Apple in the classroom: where are we now?

Dave Saltmarsh, Global Education Evangelist at Jamf, thinks that tech giant Apple have the lead when it comes to edtech…

Apple recently announced its incredible Q3 financial results, and we continue to see growth in the tech favourite’s iPhone, iPad and Mac sales.

CEO Tim Cook visited the Woodberry Down School in Harringay in February 2017 to look at how iPads were being used in the classroom by staff and students. During his visit, Cook spoke about the presence of technology in the classroom, noting that it’s a “compliment to traditional teaching and not a substitute.” As a former teacher, I’ve experienced how technology can effectively transform an individual student’s participation, enhance learning for the better, and narrow the digital divide. The level of personalisation that the Apple platform can provide leads to a unique educational experience.

Personalising and evolving the classroom experience through technology

In the late 1990s, mobile technology sprung onto the education scene. However, the approach at the time was to buy software that was replicated across all devices. This one-size-fits all style made it challenging to create experiences that were engaging for students. In short, the experience was clunky and generic.

Since then, technology has evolved and improved. Platforms such as Apple’s have increased in terms of flexibility and are better equipped to individualise the educational experience with an entire library of high-quality apps that meet the needs of individual students. Using the app Classroom, teachers can customise lesson plans to accommodate a broad range of abilities and interests, making it possible for students to work on the same lesson or project simultaneously at different levels, and at their own pace. Teachers can check in on a student’s progress and instantly know when a student might need more instruction or guidance in a specific area.

In my previous teaching role, I have seen students who generally avoided presentation days become more active and self-driven through technology. The technology wasn’t just a tool to present. It encouraged students to pick a topic and explore the possibilities, which led to self-directed learning.

Access is another critical component of classroom technology. Being able to access technology both offline and online, anywhere and anytime means learning can be delivered regardless of connectivity. From a wider perspective, it is hoped that a feature such as this could help to lessen the digital divide in the UK, whereas, currently as many as 11% of households do not have internet access, according to the Office for National Statistics.

I have seen students who generally avoided presentation days become more active and self-driven through technology. It encouraged students to pick a topic and explore the possibilities, which led to self-directed learning.

Bridging the digital divide with usability

The Apple platform is used with varying degrees of familiarity by individuals and teachers alike. According to eMarketer, 17.6 million people in the UK will be using iPads by 2017. In fact, many teachers and students have been using iPads and iPhones since they were first released and it has been a preferred platform for educators, as it can be used by people with varying technical ability.

Therefore, one of the biggest benefits of the platform is its ability to engage multiple types of learners at the same time. The benefits of having a platform that is usable means teachers can connect with students at a more individual level. Mixing multi-touch with typing further enhanced its reach to different learners. Students can edit a project in a word processor and manipulate an omnigraph using its multi-touch feature, or utilise the iPad’s speech-to-text function.

Driving collaboration in the digital classroom

Last year, the school census found nearly 18,000 state secondary school pupils were in a class size of at least 36 students. This number has increased almost three-fold since 2011. A classroom of this size would benefit from a management tool that ensures effective learning.

The Classroom app, in the recently updated iOS 10, has introduced its collaboration capabilities. With this update, students can work independently and in small groups. Teachers can maintain groups within the Apple Classroom and instantaneously see how groups are progressing through tasks. While it was difficult for teachers to check in with multiple groups simultaneously in the past, with Classroom, teachers can now ensure that instructional time is efficient and balanced with independent learning for students.

In this recent round of major updates, Apple also released new management capabilities in iOS 10. The Apple School Manager effectively enables teachers to purchase apps and manage Apple ID accounts in schools. This is made possible through its ability to create managed IDs, specifically for students under 13. Apple’s global initiative aims to protect students by removing commerce and email functionalities, ensuring that students can use devices safely and securely in the classroom for educational purposes.

From the classroom to beyond

Apple has continued to demonstrate its power to deliver personalised learning and unlock classroom collaboration functionalities. During his time at the Harringay school in North London, Tim Cook noted that students are living in a digital world and are digitally savvy – so their classroom should reflect this. Yet, implementing tablets and other technology in the classroom can have much wider benefits for students. 

I personally find that the greater use of the Apple platform could have a major impact on equity. It allows one to respond to the multiple layers of digital equity by providing access to an educational device, both offline and online. Empowering students and future generations with digital tools to ensure they succeed is vital. If we choose to start from the classroom today, we will definitely see huge benefits for students beyond it in the near future.     

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