Wednesday, 28 May 2014

The Media Teacher's iPad

As an advocate of BYOD, I've always talked to colleagues about the benefits of different devices and approaches within a "mixed economy" digital learning space (or "classroom where everyone's phone is different, as it's more commonly known). Largely, what you want to do should dictate the type of device you use, and I'm quite happy to work in a multi-device environment. Until I walk into my Media classroom.

I should make it clear that I have no particular beef with any other individual device, or operating system, or anything else at which you think I may be showing signs of beefage. But the iPad has always been, and remains for the moment, the device with the most power in terms of Media and Film teaching. Think about it in terms of the skills you are trying to teach, and you'll see why:

Analysis Skills

Analysis is about note-taking, acquiring knowledge, and applying that knowledge in such a way as to develop critical faculties. This is one area of Media and Film Studies which might be considered "device-neutral" (bear with me here, we're in a new digital environment, and there will plenty more neologisms before the blog is out!). For note-taking, I use Evernote, with its easy-to-use UI, easy sharing, tagging and cataloging, and the ease with which I can record verbal feedback as audio attachments to notes. For formal written work, there's GoogleDocs, with comments, editing, sharing, peer feedback and revision checker facilities (I've written about these here, so forgive me for skimming). We do a lot of mind-mapping through Popplet, we use Notability to distribute, annotate and save PDF resources, and we use Explain Everything amongst others to offer different ways of showing learning. So far, so uncontroversial in BYOD terms. I don't think there is an app there which isn't multi-platform, and that's part of the reason I use them, because the students can get used to them in my lesson, and transfer those skills to their other lessons where a variety of different devices are in use.

Resources and curation

Similarly, in terms of resource curation, there are a host of ways of bringing information together for your students into one place which again should be accessible on whichever platform you want. Except Blackberry. There's always a kid with a Blackberry. And they're always the ones who can't access ANYTHING! I digress, somewhat bitterly...
Youtube is where all my video tutorials go (might just have blogged about that before as well), Pinterest is the magpie nest where I collate all of the useful and/or shiny things I find on the web, and if you don't already have a VLE to centralise all of this stuff at your school and distribute it to your students, you could do worse than Edmodo, an excellent all-rounder which has been made to mimic Facebook in an "acceptable to all teenagers" sort of a way.


Finally, for revision, there are a couple of nice apps called Revise Media Studies and Revise Film Studies which are, somewhat predictably if you've gathered the gist of this blog so far, also available on iTunes and Google. They're both pretty good for vocabulary learning, though if you want your students to learn specific definitions of yours, why not get them to make their own flashcard sets with Quizlet? It matches definitions to key terms, and has lots of useful games for testing, and it's available... You guessed it. Here's one I made earlier, à la Blue Peter. Or was it Jamie Oliver? Always get those two mixed up.

Practical Media

Practical Media and film production are the areas where Google struggles to keep up with the vast breadth of the Apple app ecosystem, and where Windows are, well, the less said the better frankly. Here, iTunes seems to have a plethora of simple tutorial apps available for Film which show you the basics of filming and editing, such as Making Movies Make Sense and for the more advanced students, the more in-depth CLOSE-UP, an app of advanced film vocabulary which is really useful, with a variety of checklists for commenting on different elements of film making. For example, the checklist for Lighting includes sliders between low and high-key, high and low contrast, soft and hard light, as well as options for shadows, composition and light sources. Developers just seem to think that their most lucrative education market will be Apple users, and thus they write first for iTunes. Some stop at that, others get a Google app up and going soon afterwards, but that, I think, is why Apple are currently still ahead of the game.

CeltX in action
Film Scripting

One of my favourite simple apps for creating scripts of any kind (theatre, radio, TV, film) is CeltX, and the iPad app is excellent for this. The app formats scripts exactly as they would be presented professionally, and prompts you for slug-lines, actions, character names, dialogue, parentheses, camera angles et al. When you write in what you want, the app automatically formats the information as it would be in a script. Character information is in capitals and centred, for example, whereas dialogue is indented appropriately. A free account means you can access any of your scripts in the cloud, via the desktop app, the iPad app, or the online editor. Simple, brilliant. Available on Google, but not as crisp or easy to use for some reason. No idea why.


Cinemek: Why can't the kids ever pronounce it?!
Storyboarding is one of the film-maker's key tools. There are a shedload of storyboarding apps out there, but the one I love most is Cinemek, because it uses photos taken on the device you are working on, and incorporates them into the storyboard frames. That seems like a faff to some students, because they want to draw something quickly and get on with filming. But the beauty of needing to take photos is that students need to think beyond showing the story events: They need to work out where they are shooting it from, what angle is best, the distance of the camera from the subject etc. And all of this gets them into the swing of thinking of the film product not simply as a story-showing device, but as a means of artistic expression in itself. And while the camera shooting gets them thinking about framing, the storyboard itself gets them to think about timing (they can change the duration of each frame), about camera movement (they can insert track and zoom symbols), about how the script and the visuals go together, and finally they can even play back a quick video to show them how the storyboard looks in motion. Awesomeness.


If you're a "real" film or media teacher, the iPad filming solution isn't a satisfactory one, but filming on an iPad certainly gives you an idea of pre-viz, and at lower ability levels or for younger age groups, it offers a lot of practical skills if you combine iPad filming with iMovie editing (especially good for its trailer templates) and / or Pinnacle Studio: The two have different functions, but are becoming much of a muchness (speed up, slow down, titles, images, sound effects etc). It's now also possible to get a bit better quality of sound and stability with Mic attachments (such as the iRig system, for use with proper microphones) and tripods designed deliberately for use with iPads. You can even control a multicamera shoot with the Collabracam app and if you want to go really nuts, there are basic Green Screen apps, as well as some more fun things like ACTION MOVIE, an app which allows you to ham up your real-life footage with exploding monsters, tumbling cars, you name it. All of these are plenty to exercise the creative minds of young students, and the process and skills are the basics you want them to learn for later on in their Media and film careers, from pre- to post-production, just a bit simpler.


There are oodles of photo editing apps out there too, many of which do some neat things (Snapseed, Filterstorm, PS Express to name but a few), but few of them seem to do everything you want. For some reason, the apps which alter photos don't do good layout design, and the apps which do good layout aren't great for image editing. Personally I go with PS Touch for combining posters and images, and working with layers especially. There are standard Photoshop tools such as selection, magic wand, painting, cloning and blurring tools, as well as adjustment tools, a load of preset styles and effects, text, fill, gradient, lens flare... You get the idea. There's a lot of stuff. PS Touch makes them savable and they can then be used in other apps from the camera roll. However, having praised it to the heavens for its functionality, I should warn you that the functionality is inversely proportional to its usability! Get your degree first, then try to work out how to use it...
Quark Design Pad

For bringing the whole thing together, QuarkDesign Pad allows you to create full design products which are exportable as PDF and PNG. We use Adobe InDesign with A-level students, but this is pretty good as a cut-down version. The app allows you to place boxes, designated them as text or image or background, give them shape and outlines and colour / opacity properties. And unlike PS Touch, the interface is a lot more intuitive. Between the two of them, you can get some pretty fancy print work going.


There are tonnes of app design and webpage design tools out there to choose from, and I'd be loathe to name one over another, because their suitability will depend largely on your proficiency level and the quality and key functions of what you want to achieve. You can easily knock up something from templates with apps such as Simpl easy website builder. On the other hand, if you want to build from scratch and have something which is CSS editable, you could go for something like i-Dzign Web Page Builder, with its easy WYSIWYG interface, ability to save in a variety of formats, and also the ability to publish via an in app FTP client.

And there you have it. An almost complete tool-kit for Media and Film teachers, all on one portable (beautifully designed and premium-priced) device. Get a class set. Get an AppleTV to show everyone's work, and Robert's your father's brother and other such old-fashioned witticisms.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

BYOD in schools - Part 6: Engaging parents

One of the most important factors in moving forward towards a roll-out of any form of mobile learning school, whether it be iPad 1:1, or BYOD in our case, is getting teachers, students and parents on board with the process simultaneously. Try shooting five basketballs towards a basket at the same time: It's more or less the same exercise. Or planning, teaching, marking, answering a thousand e-mail requests for paperwork and having any sort of life outside of school, for that matter.

I've dealt elsewhere with our general strategy and rationale for the roll-out , and looked specifically at the issues of staff training, student engagement in the process and the part played by Digital Leaders in this process, so forgive me if I don't revisit old ground here. We developed our strategy, worked out how we could train teachers gradually, and interviewed and trained our Digital Leaders to help us with our class trials. But now the big step to a whole-school roll-out looms, and we really need to get ALL of our parents on-board, or they won't allow their students to bring their devices in in the first place.

These are the key points we need to communicate to them, in my opinion:
  • They need to understand that this is not a gimmick to engage students: There is a clear educational rationale behind the move, which we consider will help improve the performance of our students on a long-term basis. In other words, they have to understand that our move is fundamentally about teaching and learning, and that the use of mobile devices in lesson will occur when there is a clear way in which it can augment, modify or redefine the learning in that lesson, and not otherwise.

  • They need to understand why we have decided not to specify a particular device (often iPads in these types of schemes), or indeed pay for the roll-out ourselves from school funds. Essentially there are two key reasons for this move, which are economic and pedagogical. Economically, we as a school cannot afford to pay for them ourselves (£70000 every three years?), and if we passed the cost on to the parents, many of them may not be able to afford it either, especially in times of recession, economic insecurity etc. So not only are we saving ourselves money (three more teachers potentially to help their students?), we are also saving them money, as 99.6% of our students already own devices which they probably bring in to school on a daily basis. Pedagogically, much as I am a fan of the iPad itself, I can't pretend that other devices are not catching them up quickly. Each new iPad seems less of an education game-changer than the last, and yet the premium is still charged. More importantly, I think there is real benefit to be had from giving students and parents the choice of what to bring in, and getting them to discuss issues of what each phone/tablet can and cannot do in the context of teaching and learning, rather than mere functionality (my graphics card is faster and bigger than yours, sort of thing).

  • We as a school need to address insurance worries head on: Many parents could quite reasonably object to their children being asked to bring mobile devices into school on the grounds that they could get damaged or stolen. But what if they currently allow their child to bring their phone into school at the moment? Then there is no change in the situation. The phones can still be insured as part of household contents insurance or, as many people already do, can be insured as discrete devices. Having said that, we as a school do also need to make it as secure an environment as possible for our students to bring their phones and devices to school safely. That means addressing potential areas where students might have to leave their devices unattended (changing rooms for instance), and ensuring that we are vigilant at all times, and have water-tight security systems in place to protect student property. To my mind, we should be doing that already. Similarly, in this new digital learning environment, we as a school ought to be pressing the insurance industry for easy, cheap and viable schemes which will allow us to protect our students' devices without costing the earth. Already, some financial institutions are beginning to respond to these requirements.

  • Finally, I think it is imperative that parents can SEE the enhanced learning which occurs as a result of using mobile devices. They need to see it in action: We should be inviting them to watch model lessons with students, with a debrief showing how it has enhanced the learning, the students' organisation, their motivation and the differentiation which devices can enable. They need to see these enhancements to lessons in order to understand just how much difference mobile learning can make to their child's education. If we can accompany these sessions with Q&A at the end, with both the teacher and the students involved, (as happened here when I taught a lesson in front of colleagues from across the city using the same techniques as part of a rolling programme of CPD observations "for real"), then I think parents will be a lot more positive about the use of mobile technology as an integral part of their child's learning experience.
My ideal way of organising this would be as follows: A festival of mobile learning. As part of this, the school would perhaps need to be open a day at a weekend (and perhaps have a day off as recompense?), and invite parents and members of the local community in to see a variety of activities in action. We would have different subjects running workshops on some of the ways in which they use mobile technology as part of teaching and learning and explaining how it works in an open session for all students and parents. We would also have several "show" lessons occurring simultaneously which parents could visit, look at the teaching, look at the types of activities students were undertaking, and talk to both students and teachers about how exactly the mobile devices are enhancing teaching and learning. You could even invite local companies connected with mobile devices and mobile learning to come in and sponsor the event, and use it to pitch the benefits of their products to parents, showing them the possibilities.

A fundamental building block of this strategy would be the involvement of students who already use mobile learning, and Digital Leaders in particular. Alongside the teacher-led workshops and model lessons, the student leaders could lead "Genius bar" style sessions including videos of other lessons throughout the year, the students' own thoughts on mobile learning, and the advantages it gives them over other learners. They would be able to show how they themselves support the process in school, answer technical queries, and could also talk to parents knowledgeably about the different sorts of devices they have used, the advantages and disadvantages of each for different subjects, and they could blog about this afterwards so that this advice is permanently there for parents to refer to, with direct links from the school website.

One of the other things this type of festival would facilitate is for other teachers who are less confident about tech use in lessons (from other schools, or from within our own) to get the same information, to interrogate the possibilities for themselves, and to make their own first steps. This would be great CPD for all involved, sharing best and next practice widely, and also enabling schools like ours to clearly demonstrate our role as a support school to those in the wider community. In fact, I think it would be great to follow this up with an hour's TeachMeet at the end of the day for teachers to share their best apps and resources, divided into different categories (AFL, BFL, differentiation and personalisation, etc), so teachers can get what they want out of it. That would act as a great summary of everything which has been shared that day, and really send people away with lots to think about.

After an event like that, I think very few parents will be in any doubt about the school's rationale for using mobile devices to enhance learning, and I would hope that teachers and students would be enthused, and that the wider community would be able to see just what a forward-thinking institution this was...

If we don't engage parents, and show them the realities of modern education, and the potential mobile technology brings within that environment, we risk them not understanding what we are trying to do, and we all know where that leads...

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