Feedback strategy guides STEM uptake of wireless; video tools

Guest post by Steve Crapnell, MIE Expert and head of eLearning co-ordination at All Hallows’ School, Queensland.

Like many schools, All Hallows’ School in Brisbane is experimenting with stylus-enabled devices for STEM topics. What makes us different is our strategy. For the past 18 months, our technology adoption has been guided by a single, clear aim: to enhance the speed, quality and impact of teacher feedback. The results are terrific.

Step 1 for stylus: formulate your strategy

All Hallows began using tablet devices over three years ago. We saw the combination of stylus, tablet and OneNote as a great trio for taking class-work fully digital. My role, as eLearning Co-ordinator, was to help teachers find the apps that helped them make the best use of their tablets. So I bombarded them with as many new apps as I could find.  

But this scatter-gun approach just wasn’t working and teachers became overloaded. So 18 months ago, we asked the fundamental question: ‘why are we using this technology?’ That got us to focus on where the real value of stylus-OneNote combination really lay.

After a lot of hard thinking, the answer was clear: feedback. What OneNote and easy annotation can do that is truly unique is deliver timely, powerful feedback. Since then, we’ve evaluated every new app or technology against this goal. If it helps teachers improve student understanding, we invest time and energy on it. If it doesn’t, we move on.

Inputs must be easy

The first big decision was to identify a stylus device that really makes handwriting easy. For us this is the Surface Pro 3, which we’ve given to Year 5, 7 and 11 students. The ease of input is crucial, because it means we can get rid of the keyboard and teachers can work very fast on student workbooks.

With styluses and OneNote, teachers also gain the freedom to respond in different ways. They can mark up students’ work in digital ink, and add audio commentary if that’s appropriate. The beauty is the speed. Every student gets feedback the second it’s completed, and everyone has their work back within 24 hours.

Video: fast-forward feedback

With a focus on feedback, the video creation tool Snip has also become hugely popular – across all departments. It makes it easy to take a screen or image snapshot, and then create a video with your own audio commentary as you annotate the image.

For example, when I want to show an individual student how they should have solved an equation I create a video that shows me using my stylus in their OneNote class book, with me explaining what I’m doing as I’m doing it. It takes seconds and the marked up video file is instantly there for the student to see.

I’ve noticed foreign language teachers use it in an interesting way, to teach students how to pronounce specific words or characters.

The other point about Snip is that you can create a lot of resources very fast. If I see lots of students making the same mistake, I create a quick Snip video explaining the answer, and then it’s automatically distributed to all students’ class books. This is easily the best and most efficient way to work: I’ve observed that some students gain mastery of a proof simply through watching a Snip video multiple times.

Free-flow teaching style

The other big impact of true stylus-enabled devices is on teaching styles. We have wireless classrooms, and I use an app called MirrorOp to connect my Surface Pro table to the whiteboard projector. Then I walk around the class, teaching from my tablet and using my stylus to solve equations. It’s very natural and very liberating, because I am free to move around the room.

It also save a huge amount of students’ time. They aren’t slavishly copying down what I’m doing because it’s already there, in their class books, in real time. They focus on adding to, not capturing what I do.  

No turning back

There’s no chance that we will return to pen and paper for Year 11 and 12 students, because of the flexibility we have given our teachers. Everyone realises that digital-stylus working gives us powerful new ways to give timely, individual and powerful feedback. And this is what improves student performance.  

The other reason we’ll stick with the stylus is because it’s very supportive of different teacher styles. What the Surface Pro – stylus – OneNote combination does is to give teachers huge freedom to teach in different ways, while staying in control. The risk for teachers is low, because it actually mimics a traditional way of teaching and makes it more powerful. At our school, it’s becoming as natural as working with chalk.

Our mission at Microsoft is to equip and empower educators to shape and assure the success of every student. Any teacher can join our effort with free Office 365 Education, find affordable Windows devices and connect with others on the Educator Community for free training and classroom resources. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for our latest updates.