, a keyboard is awfully desirable, as I look like a Tyrannosaurus Rex typing on the thing. I’m sure there’s more…
The million dollar question: So far, nifty sidecar for me. But, students don’t have their hands on them.
New question: Is a proprietary, death-by-a-million cuts approach good for education? Do we really want to be buying lots and lots of cheap apps when the Internet used to (and, truly, still does) offer totally functional free versions of these apps?
And another: I’m super, super lucky to be working in a well-resourced school willing to take risks and experiment with possibilities in order to give kids the best possible learning environment. So, I have iPads. So far, it feels very extravagant. As I noted in my first reflection on the iPad for teaching, I could really use the iPad or a ringed notebook for the lesson planning function via Google Docs, and the notebook wins for ease of note-taking (funny, that). Perhaps more than a question, I have a quandary about the expense of the toy/tool/device. Will what we learn justify the expense? To that end, I’m working hard to learn as much as possible.
More questions are coming and I look forward to sharing some student questions and answers as we research the possibilities together.
As we move forward in the thick stew that is the beginning of any international school year, as faculty shake off the jet lag and slowly lose their suntans, a few questions have arisen in our iPad 2 pilot project that need to be (and soon will be) ironed out once the higher priority tasks are ticked off the list. They are:
Syncing – If students have individual iPads to use daily and take home at night, should they be synced to an individual laptop in a 1 to 1 school like ours or to a central Mac for managing purchased apps, etc? It’s a pilot and we are well-resourced, but we don’t have a blank check for sweet games at 10 bucks a pop. We are heading toward syncing to a central computer, but that brings up…
When do iPads get synced to a central computer? How much ownership will kids lose or perceive themselves as losing when they give up the iPad for syncing? Does this matter at all?
What about the accessories? Clearly, the iPad needs a protective case, needs paid apps, needs charging which, if centralized, becomes pretty expensive quickly.
In a 1 to 1 environment with laptops and iPads, how will students manage care of their electronics? Are their hands full already in a purely concrete respect?
Will the iPad create an efficient workflow for kids, or will it be a Personal Distraction Device?
The million (and millions of) dollar question: How on Earth can the iPad be anything other than an engaging, useful sidecar to a solid computer? I spent an hour today making a Google Doc flow chart in Adobe InDesign complete with flow charts and I couldn’t even come close to duplicating this on an iPad based on what I have been able to find so far. It’s simply not tooled up for that level of creativity. Which brings me to
What do we want kids to do in school? If the iPad doesn’t unleash the full potential of current computing technology for kids to do things with, to explore, tinker, discover, and make, and we consider it as a laptop replacement, what are we doing wrong?
These are my big questions so far and the students aren’t even back yet. But, within two weeks kids will have their hands on the iPads, so I want to be collecting answers and revising questions immediately. I really wonder what issues and questions other teachers working with iPads have at this point and need to do a little digging in the next few weeks.