From 8th January – 22nd March I chose one class, my First Year class (aged 11-12) to give up using exercise books, reading books and textbooks. Instead, they would use only digital mediums that were available to them through an iPad that they were supplied with during each lesson.
We are now at the halfway point of this test, and I wanted to reflect a little on what I have found so far.
The first stumbling block was the fact that the iPads that they had access to were not theirs to take home – they were issued at the start of each lesson and collected in at the end. So, I needed something stable, reliable and powerful that would work across any platform to be at the core of what we did. The natural choice for this was Evernote.
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Evernote would do two of the key things I really needed – it allows my students to curate their work (which can be produced in a multitude of mediums) in an orderly, logical fashion, and, perhaps most exciting, it allowed me to observe their work as they created it, through shared notebooks. In addition to this, we have utilized other parts of the Evernote family by using Skitch and Penultimate which automatically sync drawings and handwritten notes amongst other things) straight to your main Evernote folders.
On the surface of it, this meant that I had simply digitized what has always been; they have an exercise book that is held on the cloud instead of on physical pages.
So is it worth it?
The answer is, yes. As a result of this experiment I have had to adapt and adjust the way things have been done in the past. The most obvious change is the way I have approached my marking of their work. I felt that if I had gone to the trouble of setting up a digital portfolio of their work, then asking them to print it off each time I wanted to mark it would be a backwards step, especially given that I had access to the work whenever I wanted it. So, I marked the work on my computer. For each note that they created, I had a corresponding Text box on a Pages document.
As I read the work in Evernote, I made both formative and summative assessment of the work as I saw it. The flaw in this plan at the moment, is that I’m not physically putting ‘pen to paper’ in order to correct work, instead I’m pointing out errors through my comments. Whilst I don’t see this as a particularly bad thing, it is something I am going to experiment with in this second half of term using a PDF annotating app, which will allow me to open up their work in a secondary app and make actual corrections to the work.
That said, the summary sheet that accompanied this scheme of work was very well received by parents; there was a sense that this document gave them the clearest possible indication of how their child was progressing in the subject and was more accessible than trying to look through an exercise book. I have also got the impression (though I will attempt tot collect data on this) that parents have been quite heavily involved at home with regards to discussing and using Evernote and the iPads in general, which has had a very positive impact on how the whole ‘experiment’ has been received.
Has the work improved?
In a class of 22, I would say that there were 2 or 3 students who have struggled with the technology aspect of this project. The workflows used are relatively simple, but they do take some getting used to and the students involved had less developed motor skills and organizational skills than the other students.
For the rest of the class, I have noticed that the overall trend is that the level of effort they put in to work has increased and their attainment, or actual academic level, has moved along with this. The use of technology has masked totem the fact that we have handled material way beyond the expected level. The great thing about having a device like the iPad in the classroom is that it has made them realize that no problem is insurmountable.
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If I ask them something they don’t know, they look it up, if they come across a word they’re unsure of, they look it up. If they need to know how to make the app they’re using do smoothing, they ask their friends or they look it up. My students are more independent as a result of this experiment and yet at the same time I am able to spend more individual time with them discussing ideas and problems.
The summary so far…
Evernote, the related apps and then the iPad in general have allowed my students to produce more varied work than they would have without it. There notes are organised, unlike their exercise books. There is far less missing work, there are no missed deadlines and they feel that this work is more important to them.
In this 6 week block just gone by they have been studying poetry. They have looked at incredibly challenging material, ranging from identifying the key aspects of a Shakespearean sonnet, right through to studying and comparing poems by Langston Hughes. They have annotated poems online, created a glossary of poetic terms, a video poem of one of Hughes’ poems, an eBook of their favorite poems which they have designed and illustrated, as well as curating notes on how to begin the process of analysing poetry and examples of them having a go at the very challenging task.
As I have already mentioned, much of this work is beyond their years in terms of complexity and subtlety and yet their grades have either maintained the level they were at, or gone up; none have floundered. Do I think that the technology has facilitated them accessing more complex material in a meaningful way? Unreservedly.
In this next four week period these same students will continue in this trial. I will collect data from them about their own perception of how their learning has been challenged/improved and how they would hope to progress from this point. They will be studying A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which they will read as an iBook. They will continue to curate their notes in Evernote, but in this second half of the trial I hope to challenge them to use a wider variety of apps, come to me with their own recommendations, and maintain the high standard of curation that they have started. I hope to address the difficulty of marking, so that I can feedback in a wider variety of ways and I hope to continue to produce work in as many different mediums as possible. Already they have created a short film of the opening of the play using Puppet Pals, and I’m looking forward to seeing how things progress