Learning, Learning, Learning not Apps, Apps, Apps


An app on its own is like a thinker without thoughts!

This blog chronicles the trials and tribulations of 1:1 iPad deployment in a large secondary school and, as such, covers many positives and negatives. Whilst it is clear that any decisions about iPad usage were based upon the learning intention, it is (perhaps surprisingly) a source of concern that apps played such a significant part in the blog content. It may be the nature of the beast that apps alone form the basis for conversations about new technology in the classroom. However, the success of tablet provision in the classroom is NOT underpinned solely by apps.

Let me explain. All too often I see reference to ‘look how I can present these words across a picture to engage my students!’ or ‘Check out how this random name app selects my students.’ Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure these opportunities have a place as part of the process, but they certainly aren’t a reason to use tablets in the classroom. The power of learning with new technology lies with the teacher and the ability to choose the appropriate tool for the right intention. Moreover, success directly relates to the relationships between learner and educator, and the learner and learning.


Having just spent two weeks working with the Stephen Perse Foundation, it is clear that if the relationships are right then learning is never about the app when using new technology. In two weeks of training, meetings and informal discussion, less than ten apps were discussed in any detail.  In a 1:1 iPad environment, the Foundation places learning at the heart of every discussion and sees technology as a tool to assist the learner and educator. Any discussion about apps in the learning process was merely to assist existing methods that work well or transform the learning as certain opportunities didn’t exist so readily before the iPad was introduced.

Take Explain Everything for example. Hang on, ‘it isn’t about the app’ I hear you cry! Please bear with me. When demonstrating the functionality of Explain Everything, conversation quickly turned to possible use for feedback and assessment. It is well documented that feedback is one of the most important aspects in the learning process and it was clear that this is what the educators wanted to talk about. If I’m honest I’m still not quite sure they know how to use the app! However, they certainly do understand that you can record your thoughts whilst annotating a student’s piece of work or add images or video to the feedback. They also understand you can export a movie file where the student will view their work being annotated with a voiceover explaining areas of concern or possible improvements. Most importantly, therefore they understand the importance of the educator over the app.

This type of feedback has always existed through annotated scripts and meetings between educator and learner. Now the process can be transformed with a more significant part of the feedback available between ‘contact’ times. An educator could receive work submitted ‘online’ and feedback their thoughts in a much more effective way, even before the next scheduled lesson. This is what engendered the enthusiasm amongst Stephen Perse staff, not the app.

Similar conversations surrounded the use of Google Drive to remove time consuming resource collation/distribution and the creativity of iMovie. Again it wasn’t the app that was important, it was the process of learning that was of interest to the educators. The excitement about Edmodo as a replacement for the VLE wasn’t hinged on a new platform. It was based on the students’ interaction with the learning process and the need for peer to peer engagement as part of the overall learning intention.

I’m all for using a multitude of apps, if appropriate, and I certainly think engagement is a part of the learning process that has been helped by new technology (there’s our Wordfoto again). However, when discussing the introduction of tablets to any educational institution, it is always the learning intention that should be top of the agenda. Logistics are an issue. Infrastructure, cost, implementation and management are indeed crucial to the overall decision. Yet if there is no vision for learning then any level of implementation is doomed to failure.

It’s never about the app for learning.It’s always about the relationships between the educator, learner and the learning process.

Although, with the plethora of whizzy, eye-poppingly shiny new apps out there, I must remind myself of that from time to time!

About Daniel Edwards
Director of Innovation & Learning at the Stephen Perse Foundation schools, Cambridge, UK (stephenperse.com). Interested in global connectivity for all and risk taking in education. Keen to discuss all aspects of learning and digital strategy. Also @syded06 on twitter.

27 Responses to Learning, Learning, Learning not Apps, Apps, Apps

  1. Pingback: Technology Bits Bytes & Nibbles | Learning, Learning, Learning not Apps, Apps, Apps

  2. So true! There was a lot of good conversation going on at the last Boston EdCamp around using technology, not about the technology itself, but around the practice. Of course, at EdCamps the teachers run the PD. I think this is a great format for having the kind of discourse you describe.

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  10. Francesca Lebowski says:

    What you wrote here is critical to remember: it is about the learner & the learning goals! The ed tech should never replace that. It provides the apparatus that helps educators be even more successful as we assist students as they strive to make progress with knowledge, awareness, and skills.

  11. Jenny Ashby says:

    I agree about it’s the learning. We have cut our apps use down to 35 from almost 300 apps. We now only install empty apps that you create with to express about learning and share what you know to others. Also using knowledge to create something new. We are adding a suite of org ramming apps also this year that we haven’t had before. Thanks for your post.

  12. Chris Cox says:

    Programming apps, perhaps?

  13. mesterman says:

    Thanks for the post. We’re just at the start of an iPad journey – with a very brief prep time but with good motivations to begin at the start of 2014 rather than a delay. I’m all for disrupting the way we do things in order to create innovative practice, but I do feel the pressure to reassure teachers that, for example, App X will allow students to take notes. We’re just at the S stage of the SAMR model, but everyone has to start somewhere.

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  15. Something to think about. I have been searching for great apps but not exploring using the device for giving feedback or encouraging creativity.

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  17. Education once started in the form transmission of knowledge through oral instruction. Later, black boards, white boards, type writers, simple computers (I have to qualify them as ‘simple’ coz the functions of old computers was significantly different than that of modern computers), modern computers, softwares and websites, touch screen tablets, app made their way into classrooms.

    Just coz students in 1900s did not have access to computers they were not any less in knowledge or brains. Children of 21st century are not automatically smarter merely coz they can doodle with iPads from almost day 1.

    All the whizzy technological tools are just tools. They enable a function, help with the process. As educators we should not lose sight of the goal in education- instill knowledge, curiosity, team work, social skills and hard work.

    BTW I use iPad at my school as a TOOL to further knowledge, kindle curiosity and provide opportunities for creativity.

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