When we made the decision to equip our students with iPads, either for class use for our younger users or 1:1 for students in the senior school and sixth form, we knew we were unlocking a host of opportunities. Some were easily identified, others have gradually revealed themselves through an iterative process. An illustrative list in no order of priority includes the benefits of instant access to the Internet without the hassle of booking IT rooms; enriched digital communication; a range of handy apps; a virtual multimedia studio; and the creation of our own iBooks and iTunesU resources tailored to the learning needs of our students. What we did not perhaps appreciate was the impact digital devices could have on the physical learning environment.
As we come to the end of the second year of iPad use the challenge to think differently about our school is now compelling. The personal device clearly has the potential to transform the relationship between the learner and classroom. The traditional school desk no longer need define the pupil – sedentary, facing towards the front of the class where the teacher conducts the learning in front of a board interactive or otherwise. The iPad offers the opportunity for teaching and learning to inhabit the space in the room as led by the learning rather than furniture constraints. The iPad is essentially an enabler and accelerator removing physical barriers offering the learner a versatile platform to a digital world. I would argue that in the traditional classroom the learner arrives confident of the pattern of the lesson, where the temptation is to learn passively; contrast this with the possibility of a learning space characterised by flexibility. Now the youngster enters the classroom with a sense of anticipation rather than familiarity. The lesson may require a traditional approach however with flexible furniture the space can be cleared for collaborative learning or indeed learners could spill out into break out areas to focus on their learning rather than progressing at the pace of the rest of the class. I have witnessed this in our Junior School where children in Year 5, having completed a design project, used the Explain Everything app to evaluate their work. Whilst some children used the classroom space others were to be found in the corridor area. Ultimately the iPad offers this ultimate flexibility.
In essence the classroom environment is unlocked. The challenge therefore is what can we do differently to enhance or indeed transform the classroom? We already are beginning to experiment with ideas paint which allows teachers and students to write on the walls of the classroom as they explore their thinking – the iPad of course allows this work to be captured through the handy camera. An Apple TV can denote the front of the room or there can be several TVs located around the room which of course can be used in a more differentiated way. Or the entire room can be transformed into a rain forest or the ocean using technology.
And the library can be revolutionised. We have already reconceived our library spaces. In a digital age a library has to be more than a space for the storage of books. In our senior school the Cabinet of Curiosities offers the perfect balance between the real and digital world. Whilst the Cabinet currently boasts a real life trench with a range of objects and images from World War One, we also have an iBook which offers enriched resources for students instantly accessible on their iPads. Yet we are now eagerly anticipating the possibilities offered by iBeacon. iBeacon allows the Curator of the Cabinet literally to curate the space by defining zones where the iPad user can seamlessly access content. Moving to the trench space could trigger access to a range of digital resources on trench warfare; or the words “Dulce et Decorum Est” can open the world of war poetry and the life of Wilfred Owen. This technology really does lift the learning experience to another level.
What I have learnt is that the iPad is not a replacement for tools that work perfectly well. It certainly does not replace the teacher or the Curator. The iPad is a powerful additional tool for the teacher and learner which reconfigures the learning opportunities in an engaging way expanding the horizons of everyone in the school community beyond the traditional physical spaces. We are only now really beginning to understand how transformative a personal device can be in and beyond the classroom. It truly allows every space in a school to be a learning space.