Cambridge school swaps textbooks for iTunes U downloads

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With exams fast approaching for many of the country’s pupils, they want to have as much information at their fingertips as possible.

Having the ability to download lesson material, from actual classes that have been studied, with video and text complied by their own teachers, on to their own iPad, is not an idea based on the ‘classroom of the future’, but a reality for students of The Stephen Perse Foundation School.

The independent school has created an online library, where its teachers can upload lessons and course material for their GCSE, A-Level and International Baccalaureates.

These resources contain interactive content, such as videos and lesson notes that teacher customise to suite the specific needs of each class, along with links to additional information and ideas. They are accessed through Apple’s academic iTunes download service, iTunes U, and therefore available to the students wherever or whenever they require them.

Tricia Kelleher, the principle of The Stephen Perse Foundation School, said that,

“The credibility of online learning depends on the teachers who have made the materials. An iPad on its own isn’t inspiring, it’s the way it’s used that’s inspiring.

“Education should be a mixed economy, there should be technology, but it is only there to support what a living, breathing teacher is doing.

“You’re getting beyond the one-size-fits-all textbook. As a resource, I can’t see it being bettered. You might buy a textbook, but half of it might not be relevant to your school.”

Although the effectiveness of the content relies on the excellence of the teachers creating and making sense of them, the innovative use of digital learning has far-reaching possibilities.

Simon Armitage, a senior teacher at the school, said that digital resources allow staff to “cherry pick from a world of resources.

“This used to be just about books, now it is way more than this. iTunes U is the wrapper. It is not changing what many great teachers have been doing, but it is changing how they are doing it and how easily they are able to do it.”

Pupils now live in a digital world, with the vast majority using social networking sites and obtaining information from Google, and Kelleher feels that technology cannot be kept outside the school gate, “a school has to accept this is the world we live in”.

The big advantage of online course material is its ability to be shared, which is the basic principle behind moocs (massive online open courses). The Stephen Perse Foundation’s exam results rank highly on the international scale and it plans to make its online material free.

Although the school prefers iPads and iTunes U, there are many other platforms other schools can use to create and share their own online content.

As well as sharing within a single educational establishment material can be shared within groups of schools on a global scale.

Dominic Norrish, Director of Technology at The United Learning Education Charity, believes that access to the best inspirational teachers should not depend on “accidents of geography”.

He suggests that online learning, that included a mixture of video and live teaching, could be a way of getting more from the best staff and specialist teachers.

The iTunes U service reached a staggering one billion downloads last year, consisting of material from over 2,400 schools, colleges and universities, with more and more being created at an unprecedented rate.

Schemes, such as the one at The Stephen Perse Foundation, are likely to become ever more popular.

Source: BBC News

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