Apple Education Event

Today I was at an Apple Education Event, organised by Toucan at the Apple European Briefing Centre above the Regent Street Apple Store. The venue is a bit like a private Apple Store, with all the various Apple products laid out on wooden benches in the refreshments area, and then a mid-sized meeting room with big screens and swivel chairs. Very swish!

The day was composed of an opening Apple Spiel (pretty much exactly the same as the other Apple Events I’ve been to, ie. how mobile technology is changing the face of education and how Apple stuff is supremely place to capitalise this) and then various speakers from schools who’ve used iPads. One stand-out feature from the opening ‘on-message’ part was the power of iTunes U. Schools, and even just individual teachers, can create private courses and manage all the content that students access. The iPad in a sense becomes a VLE (virtual learning environment), offering something far richer and more useful than the horror that is Fronter. I hope to look into this very soon, particularly as a way to get the Y5&6 teachers using their iPads.

The rest of the presentations seem like a bit of a blur now, but here are some of the highlights which stand out:

  • Other methods can work, but it seems that a one-to-one deployment of iPads is the best and most productive way. I’d really like to see somewhere where this is happening and grill them over the details. It’s not something that is ruled out for our school, but the case has got to be strong.
  • Cedars School of Excellence (home of Fraser Speirs and the first ever 1:1 iPad deployment in the world) got a mention, including a natty little video explaining what they’d done. All the kid’s iPads weren’t in cases though – apparently Apple asked for them to be removed in the video!
  • Meraki got a mention as a way of managing loads of iPads. I really want to look into this, as it is apparently free! The mention was from a large international school, in the process of deploying 600 or so iPads, so it can’t be that bad.
  • There were lots of different apps demonstrated, some with more success than others. It seems that the recommendation is to find the ‘core’ apps for your school and really use them effectively, rather than buying gazillions of apps. Interestingly, content creation apps really are the key ones (ie. iLife and iWork titles plus things like Comic Life or Book Creator).
  • DIY charge and sync solutions also got a mention. It was nice to hear someone also balking at the thought of spending £1000 to sync and charge 16 iPads when a more homespun solution works pretty much as well.
  • The newly announced VPP programme (Volume Purchase Programme) was talked about a few times too. I’m glad it’s here but probably won’t be using it until June 2013 when further iPads are deployed.

I guess I’ve come away feeling a little overwhelmed at the enormity of the task of getting these iPads to really work in a school, but also the huge potential they hold in transforming children’s learning. I hope that we get it right!

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Simple

“It used to be ‘simple when you know how’ but now it’s just ‘simple.'” That’s how Abdul Chohan from Essa Academy summed up making use of the Apple ecosystem in his school (AppleTV, iPod Touch, iPad and Mac). However, watching one Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE) try and demonstrate an iPad workflow to a room of beginners made me think that using iPads in schools is not always as easy as one might think.

The South London Apple Education Leadership Summit was pretty good fun though. It was held at the Kia Oval, with fantastic views of the cricket ground (and cricketers) as we drank coffee beforehand on a sunny balcony. Great hospitality and very friendly delegates.

The events started with an Apple spiel, explaining Apple’s commitment to education right from the beginning and how the iPad is part of the disruptive post-PC world. I’m not sure quite how true the historical sketch was, but I liked the comparison to the introduction of the printing press (One book per student? Are people crazy?). There was also the emphasis of the 4 sources of content for the iPad – web, iTunes U, iBooks and App Store. I am eager to get my hands on iTunes U a bit more once we get some iPads in!

Then came a case study from the principal of Fitch Green Primary in Essex. She showed loads of clips and videos of the impressive work children had been doing with Apple devices. It was very inspiring (sickeningly even!). She talked about the importance of getting children to think and mentioned how the National Curriculum has, in a sense, deskilled teachers as they don’t have to think as much. Perhaps.

Joe Moretti, an ADE, then talked us through lots of different apps we had on our (Apple-supplied) iPads. The wireless USB microscope was pretty cool.

A brief introduction to a new purchase programme then followed, which allows parents to contribute to a school hire-purchasing iPads. This includes a very comprehensive insurance package as well. Might be something to look into…

Before and after lunch was a hands-on workshop about the iPad from another ADE. I went to the ‘introduction to the iPad’, which was I think aimed at those who had never really touched an iPad before. It was quite helpful for seeing how to introduce the iPad to members of staff. There were quite a few questions about the practicalities of deploying iPads and quite a lot of confusion about getting files on and off iPads. DropBox was promoted highly as a solution to this, but it still seems pretty fangled to me. Maybe I need to look into it more.

One thing that particularly interested me was a mac app called Reflection. This allows an iPad to be mirrored to the screen of a Mac, wirelessly. It’s only $15 and could well be a cheaper solution to an AppleTV. My concern with the AppleTV is that it’s adding one more layer of complexity with the projectors – switching sound sources on amps, changing the projector channel etc. If it works, that would be awesome!

The event closed with a talk from Abdul. He covered much ground to what he said in January, but put in a bit more detail about how they use the iPod touches that they have deployed to every child. What struck me was how they always ask ‘why’ when evaluating traditional education technology (such as the über-expensive IWB) and spend the savings they make on Apple kit instead. Nice.

I came away feeling that it was a useful time, but now I think I want to go to a more super-technical Apple event. They did say they would be trying to organise one, so we shall see.

Learning with Apple

I’m currently on the bus, on my way to the South London Apple Education Leadership Summit… should be fun! There’s very much going to be an iPad focus, which is good as I want to really get my head around the best way to deploy, use and manage iPads in a school. I’m not sure how technical it will be, but hopefully there will be some techy people there for me to interrogate.

Thoughts on iBooks

Apple’s announcement this week about iBooks 2, iTunes U and iBooks Author was very interesting.  Fraser Speirs has written a good article about it over at Macworld discussing it all.

Here are my thoughts:

  • Having a school of Macs puts us in a very good position to take advantage of all this stuff if and when we get iPads.
  • iBooks Author is remarkably like Pages and Keynote.  Really must do some staff training on iWork to get people used to them…
  • I’m already intrigued about using Wiki Server to distribute ePub documents to students and so the ability to create interactive e-textbooks becomes a lot more interesting and useful.
  • iTunes U is definitely something to be looked into, especially if it can replace features of a VLE.  More investigation needed.
  • I wonder how we are meant to install iBooks Author across a network? I don’t fancy setting up a iTunes account for every machine in the school.

Apple European Education Leadership Summit

It sounds a pretty impressive title, and it was a pretty impressive day! Epic location – St Pancras Renaissance Hotel – and usual Apple polish and detail. But it was a very useful and interesting day, with big and small session input, discussions with schools and even presentations from kids using iPads about their learning (very startling that one!)

Apple TV

I think the Apple TV was the secret star of the show, effortlessly allowing iPad screens to be mirrored to any projected surface or TV. This sets the iPad free to become a genuinely useful tool to teach from, share children’s work and all kinds of other things. Lots of interest in this. And it’s remarkably, remarkably cheap. I feel that the rip-off days of the ‘Interactive-if-you’re-lucky-whiteboard’ are numbered.

The ecosystem (the ‘glue’)

A guy called Abdul Chohan from a secondary academy called ‘ESSA’ in Bolton had an amazing story to tell. The school he worked at had something like 55% of pupils achieving 5 A*-C at GCSE. Not great. Something had to be done. So he bought an iPod touch for every student. That, plus lots of other changes, saw the now academy turned around and they now have 100% achieving at least 5 A*-Cs. It’s not magic but technology plays a huge part in it. They now have a purpose-build new campus with technology everywhere. It looks like a stunning place.

The really interesting part came though when he talked about the apple ecosystem (the ‘glue’ – mac/iPod/iPad). In a workshop, he showed us the wiki server that they use to deliver all their lessons. Pupils log on using their iPod touches and then download any resources required, such as ePub documents that can be viewed in iBooks anytime (no Internet connection required). I’ve used the wiki server at school for our ICT club but I never seriously thought of using it to replace a VLE…

Shoes-off Learning

There was also this guy called Stephen Heppell who talked about lots things he’d seen in technology over the world. One thing he mentioned was where classrooms were ‘shoes off’ (mainly in Scandinavian places) which hugely helped children’s learning and behaviour. Apparently it helps kids feel more like they’re at home and so are more relaxed and engaged. Worth a try sometime…?

He also talked about a thing Apple do called Challenged Based Learning. Worth a look too.

Anyway, that’ll do for now. Brain very buzzing!

Hello world!

Over the last year or so, I’ve had the fantastic opportunity of introducing Apple Macs to our Primary school.  It’s been good fun, but it’s not been entirely straightforward so I thought I would share some of the highs and lows with anyone out there who might be interested.