Project: REW Digital Device Trials
Role: Digital Learning Designer @ RMIT Training
RMIT Training used to be a traditional brick and mortar educational provider which relies on printed textbooks. In March 2018, under the direction of CEO, I spearheaded two digital device trials to bring digital technology and personal devices to the classroom. Exploratory in nature, the purpose of the trials are to:
- understand the technological and pedagogical impact student devices have in the classroom;
- evaluate and derive minimal hardware & software requirements for student devices as part of RMIT Training’s digitisation of pathway course materials and assessment.
Two iterations of test were conducted, involving up to 30 students from Training.
One commencing class of Level 7 REW students was selected. All 15 students and 2 English teachers were provisioned with laptops. The basic technical setup for students/teachers:
- A HP Stream 11 Pro G3 laptop & a mouse
- Windows 10 operating system
- Microsoft Edge (Internet browser) and Office suite as part of the OS
- Microsoft OneNote free student account
- In addition,
- Access to Canvas with PDF versions of textbooks and additional online materials
The trial ran for 5 weeks. Students were given an orientation of the device and OneNote which they need to use to annotate their textbook PDFs. Students are asked to bring the devices to the class and teachers are required to deliver part of the classroom teaching using devices.
Findings of the first trial revealed that students liked the idea of using devices in the class. Potential benefits include helping them to prepare for university, faster note taking, auto-check grammar and spelling, staying organised, accessing digital resources and searching information online. However, finding a device that is fit for purpose for the types of classroom activities has proven to a challenge. Some of these basic tasks include using devices to read and annotate digital textbooks, take digital notes, search information online and to start and record discussions. The device needs to be portable, responsive, easy to use, and affordable.
In terms of software, note taking and annotation are the most important tasks that students do in-class. Microsoft OneNote was trialed for its feature set and convenience, but it has many limitations. Teachers found it challenging to incorporate technology into the classroom as little time was allowed for training and preparation. Without digital activities “designed in”, it is hard for teachers to take advantage of the devices and software.
Other issues including student satisfaction with the device, battery life, set up of the LMS, and using keyboard. Following these findings, a second trial was proposed, where iPads were introduced to the classroom.
One commencing class of REW Level 6 students was selected. All 12 students and 2 English educators were provisioned with iPads. The setup includes:
- A 9.7-inch iPad
- iPad Keyboard and Adonit Mini 4 stylus
- Apple account & Google account
- GoodNotes app
- Google Docs for Response Journals
- A separate Canvas LMS course for the digital trial class
The trial lasted 10 weeks. Students were given an induction and asked to bring device to every class. Educators were encouraged to maximise device usage both in and out of class. In additional to an induction and two training workshops provided to the two educators, a mid-term meeting took place at the end of Week 4; a Digital Activity Guide is included as supporting document.
Students’ reception of iPads was much more favourable than laptops. iPad usage was high thanks to its lightweight and protablity. The majority of students (>90%) found iPad easy to use and Student Books easy to access, compared to only half of students who thought so in #1 trial. Also, students brought their iPads to class every day; their skill of using the device for learning improved over time – the number of students who responded using devices for accessing online resources, online quizzes, doing research etc. increased from Wk 1 to Wk 9.
Annotation was still a major drawback despite improvements compared to #1 trial thanks to touchscreen and stylus. Screen size, PDF navigation (flipping between pages), and multitasking were cited as the main pain points.
Students and educators have mixed views about whether device added more value to learning. Students cited for helping study: defining new words, correcting spelling, accessing online audio and videos, participating in Kahoot/Quizlet activities, searching information. Educators attempted reconcile face-to-face and digital activities in the classroom. They are concerned that students are losing certain aspects of language learning due to the reliance on devices.
After two rounds of trials, five recommendations were made:
- iPad has proven a popular choice, offering a good balance between performance and budget.
- Student Book experience is key part of the trial, but its format is not fit for purpose.
- Canvas is best placed for content and activities integrated with curriculum.
- Going forward, course and resources development need to be tailored to online delivery.
- Any digital rollout requires time buffer for preparation and induction; and support needs to be thoughtfully planned and executed.