Getting the latest technology into classrooms is one thing, but ensuring students take part in authentic learning experiences while helping to educate their peers is the target for one Victorian school trialling the latest touch screen gadgets.
Brighton Grammar School in Melbourne has bought 21 iPads and is hoping to team up with researchers from Swinburne University to see how the gadgets impact on pedagogy and differentiated learning for students who thrive on a kinaesthetic approach.
"We want to actually do some kind of analysis to see how you compare the usage of an iPad to a laptop to a desktop [PC], because they're not the same animal. I don't think they've [laptops and PCs] changed pedagogy and I don't think they've changed content ... but with the iPad there are really some exciting possibilities out there, from the fact the kids can walk around and learn collaboratively but still have that individualised learning approach," IT teacher Brett Fitzsimmons explains.
In another innovative approach, Fitzsimmons will be working on a Year 9 and 10 extra-curricular project to create learning apps for junior school students. "It's that applied learning, it's an authentic task. We've got an extension studies [class] ... they'll be looking at the programming side of it and a range of apps. We'll do analysis of designs and come up with some of our own," he says.
"Many of the apps that are currently out there used the touch screen as a navigation interface and not necessarily a learning interface, so we're going to look at building some that ... provide a strong kinaesthetic learning base to see if it does have an impact on students, particularly their numeracy.
"It will be just small apps that target particular learning tasks within the scope and sequence that the junior school kids are working on. It may be handling a specific maths task such as multiplication or division, number lines and things like that, and see if we can build something that's graphical and actually targeted to a particular area then we'll hopefully get some kind of data to see if there's been a noticeable improvement [in learning]."
Fitzsimmons points out that, far from jumping on the gadget bandwagon, Brighton Grammar School, with help from its innovation arm the Crowther Centre, decided to buy the iPads purely as a research tool. "I guess that before we go putting them onto school booklists we want to see how useful they're going to be. We didn't go down the route of the one to one laptop program and I think that's been a good decision."
The gadgets will be used with Year 1, 3 and 6 students and the research is expected to last at least two years. It's hoped the app development course for senior students will eventually be integrated into the mainstream curriculum. Fitzsimmons is also looking at monitoring students to compare the way they read an online document such as an eBook and a traditional textbook.