A fruitful partnership: Exploring Apple’s capabilities in the classroom

By Dave Saltmarsh, global education evangelist, Jamf

Apple CEO Tim Cook visited the Woodberry Down School in Harringay earlier this year to see how students and educators are using iPads in the classroom.During his visit, Tim Cook spoke about the presence of technology in the classroom, noting that it’s a “compliment to tradition teaching and not a substitute.” As a former teacher, I’ve experienced how technology can transform an individual student’s in-class participation, enhance learning for the better and narrow the digital divide. The level of personalisation that the Apple platform, in particular, can deliver makes it a unique educational experience.  

Apple’s ecosystem for the classroom, with its dynamic combination that promotes personalised learning, the ability to bridge the digital divide, usability and classroom management features make it a critical multi-purpose system in a teacher’s toolkit.

Personalised learning, the evolution of classroom technology

In the 1990s when schools began shifting to mobile technology, the software purchased for classroom use was selected with a monolithic approach, which led educators to set up each computer exactly the same for all students and teachers. However, the one size fits all approach was challenging for teachers who were trying to engage all students at different levels of understanding and to meet the agility desired.Image removed.

As technology has evolved and improved, platforms such as Apple’s have increased in terms of flexibility. It individualises the experience with an entire library of high quality apps that can meet the needs of each individual student. Using the app, Classroom, teachers are able to customise lesson plans to accommodate a broad range of abilities and interests. It’s 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 classroom, I watched as students who generally avoided presentation days became more active and self-directed 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.

Another critical component of classroom technology is access. It’s imperative for students to have the ability to use technology both off and online, anywhere and anytime – and this is how Apple’s unique capability can provide access regardless of connectivity. This noteworthy feature can help to bridge the digital divide in the UK, given that 11% of households do not currently have internet access, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Raising the bar in usability

Individuals and teachers alike have developed varying levels of familiarity with the Apple platform both in and outside of the classroom. In fact, many teachers – and in some cases students – have been using iPads and iPhones since they were first released. According to eMarketer, 17.6 million people in the UK will be using iPads by 2017.  

Familiarity with the Apple platform has been incremental for both teachers and students, because it’s easy to use, regardless of their technical abilities.

Even more important than access for bridging the digital divide is the equitable quality of learning potential and the learning experience, which are critical measurements for any programme. One of the biggest benefits of the Apple platform is its ability to engage multiple types of learners at the same time. The affordances and capabilities when teachers have a higher platform to connect with students – at such an individual level – are virtually boundless. Mixing multi-touch with typing has the ability to reach different types of learners. Students can edit a project in a word processor, manipulate an omnigraph using its multi-touch feature or utilise the iPad’s speech to text function. In fact, some platforms are still trying to catch up to the iPad’s speech-to-text capabilities.

Classroom management: driving collaboration in the digital classroom

Recent figures show that more children are learning in larger class sizes. Last year, the school census found nearly 18,000 state secondary school pupils were in a class size of at least 36 students. According to census data, this number has almost increased three-fold since 2011. Such large class sizes can undoubtedly benefit from a classroom management tool to ensure precious moments aren’t wasted during a lesson.

One of the key tenets of Apple’s operating system, iOS 10, is its collaborative functionalities. With iOS 10, students can work independently and in small groups. Teachers can maintain groups within Apple Classroom and instantaneously see how certain groups are progressing through the assigned task. Before this, teachers couldn’t check in with multiple groups at the same time. Alternatively, teachers can run a check for understanding, which allows teachers to involve all students and groups to participate in a quick test to determine what they’ve learnt from their group activity. With Apple Classroom, teachers don’t lose precious minutes of instructional time and can easily move students through the lesson.

Apple has also released new management capabilities in iOS 10. The Apple School Manager effectively enables educators to manage devices, apps and accounts in schools. This update provided schools with the ability to create managed IDs, specifically for students under 13. Apple’s global initiative protects younger students by removing commerce and email functionalities, which ensures that students use Apple devices securely in the classroom for educational purposes. Essentially, iOS 10 is the culmination of several iterations over the last few years to make the iPad platform what education has really needed.

Taking Apple beyond the classroom

In education, the Apple platform has the capabilities to deliver personalised learning and unlock classroom collaboration functionalities. Yet, implementing tablets and other technology in the classroom can have much wider benefits for students. 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.

For me, the potential for equity is huge. Essentially, the Apple platform can respond to the multiple layers of digital equity by providing access to an educational device, both off and online. It’s important for us to empower students and future generations with digital tools and the abilities to ensure that they succeed in the classroom, and beyond, with the tools they are most familiar with.