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Harlow College's 'iPads for all' policy means accessibility for all, too

Dave MonkKelly EdwardsKaren Spencer

In 2015, Harlow College launched the ’iPads for All’ strategy. We made a strategic decision, agreed by our governing body and students, to make a significant investment in our digital infrastructure. 

This investment included:

  • Ubiquitous wifi across campus
  • Upgrades to internet service lines to allow at least 3,000 devices to run simultaneously across the campus
  • Establishment of a mobile device management system

This allowed us to begin to change the way we structured our curriculum and student learning whereby all learners experience using digital not only to support their learning, but also to prepare them for the digital workplace.

Kelly Edwards, director of quality, says:

“The digital strategy is explained to students as part of their college induction. They’re provided with support and guidance to realise the powerful effect that using technology can have within their learning. They’re also given the tools to understand how they can use their iPad to enhance their college experience, improve their ability to study and to allow them to personalise their learning.”

As well as a significant investment in infrastructure and devices, our digital roll-out was supported by:

  • Establishment of the digital innovation team to support development and training
  • Recruitment of digital ambassadors and leaders, from both the college’s students and staff
  • A strong programme of continuing professional development

Digital innovation team

Our digital team is central to the integration of technology. The team is part of the college’s quality improvement and professional development area, focusing on:

  • Digital support for students and teachers
  • Leading the digital leaders and ambassadors group
  • Bespoke training
  • One-to-one training and support for staff and students on a drop-in basis
  • Work with Apple certified trainers on five allocated training days
  • Workshops and CPD training and support
  • Setting up and managing staff 'digifairs'
  • Carrying out digital projects
  • Running the iPad roll-out/roll-back programmes
  • Liaising with the IT frontline support team in assisting staff and students’ iPad use
  • Carrying out audits of staff use of iPads
  • Conducting surveys into iPad usage and on exit
  • Running Jisc's digital experience insights surveys of teaching staff and students

Digital support

Transition to fully online was made smoother during lockdown, as issues to do with access to devices, wifi and suitable applications for learning had already largely been resolved. Of the 3,000 plus students learning online, only 18 reported issues with access to technology, and the digital innovation team was on hand to provide support.

The significant investment made over a sustained period by the college in its infrastructure and CPD has paid off in terms of student access.

Professional learning

Staff development and a growth mindset culture are key to using technology effectively in the classroom. Staff engage in professional development through five dedicated CPD days a year, weekly 'CPD Wednesdays' and bespoke support for teams.

At the start of our journey, we used free training days with Apple certified trainers to help us identify applications and tools for learning. We specifically focused on pedagogy and which applications made the biggest difference to learning, teaching and assessment. These are called our digital top ten and are covered later in the article.

Establishing a strong culture of innovation and experimentation is key to success. We have worked hard to develop a ‘growth mindset’ culture. ‘The power of yet’ and ‘not there yet’ are phrases that are used on a regular basis.

Staff need to be willing to try new things and adapt to change; they need to be keen to develop and improve; to reflect on where they are as teachers; to look at their skills and to try new and different methods of delivery, assessment and communication with their learners. 

Digital ambassadors

Ambassadors assist both staff and learners to develop their digital skills. They also meet and demonstrate their use of digital technology to visitors. Any student can become a digital ambassador.

The ‘no one is left behind’ policy has enabled a wheelchair-dependent student with cerebral palsy to be short-listed for a digital project run by Fujitsu as well as a digital ambassador on the autistic spectrum to successfully contribute to a panel discussion and hackathon at Jisc’s Digifest 2020. Representing the college enables students to grow in confidence and to build their CVs. One of our digital ambassadors said:

“Being a digital ambassador has improved my personal skills and has given me skills to help other people. My CV is bursting with experiences and my confidence has grown.”

All staff are encouraged to gain their Apple teacher qualification. Our digital leaders provide support and guidance across their delivery teams and on staff development days in relation to the Apple teacher qualification. This provides staff with a sound understanding of a range of Apple apps, which develops confidence and creativity within the classroom.

One of our digital leaders said:

“Being a Digital Leader has changed my role by encouraging me to support others with the use of technology in the classroom. It has also allowed me to explore different ways of using technology and to research, often drawing on the experiences of others to do so. Since becoming a Showbie Champion, Apple teacher with Swift Playgrounds and now an Apple distinguished educator (ADE), I have been increasingly involved with staff training events and helping to support my colleagues.” 

Digital top ten

Our digital top ten, with the key uses for learning, include:

1. Showbie

The heart of your paperless classroom

  • Hand in and review assignments

  • Recieve personal feedback from tutors

  • Stay on track with timeley notification

2. Padlet

The easiest way to create and collaborate in the world

  • Share thoughts on common topics

  • Post a range of content: text, images, video and links

  • Build your own communities of interest

3. Notes

Capture your thoughts, sketch ideas and create checklists

  • Quickly get ideas down on your iPad
  • Record in-class images and video for reference
  • List out your action points to help get things done

4. Keynote

Making it easier to create:

  • Stunning and memorable presentations
  • Presentations with dazzling effects

5. OneDrive

Do more wherever you go

  • Get to your files from anywhere on any device
  • Archive files and free up space on your iPad
  • Unlimited and safe storage for all your work

6. Adobe Spark Page

A suite of apps that allow:

  • Creation of video stories
  • Creation of web pages
  • Designing presentations and graphics

7. iMovie

A video editing tool to develop a professional looking video containing:

  • Titles
  • Music and voiceovers

8. Kahoot

A game-based classroom quiz played by the whole class. It can be:

  • Played on any mobile device or computer
  • Used as a refresher or assessment tool

9. Pages

A powerful word processor to create breathtaking documents. Choose a:

  • Page style
  • Customised font and stunning images

10. GarageBand

A fully equipped music creation studio. It includes:

  • A complete sound library
  • Instruments, presets for guitar and voice
  • A huge selection of session drummers and percussionists

The college has also introduced Planet EStream to complement the digital top 10, allowing us to create our own ‘YouTube-style' web-based platform to provide simple around-the-clock access to our media library.

The flexible format enables users to upload a whole range of digital assets including videos, photos, audio and documents, as well as having access to thousands of existing multimedia resources from the likes of the BBC. Built-in learning tools, designed specifically for education, dramatically increases engagement and flips the traditional passive video viewing model into an interactive and active learning experience.

Prior to lockdown, OneDrive was expanded to include Microsoft Teams. This has proved invaluable for teachers and managers to meet on a regular basis and keep in touch. It has been carefully rolled out to students, taking into account safeguarding and mental wellbeing.

As a rule of thumb, the college recommends no more than 20 minutes face-to-face screen input for every taught hour. The key is to provide short, sharp video-based inputs and allow time for activities, consolidation and learning.

Teachers use their choice of technology as part of their everyday teaching toolkit. It is not an add-on to their normal way of working but is seen as the norm. Technology is fully embedded into the way our teachers plan, deliver and assess their students. Students are also taught how to use technology for learning and how this can enhance their experience in preparation for the world of work.

Tranformational teaching and learning

Across the college, there are examples of transformational teaching and learning. Our staff have fully embraced the use of technology to redesign and re-evaluate the way in which they work to ensure that all students achieve their fullest potential, and nobody is left behind.

The carpentry team is a perfect example of how technology has transformed the way in which their students learn. More importantly, the team has revolutionised the way in which their students feel about their learning. Using QR codes and Padlet walls, students record their progress and development. The teacher accesses images, time-lapse videos and assessments on their programme providing ongoing, personalised feedback to individuals.

Staff and learners at Harlow College have benefited significantly from the strategic approach of ‘iPads for all’. When considering how to provide access to technology, colleges and policy makers need to:

  • Embed their digital approach in their overall strategy – technology is a tool, not an end in itself
  • Consider and agree the investment required in infrastructure, devices and CPD
  • Develop a systematic approach to the roll-out of technology and invest in a team of practitioners to provide support
  • Start simply, focusing on key tools or applications that everyone can use consistently and to a high quality
  • Involve staff and students at all stages; they are the key advocates for change and will provide the right environment and culture to innovate

For further information, please read our digital books, available on Apple books - Harlow College: Not just courses. Careers and Harlow College: Not Just Courses. Careers Vol 2

This article is part of an e-book produced by the Association of Colleges and funded by Ufi - Creating a post-COVID-19 EdTech Strategy - bringing together all the wisdom and lessons learned from lockdown.