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CPD on Using Tablet Devices in FE and HE

iPads, Android devices and Microsoft Tablets have quickly established a place in society, and with that a place in education. Many schools are investing in such devices – some with 1:1 roll out and other with banks of devices. FE and HE has as always seen a hugely varied approach to this area of work. Some organisations have decided that if charging £9000 per year to study, to take a few hundred pounds out and buy each student a device as part of the course is feasible. Others have worked on the notion of allowing the students to bring their own devices (known as BYOD) and have actively created appropriate wireless infrastructures to make this happen. And of courses there are some who actively block the idea of these technologies being used in the classroom.

Image of a Windows TabletWhichever approach is taken (and those taking the last approach will soon have to change) – the underlying theme is giving the teaching staff the opportunity and time for staff development in this area. One of the problems with tablet devices is they are so easy to pick up and start using – this gets seen by some as removing the need for staff development. Yes the devices are generally easy to use – but to use them effectively in a teaching and learning situation does require different, possibly new, and at times outside-comfort-zone skills which do need to be learnt.

Many schools have realised (the hard and expensive way) that you cannot just buy devices, give them to staff and students and expect grades to rocket upwards – any benefits the devices bring will take time to materialise and usually only happen after well delivered and strategically planned staff development. The same is true for FE and HE, and especially if the BYOD model is being followed, as teachers have to think about the ways that tablet devices can be used in education, AND they will be presented with a myriad of different types, operating systems, apps, and screen sizes as well.

Most colleges and universities will have in-house support teams who support CPD activity for their staff, and many will have the ability the support and deliver the required CPD activities, but I am experiencing a significant number who don’t have the ability (yet) or worse still – they think can support this area of work but they don’t actually the breadth and/or depth of knowledge and experience to support this work effectively.

For the last few months I have been working with a company called The Tablet Academy, who specialise in providing pedagogic based training in the use of tablet devices (they cover Apple, Android and Microsoft). Most of the work to date has been within the school sectors, but (with my involvement) are now supporting FE and HE as well. We have put together a catalogue of specialist FE/HE courses, as a sample of possible training that can be offered – but we specialise in tailoring sessions to an organisations needs and requests.

I think The Tablet Academy’s position of being device agnostic (supporting Apple, Android and Microsoft) without having an preference or financial interest in any of them, puts us in a very strong position, especially within FE and HE where the BYOD model is likely to be a significant player.

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Interactive whiteboards and CPD

Many educational organisations have invested (often huge amounts) in interactive whiteboards only to the be disappointed that they are underused or badly used by staff.

There are various reasons for this but the biggest in my opinion comes down to getting the staff development element right and for this we need to understand the issues.
Short Throw projector on SmartBoard

The first problem is that we have a habit of putting the interactive whiteboards in classrooms, and then we fill the classroom with students making it difficult for staff to get to the board when it is not in use, and even if they do find a time when the room is empty many people don’t like to ‘play’ with the board in a large room like a classroom especially as they will be stood at the front in a position where people are usually looking at them. If I wanted staff to use something like a video camera I would let them take it home so they can ‘play’ with it on their sofa – a safe environment to experiment or learn. Even the staff room is seen by many as a safe place to learn, whereas as the classroom isn’t and this is a fundemental issue for staff development in this area.

The second issue is then what and how much training do we give people. it is very easy to pull in an enthusiastic user to run an inspirational training session which will have a wow factor as we use and integrate all the wonderful features that the board and software offers, but there is a risk that a nervous user may think that they need to use it to that level, when in fact they are better off doing a bit one lesson, then a bit more next time etc. and building up their skills and confidence that way. I once ran an interactive whiteboard session to over 30 people which I managed by doing a simple opening presentation then I split them into about 4 groups and sent them off to different rooms with a challenge sheet to work their way through the software – this sesion actually worked really well, we didn’t cover as much ground as usual but I think the staff used the boards better as a result.

A third problem with the interactive boards is their positioning on the wall. I too often see a board positioned too high either due to the person fitting it not thinking about other people heights or because there is some electrical trunking at half height that they have gone above. Having a board in the wrong position is a huge barrier to many.

So what should we do.

1) Get teaching staff to influence the location of the boards in the rooms, check that the board works for people of varying heights and left and right handers.

2) if you have enough money to buy say 6 boards, then buy 5 only and use the money saved to invest on staff development. 5 well used boards is better than 6 badly used ones.

3) If you are buying multiple boards then put 1 of them in a safe place for staff to practice using it. This could be a staff common room, a training room etc. this will give staff the chance to ‘play’ and to become confident. After a year then move the board into a teaching area if you wish

4) work out what your licence will allow you to do. For example some of the boards will allow staff to install the software at home or at least on other computers owned by the institution. This is essential for staff to prepare resources for the boards as well as helping them to become familar with the software.

5) Think about running shorter training sessions but more often. I think an initial 1 hour session will get people going, then another short session a few weeks later is much better than a half day session up front.

6) Offer some sort of post training support – this could be turning up at the beginning of their first lesson to make sure all switched on etc. or having a mechanism where staff can easily ask for help

Used well the interactive whiteboard can be a very useful bit of kit. Used badly and it is an expensive gimmic that may have a negative effect on the learning, but the simple message is to invest in the staff development and CPD