Discussions: Making it easier to capture what was said, and creating new ways to contribute to discussions in the first place…your students are going to love what’s possible when they start swapping ideas via iPad.
The engagement trap
One of the reservations many teachers have about the iPad enabled classroom is that students will disappear into their devices, becoming iStudents, oblivious to anybody else in the room.
Managed thoughtfully, the reality is starkly different. Not only does the easily-gathered-around and hey-look-what-I-just-did nature of the iPad encourage collaboration, its wifi connectivity opens the delicious possibility of extending that collaboration to students who can’t be in the same physical space.
So instead of just studying volcanoes by using mere books (hah!) or wikipedia entries (pshaw!), students could be running a Skype session with a school that’s actually in the shadow of Mt. Etna in Italy, and then asking those students anything they like. What does it smell like? Are you afraid? Have you ever seen lava?
And in response to “just how close are you?”, the iPad at the Mt. Etna end can actually be pointed out the classroom window, so everyone can see the smoking summit for themselves…
Contrast this with “please read the page I’ve photocopied about Mt. Etna and then fill in the information sheet.”
But there’s more to collaboration than occasionally delivering the world to your students. Regular discussions within your classroom have never been as engaging, inclusive and flexible as iPad makes possible—assuming, as ever, that you’ve got the right apps.
Fairer, more inclusive discussions
One of the challenges with conventional throw-the-question-to-the-room classroom discussions is that the format is skewed in favor of those who are confident about speaking, and can formulate their answers quickly. You may be a student with a deep grasp of the relevant issues, but if you’re uneasy about addressing the class—or like to take a few minutes to really think things through before contributing—your hand is going to stay down.
Collaborize Classroom is a web-based iPad solution that allows students to contribute to discussions, but without the pressure of having to come up with an instant response or public speaking. As the teacher, you’d still be posing a question to the entire class, but that question would be appearing on everyone’s iPad.
Below that would be one of a range of different ways to respond:
- You can ask students to vote yes or no to the proposition, and then have them justify their position.
- You can ask students to select from two or more options, and then explain their choice.
- You can ask students to either vote for one of the existing student-contributed answers to the question, or contribute a fresh answer of their own.
- You could allow students a completely free response.
The beauty of this approach is that it’s asynchronous—students can respond to each question in their own time, potentially long after you’ve posed it. The format can also accommodate simultaneous responses, raising the participation ceiling from one-at-a-time-please to everyone-at-once, allowing you to get through more input in less time.
As responses are submitted, they appear in a common thread, so students are able to see—and then respond to—what their peers have to say on the subject, while at session’s end, Collaborize Classroom can convert all the input into a graph that showcases the most popular responses.
Each of these sessions is then saved and searchable, which means that a portfolio compilation of everything a student has had to say in every session so far can be generated with a single click—a priceless resource when report-writing season hits.
How to set it up
You can actually run the whole thing by using a browser, but it’s best if the Collaborize Classroom app is installed on every iPad. (it’s free). Once you’ve done that, go to collaborizeclassroom.com to set up your account—it’s also completely free, and your very first session can actually be up and running within a few minutes.
A speech to the class…from home
We looked at this in more detail in the section on Brainstorming, but VoiceThread is an alternative approach to taking classroom discussions online that actually allows students to record their responses as audio or video, using the inbuilt camera/microphone in their iPad. Once submitted, the recording will appear as a clickable icon next to the original question, which means that other students can watch/listen to that response for themselves—subsequent responses can either be to the original question, or to some of the existing responses.
This means, for example, that you can set speaking-based assessment tasks for homework, without then having to set aside what is often hours of class time to get through each of the speeches—instead of performing the speeches live to the class one-at-a-time, students can record them and upload. Better still, you’ll be able to watch or rewatch any of the comments, making assessment less dependent on your fading impressions of what was actually said.
Meeting people who aren’t there
Groupwork traditionally depends on students meeting to move the project forwards—not normally an insurmountable requirement, but also not infrequently a complication that arbitrarily caps the preparation time.
If your students are able to take their iPads home, then a wide world of remote preparation opens, helping them to group prepare everything from debates to drama scenes via FaceTime or Skype. Of course, it’s possible with a Mac or PC too, but an iPad Skype session can be anywhere…very handy if the household is a noisy one.
Brainstorming is a topic fertile enough to get an iPadoPedia entry in its own right—most of the apps discussed in that section also work just as well for small groups of students running their own sessions.
Capturing what’s said
Video or audio-recording each student’s contribution to discussions is hardly a new idea; what is new is how convenient it’s become in an iPad classroom, and therefore how much more likely it is to happen in the first place. There’s no need to request a video camera for the session, or fuss about getting the resultant footage off the device before another teacher overwrites it. Instead, the constant proximity of your iPad
means that you can record students whenever the thought occurs to you—from the spark of “hey, let’s film this session” to hitting record and actually doing it can take just seconds—while the relatively sizable storage on iPads can accommodate plenty of footage.
The class can then use those videos to replay points; to analyze how people are speaking; to identify when perhaps points were needlessly repeated; to check each point for relevance…all much harder to do in real time than if you’re able to freeze frame, and relive what was actually said.
Likewise, students who are expected to create a recount of the discussion won’t just have to rely on whatever notes they managed to take—they’ll be able to watch replays of any or all of the points made, thus creating total recall. They’ll obviously still need to be smart about analyzing what they heard, but there won’t be any issues with being able to determine what was said in the first place.
At the end of the process, the footage could easily be turned into a best-of, with (say) the ten most compelling/convincing/difficult to refute/unexpected points being showcased—this compilation video would make for a brilliant model for next year’s students, and also an exciting resource to add to your class website.
We look at this more in the chapter on taking notes, but if you really want to be able to jump quickly from highlight to highlight on your replay of your class discussion, there are notetaking apps that will sync whatever notes you take with the moment in the recording that caused you to take the note in the first place.
This means, for example, that you can simply type “brilliant point!”, and then later, when you tap on your “brilliant point!” annotation, you’ll actually hear played back the point itself.
You could similarly mark notes for “needs to project more” or “irrelevant?” or “Nooo! Don’t stop there!”, and then with a tap summon the moment in the class discussion that prompted those responses from you.
It’s a relentlessly efficient way both to create a quick review of the session that’s just been, and also to create personalized notes for each student—start each note with the relevant student’s name, and you can quickly find all the feedback you had for that student, together with the moments in the discussion when they earned that feedback. Immediately useful for students who ask “how did I do?”; even more so when the time comes to assess them, or write reports.