So, every school now is rolling out their own BYOD and 1-to-1 programs. Mobile learning (mLearning) is the new black! Whether it is just a fad or not, mobile devices change the way the class runs, and they change the way students learn. Many teachers, from my experience, cite too many problems with using iPads in their classroom, most of them related to classroom management. As an eLearning leader, I get a lot of questions like ‘how do I guarantee the students are on-task?’, or ‘how do I make sure they don’t play games?’, or ‘how do I make sure I can maintain their attention when I need it?’. Reality is, these devices can be very distracting to adults even, let alone school-aged kids and teens. I have gathered a bunch of tricks throughout my teaching experience that I would like to share:
1- Set clear expectations: a lot of classroom management challenges can easily be overcome by setting clear guidelines and expectations for iPad use. Regularly remind your students of the school’s mobile learning policies and ‘acceptable use’ policies. Communicate your expectations about iPad-use at the beginning of every task. Simply saying ‘I expect you to be working on this app until you submit the work and receive my feedback’ will keep most students on-task. Also, talk to them about trust and how you ‘trust’ that they know what they should be doing. I would also advise teaching a clear non-verbal signal that means ‘put your iPads down and give me your full attention’. Ringing a bell three times, for example, is the signal I use.
2- Let go of control: mobile devices can be distracting and they can empower students to do many things, and that challenges the traditional role of the teacher as the centre of the students’ attention and the main source of knowledge and information. Introducing personal learning devices like the iPad can make learning messier and noisier, but that does not mean that the learning is not happening. Fact is, education shouldn’t be about teacher-control anymore, teachers need to embrace their roles as ‘facilitators’ and ‘managers’ more.
3- Differentiate the task: if a student is disengaged from a task and seems to be easily distracted, ask them for reasons. It might be that he/she doesn’t want to type an essay using Pages, but rather prepare a screencast using ShowMe? It might be that they prefer using another app that accomplishes the same thing you requested, not the app you recommended? Give the students options and choices about how they can go about and demonstrate their learning.
4- Explore gaming: see how you can bring gaming into the classroom. Students often feel like school content can be very disconnected from their lives. Lots of teachers talk about gaming as just a waste of time, but fact is there is research that proves the value of bringing gaming into the classroom. Use different characters in games and their voices/body language to get students thinking about characterization in drama, and the elements of a narrative (as a lot of games are based on a story). Think about how ‘Angry Birds’ can be used to teach some concepts in physics. Use scrabble-like games in English classes. Whatever the subject, I’m sure you can find one or two games to relate. Additionally, those games need not take up the whole lesson, they could just be quick warm-ups or even rewards for students who finish early but still produce high-quality work (i.e. whose work is not just rushed so they can play games).
5- Assign group roles: the iPad is meant to encourage collaboration, and I am a big proponent of collaborative learning. When I run a lesson that requires the iPad, I design the task so that only one group member needs their iPad, then I would rotate that group member in consecutive tasks (so that other students also get to use their iPad). For example, in a brainstorm task, I would give the questions to the group and ask them to brainstorm on a poster paper (to be hung up in class) while one group member is responsible for reporting the group’s findings on a typewith.me pad or Google Form. Additionally, you can pick another group member to visualize the brainstorm on a mind-mapping app. It’s easier to manage an iPad classroom when only a few students are holding the iPad at a time, not the whole class.
See if you can design tasks where all group members can work on different stages using their iPads. For example, one group member brainstorms with the group using their iPad. The next group member is responsible for taking photos and documenting rehearsal. The following group member is responsible for shooting video of the performance and uploading it on the class YouTube channel, and so on. Each group member is also responsible for uploading or embedding the evidence they collect onto the group’s shared blog or Evernote shared notebook, or any other form of group portfolio, so that they can all have the same evidence to document their learning. Also, you can design the task so students each work on a part and pass one iPad around, while doing something else when they are not holding the iPad. I have found that it is easier to manage the class and ensure that they are on-task when I can only see five or six iPads around the room at a time (in a class of 25 students).
6- Circulate around the room: I have seen many teachers who like to teach from their desk. I personally believe this cannot be done with iPads in the classroom. I believe the teacher must walk around the classroom and circulate often when students are working individually. That gives the students the idea of ‘teacher-with-it-ness’ and encourages them to be on-task. Also, arrange the classroom in a way that allows all or most devices to be in view.
7- Prepare backup plans: last semester, I designed a really cool rubric using Numbers (the spreadsheet app). The students were to use this rubric to assess themselves. I uploaded the file on Edmodo, shared it with the class and thought everything was under control. However, many students couldn’t open it because it required the latest version of Numbers, which many of them didn’t have (students don’t always regularly update their apps and their iOS software either). Luckily, I had a few printed copies. Technology does let us down sometimes. The most important thing is: don’t panic in front of students and relax, show them that you control the technology, not the other way around.
8- Use games as an incentive: many teachers I meet disagree with this approach, but I still firmly believe in it. We have to teach our students that there is a time for work and and a time for play, and we need to model that in our classrooms. I always tell my students that they can have free-time to spend on their iPad when they finish their work and it is of ‘high quality’. That ‘high quality’ disclaimer is to encourage them not to rush to finish the task, and it reserves room for your judgment on the quality of their work. I often try to find one or two things they can do to improve their work first before allowing them that free time on the iPad, or even nicely asking the student who finished to help another struggling student for a few minutes first before getting free time.
9- Teach responsibility: ultimately, we need to teach students to be responsible for their own learning. Mobile devices empower the students with a lot of tools that can be useful for learning, but at the end of the day, they have to make the choice of learning or not. I constantly remind my students that ‘I’m responsible for my own teaching, you are responsible for your own learning’. Talk to them about making choices and the consequences of these choices. If they allow themselves to get distracted, ask them to give suggestions for helping them stay on-task, so they feel they have more responsibility over the situation.
10- Use ‘Guided Access': I have never used ‘Guided Access’ in my class because it is the last resort in my arsenal of strategies. Basically, ‘Guided Access’ is a feature that came with the iOS 6 update where you can disable certain hardware buttons on the student’s iPad (like the home button and lock button for example), and also keep the student focused on one app or one part of the screen. I would advise that you only resort to this strategy when all else fails, and only with the most challenging student/s who just can not stay on-task (keep in mind that this strategy does not teach responsibility and trust). You can also disable the touch-screen through ‘Guided Access’ if you just want the student to focus on reading. Remember to always give a warning first to the student before you resort to ‘Guided Access’. A lot of students fear losing full control over their iPad when you warn them that you will resort to ‘Guided Access’ if they do not stay on-task. Here is a screencast explaining how to use ‘Guided Access':
To conclude, managing a classroom that uses iPads or other mobile devices presents challenges that are different to traditional classroom challenges. I am constantly seeking suggestions, ideas, and practical tips from other teachers, so please feel free to leave a comment. Happy iPad-ing!