One only need walk the cloisters of Lancing College’s gothic revival quadrangles to be brought back to Nathaniel Woodard’s original vision of a nineteenth-century collegiate education, one modelled on the enduring values of the Oxbridge colleges’ scholarship and, more distantly, the monastic tradition of scholarship in seclusion.
Indeed, the College’s Sanderson Room houses many of the original tomes from the Victorian library which represent a venerable model of academic rigour and scholarship. Our students still use many of these books to this day; we value them greatly. And yet the College students today take iPads with them into not only this fine room but every other classroom in the school and their wider lives beyond it. What can this iPad do, one might wonder, that can add to the splendour and tradition of over 150 years of academic excellence? A good deal, we have discovered.
Where in Woodard’s time the library was – the Masters aside – the major source of knowledge for a student, now the iPad is a highly portable resource that puts the power of the internet at all of our students’ fingertips in moments. Moreover, in a site that combines gothic splendour with full high-speed broadband access, students have this access wherever they go, perhaps most usefully in the gloriously equipped Gwynne Library whose modern setting is the equal of many higher education libraries. Run by Serena Marchant, our College Librarian, and her team of chartered librarians, the Gwynne Library lies at the heart of the College’s academic endeavours but now, with the iPad, extends well beyond the constraints of the physical library buildings in its holdings. The library now administers a significant set of eBook and journal resources that extend our students’ access to the intellectual world such that, while physically safe in the glorious surrounds of the College buildings, unlike their Victorian predecessors, our students can now spread their wings electronically and consult books and a wide range of carefully selected resources from around the globe. Allied to this, Apples iTunesU is a less known facet of the iTunes Store where increasingly the best universities in the world place free lectures and resources for students to use. Via the iPad, a Lancing student can now sit in the library or the comfort of their boarding house while attending a lecture at Oxford, Harvard or the Sorbonne but safe in the knowledge that they can then take their questions about what they learn back to our own expert staff.
The iPad is a tremendous organisational tool too. At Lancing College, all students’ work is set for them via their iPads, meaning that they always have a permanent record, set directly by their teachers of what their assignments are and when they are due. The storage capacity of the iPad means that many classrooms are, in terms of sheets and handouts, virtually paperless with work sent directly to the iPad so it cannot be lost. However, the wonder of the technology is that you can handwrite with it too, via a stylus where annotation by hand is speedy and efficient. Thus, the technology supports rather than loses the many benefits of handwriting work. This is not to say that handwriting work is unimportant – we still take great pride in penmanship and the essential art of unaided composition – but with scanning technology available to all, a handwritten piece can now be scanned and marked electronically too, ensuring that it is never lost. Moreover, a teacher can now use the iPad to mark a piece of work by writing on it, to provide a supportive audio commentary or even – in the same amount of time it takes to mark – to produce a video where we can talk a student through how to improve a piece of work, annotating the work in real time for the student. This provides more detailed, human and useful feedback than traditional marking.
With a wireless site, students can also quickly email each other or their teachers to ask for additional help or clarification, whether on the site of the College or not. The iPad means, effectively, that a student has all the benefits of being a boarder, even when one is not in College, in the holidays, for instance. Via the wonders of Skype and other video-calling technology, we can even keep in contact with each other when oceans and time zones separate us, all using the same device. The school has its own Virtual Learning Environment where a plethora of resources are available for students, from stores of classnotes to interactive videos, tests and revision materials, allowing all students access to the materials from all teachers in the school. As a central source of resourcing, allied to the iPad, it means no student need ever lose a sheet or miss an important piece of information. If they do, they can get a new one using their iPad wherever they may be.
This is before a Lancing student even makes it to the classroom. Here, the iPad really comes into its own. The device has in-built functions that make it an exciting educational tool. The iBooks platform, particular to the iPad, allows teachers to build wonderful, individualised resources for their students. Teachers write their own textbooks, individualised for the needs of their students and, unlike the traditional textbook of years past, a student can watch videos, link to the wider world, even chat with other students about the topics from within the book in real time. The book can be annotated and comes with built-in dictionaries to define key words, meaning students can work independently and keep their notes with their textbooks seamlessly. They get to keep the books too.
The devices allow students and teachers to be creative in school too. Not only can they collaborate to make their own books but also pictures and videos. Imagine being on the tennis court and learning to serve for the first time. Isn’t it frustrating when you keep getting it wrong? With the iPad and an app like Ubersense, a coach or a fellow player can record a series of serves and then in real-time play them back to show a player where they can improve. With the right coaching – and at Lancing we have it on tap at all times – the iPad allows immediate specific feedback and guidance, leading to swifter improvement and success. The iPad’s portability and multi-functional nature means that it is useful in a wide range of contexts too. Video feedback and immediate replay is as useful, for example, when assessing a science experiment as in the drama studio or when examining one’s impact and performance in a debate or presentation.
Beyond the in-built functions of the iPad are the range of bespoke applications which are available for it, particularly in an educational context. Remember the days of putting your hand up in class and feeling frustrated that you didn’t get to ask or answer all the questions you wanted to? Now, the iPad has applications that mean that every student can answer every question and the teacher gets the answers immediately, akin perhaps to ‘Ask the Audience’ on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? This means that every child is engaged in all facets of the class. It also means that, with immediate feedback and automated marking of tests, teachers spend more time giving feedback on how to get better rather than mechanically processing what students got right or wrong. It takes out the perspiration of education and supports the teacher in providing inspiring lessons.
Of course, we are aware that young people will seek distractions and, where they seek to find them, they will. Just the same as any other electronic device, there are issues of e-safety to address with the use of iPads, just the same as there are for any other device. Given how electronically connected the school is, we are just as expert in providing our students with guidance over electronic safety and security via our outstanding PSHE programme. Moreover, iPads for younger students are collected in at the end of working time in boarding houses. Each student obtains their apps for the devices via a College iTunes account and these are ‘locked down’ to ensure that students can’t download games and other distractions and iPads are regularly checked by tutors and in the course of the teaching day. Most effectively, using the iPad for educational means ensures that students see its scope as more than a toy or a means of diversion from work. It is an integral part of all of our working lives.
This is not to say that we exclude ourselves from the social world of the internet. When used responsibly, it is an exciting and ever-expanding part of all of our lives. The College has its own Facebook page where it interacts with alumni and Twitter is used as a means of distributing key information, allowing us to stay abreast of things happening in the wider world and communicating our activities externally. We use electronic questionnaires to consult our students and their parents about all facets of College life and, in an age of ever greater connectedness, we have a web portal where parents can access their children’s reports while most College information is now delivered via email.
While Victorian in its foundations, its architecture and its grounding in rigorous scholarship, Lancing College is equally an innovative environment in which the latest technology is employed for the betterment of students’ learning. While the College values its traditions immensely, it is alive to the fact that scholarship evolves daily and, through wholescale investment in educational technology, has ensured that our students develop with the modern world while remaining true to the enduring values of our founder.