Guest post from freelance writer, Gerald Haigh. Gerald writes regularly for the Microsoft education blogs.
In February this year, we reported the news that Liverpool Community College (LCC) had bought 600 Lenovo Windows 8 Tablets for distribution to teaching staff.
At that time, according to Microsoft FE Business Manager Mike Morris,
‘Liverpool Community College might well be the first educational institution in the UK to have them.’
The blog was an early heads-up on the project, so it ended with, ‘Watch this space’, as the enthusiasm and know-how behind the project made it clear there were going to be some good stories.
Now, those stories are beginning to appear. Ken Ryan recently passed on to Mike Morris a brilliant example of good practice from a lecturer – John Bainbridge of the Business Department. In an email to Ken, John writes.
‘On Monday of this week (first day back after Easter) we wanted to radically change the way that we assessed students and we needed some method of recording the assessments. We initially thought about obtaining some recorders and then a light came on that we could use the tablet.
‘We are going to use the tablets to record professional discussions and presentations. It was fantastic that we had the tools at hand! I spoke to Dennis and Steve at Clarence Street (IT support ) and they showed me how to make both sound recordings and videos. I have cascaded this information to my team and we are videoing our first presentation today! Dennis and Steve were brilliant. We have moved a long way in three days and that is due to your foresight and providing us with the tools.
‘Most importantly… you, and we, have 70 students extremely happy, revolutionised our assessment methods and enabled us to achieve better results, inspire students, improve the grades of students and improve the success of our courses (hopefully). Oh and reduced the workload of staff!’
Of course, when I read this I had to speak to John Bainbridge, and when I did, several days after that email, and after they had actually done some assessments, he was still bubbling at the capability of the Windows 8 tablets to change their way of working. The department, he told me, has a continuing difficulty with assessing vocational students (In this case BTEC Extended Diploma courses) in a way that preserves the evidence. Written assessments by vocational students don’t always reflect the quality of their knowledge, and teacher judgments are, by their nature ‘soft’ evidence.
‘Before the holiday we’d been talking to Edexcel about innovative methods of assessment,’ John told me,
‘And when we came back from the break we realised we could use the tablets to record video and audio of students talking about their work. Now, they have to know the material, but they don’t have to write it down. Recording gives us hard evidence that’s available if assessments have to be verified.’
Freeing students from written assessment means that grades now more fairly reflect a student’s achievement. So, says John Bainbridge.
‘Some students who were going to fail will pass. Some who were going to pass will get merits, some who were going to get merits will get distinctions.’
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, throughout our conversation John sounded buoyant and excited.
‘Its revolutionized everything. I get excited about things, and we’re all excited about this.’
He pays warm tribute to Ken Ryan and his team.
‘Our technical staff are fantastic, and I wanted him to know about this. If want to know something, like how to record, I ask the technical staff and cascade it out.’
Talking to Ken makes it clear that this is just a start.
‘We’re starting on our ‘Lunchbyte’ training sessions, covering how to use the tablets to improve teaching and learning – exactly the kind of thing that John’s doing.
We’re also looking at how we can use the tablets to save the money we were spending on separate video cameras.’
Also, in what Ken calls a piece of ‘out of the box thinking’, he and the team are looking at using the Windows 8 tablets to replace desktop computers as they come up for replacement.
‘The idea is to take the desktop computer away and replace it with a docking cradle for the tablet. They already have the monitor, keyboard and mouse, and the there are no issues with performance and memory. We can just squirt a desktop image to the tablet.’
The same kind of thinking leads him to another possibility.
‘Every teaching area has a computer linked to the electronic whiteboard. We could provide an HDMI cable for the tablet and take the computer away. Even better we’re investigating the possibility of a wireless link for the table to the data projector. ‘
It’s very much a matter, says Ken, of gleaning value from the investment.
‘The tablets have a shelf life, and we have to think carefully how to make them pay.’
Given all of that, what else can we do at the end of this blog other than repeat what we said last time – ‘Watch this space’.