#mainedu: An update

Having just received the marks for Module 1: School-based Enquiry (Merit) and Module 3: Developing eLearning (Distinction) of the Masters in Education I am studying towards, I felt that it was time to post an update.

Module 1: School-based Enquiry

A long and thin module that began in September and finished in June, it afforded me the opportunity to conduct a detailed classroom-based investigation. I found writing the essay to be quite difficult. With far too much to say, I felt that the resulting essay was some what disjointed. As such I feel that the garde I achieved was more a reflection of that than the actual research that I conducted. Moreover, on reflection the focus I chose for the module was perhaps too broad.

Researching into the impact Google Docs can have on formative assessment was, however, thoroughly enjoyable. It has left me convinced that Google Docs is a perfect tool to develop meaningful AfL practices with students in the Secondary English and Media Studies classrooms. Furthermore, it added validation to a number of conclusions I had already begun to make.

While the grade I achieved does not measure up to the high standards I set in Module 2 or Module 3, this unit taught me more about how to conduct effective classroom-based research and collect data than either of the other two. I believe that this learning process will stand me in good stead as I begin the preparations towards my thesis later in the year.

You can read the assignment here: Does the collaborative functionality of Google Docs allow educators to better put formative assessment at the heart of their students’ learning?

Further information about the module is available here.

Module 3: Developing eLearning

This was (perhaps unsurprisingly) the most enjoyable module of the three I undertook. It certainly played to my strengths, exploring a significant amount of material that I was already well versed in. While this could have negatively impacted on my enjoyment, it actually resulted in providing me with an opportunity to debate and test ideas that I have held for some time.

Like Module 2: Assessment for Learning, this unit ended up being quite personal, giving me the opportunity to evaluate existing practices and to challenge myself to put my money where my mouth is – considering the real benefits of using technology in the classroom. I set my stall out to challenge myself to develop a ReLP that incorporated technologies, enhancing the learning/progress of my students.

The project incorporated iPads + Garageband, Moodle and Google Docs. Writing the essay was far easier, the process of reflection and evaluation in this case was more straightforward. Moreover, learning from the School-based Enquiry, I did a better job of collating and selecting evidence to analyse.

The assignment is available to read here: Design, construct and evaluate a re-usable learning object or process that fulfils a relevant curriculum objective and responds to the learning needs of your pupils. Include a commentary to provide context and explanation of the considerations that you took into account, including relevant points from the literature. References and appendices are here.

More information about the module is available here.

Should you wish to discuss any aspect of the research that I undertook in any of the Modules I have completed, please don’t hesitate to comment below. Alternatively, you can get in touch via email or Twitter.

iPad + Garageband FTW!

I recently shared on Google+ how I had been using iPads and Garageband to help my Year 8 class to improve the quality of their writing. This is a reworked version of that post. Thanks to John Johnston and Helen Morgan (amongst others) for sharing their thoughts.

The learning…

I’ve been using iPads with my Year 8 class to record narrative writing that they have created. I had the students draft a piece of writing based on Down the Rabbit Hole by Lewis Caroll, which they recorded using the iPads. I wanted the students to see how punctuation effected the way the read because after reading the first drafts, I was none too pleased with the standard of their writing.

I uploaded the recordings to the VLE and asked the class to peer assess each others work. Using those comments and some live assessment in Google Docs from me, they created improved narratives with more accurate punctuation and improved vocabulary.

They then recorded their final drafts which we burned to discs. While the drafting/redrafting process is not unusual in the English classroom, recording and evaluating their written work in this way added a new dimension to the learning process. It ensured that every single student’s work was shared without the embarrassment that some students feel standing in front of the class. By putting the audio on the VLE, every student received feedback, which due to time constraints would not happen in a traditional classroom setting. What’s more, I could further differentiate my support by listening and focussing feedback where it was most needed.

To complete the unit I wanted them to present their work effectively. They created a CD cover using drawn or found images, with their narrative writing printed up on the reverse. Giving them a physical artefact to take away that represented their effort and progress was highly motivational and also contributed to the quality of the finished work.

It was a great project to end the year with and the use of the iPads and Garageband made a huge difference to the quality of the students’ work.

Here are two example recordings (personally, I think that the background noise adds to the ambience):

And here is an example cover (front and back):

Rabbit Hole Front

Rabbit Hole Back

I used SurveyMonkey to get the class to reflect on their use of the iPads and Garageband. Here’s a selection of comments:

  • “I found it useful because it helps you find your own mistakes”
  • “I found this useful because I could do y punctuation from listening to it because I would know when to put , and . as I know when I paused and stopped at the end of a sentence”
  • “It helped me to see where I need to put commas”

The technology…

The whole process was fabulously straightforward and the sound quality was excellent.

Here are a few tips if you wish to use iPad and Garageband in the same way. Garageband is super easy to use but the default settings can scupper a recording instantly. Before the students hit record make sure that they select the ‘puzzle piece’ in the top left and set the duration to automatic. Not doing so will result in the recording being cut short. Secondly, select the spanner in the top right and turn off the metronome. The iPad will record all sound so it captures the sound of the metronome in the recording.

With those settings sorted you are ready to record. The UI is beautiful and reacts to what you are doing generating relevant buttons, e.g.: when recording a stop button appears and also an undo button to easily take backwards steps. My students found it very easy to use and they (like I was) were really impressed with the sound quality.

What if I don’t have access to iPads and/or Garageband?

I’ve been working with audio/podcasting for over three years now. It is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated mediums in education. Most schools plug for video… it’s usually seen as the obvious choice but there are many activities for which I believe audio to be the best option. Capturing group discussions, for example, is far easier with an audio recorder than a video camera. I do this with my A2 students and then upload the recording to the VLE for them to refer back to and/or download. As it’s an MP3 it is a small file, there is rarely a need to edit, and I find that the students concentrate on what is being said rather than admiring themselves on camera.

I am surprised at the lack of take up when it comes to the use of audio/podcasting in schools because the technology itself is ubiquitous. You don’t need to invest in iPads or Apple Mac computers. Audacity (a free, cross-platform, sound editor) will do the same job as Garageband and most laptops (including notebooks) come with a built in Mic. However, cheap USB Mics are easy to get hold of. This one has done the job for me in the past. Furthermore, nearly all mobile devices have an audio capture function which is easy to manage (audio formats are far more malleable) whereas video recorded on mobile devices can be difficult to use due to variations in format/codec. As John stated: “It can be an instant win pedagogically and motivationally.”

Moreover, both Garageband (built into all Macs) and Audacity are standalone apps which do not require an internet connection. A common complaint from teachers when they look at using technology in the classroom is that the school network or internet is not reliable. In using these apps, or the iPads themselves, there was no reliance on the school network. This gave me and the students confidence that we would complete the task. As Helen noted it’s important to have a “fall back plan”, I briefly considered recording direct into AudioBoo but this could have easily broken down due to a bad network connection or missing plugins such as Java or Flash.

If you think audio could work for you and your students, I recommend that you jump right on in and give it a go. Results can be achieved quickly and in a cost effective way. If you would like further advice on how to use audio in your classroom, please get in touch.