Monday, April 13, 2009

Apple Teacher Institute - Cheltenham 2009

I was given an opportunity to attend an Apple Teacher Institute (ATI) event in Cheltenham College last week. I had never attended one before and didn't really know what I was letting myself in for but I figured Cheltenham during the Easter Holidays would be good anyway even if the ATI end of things turned out to be uninteresting.

Well I'm up in Portrush now, feet up, watching reruns of Top Gear, feeling lazy and reflecting on the time I had last week. Cheltenham College is a coeducational boarding secondary school, a truly beautiful school in the heart of Cheltenham, itself well worth a visit. However if I ever get a chance to attend an ATI event again I'd happily attend one in a borstal in the back end of nowhere, it was that good.

The people leading the course have the rather corny title "Apple Distinguished Educators" or ADE's. Whatever about the title, their talent, knowledge and enthusiasm was infectious and I expect they were even more tired than us "students" at the end of it all. I should highlight here that our own Ciaran McCormack (Fís, EuroCreator, IADT, Digital Creator, CESI) was among their number and while I didn't get a chance to attend his sessions I heard nothing but praise from those who did - except for that fire alarm at 1:30 in the morning but I'll let him tell that one.

Each day sessions started at 8:30am and we were still going at 9pm-10pm at night followed by social activity till all hours, though I was that tired I was usually in bed by midnight. Full timetable here though we did deviate from it at times.

Basically days one and two looked at skills training and activities based on the stuff we learned. Day three moved towards a group project where we had to produce something incorporating the various things that each member of the group had learned over the previous couple of days. The sessions running up to 2-3 hours each seem long but time really flew and at the end of them you got the feeling that both the students and the teachers (ADE's) could have kept going such was the interest and enthusiasm on both sides.

Day three was almost entirely given over to the group project where we had to create a 3 minute film/animation/presentation on a topic of our choice. Again the time allowed for this seems long on paper but most of us worked right through the day, in many cases skipping the evening meal in order to get the project finished. At different times we could get called apon to help another group where we could. I got hauled into two language based projects as I could string a few words of Irish together. The ADE's were on hand to help out in any way we needed and Ciaran gave me a hand with part of my groups project. While a lot of time was spent on skills using various Apple applications the focus was entirely on how they could be used in the classroom to aid teaching and learning. One of the sessions I didn't get a chance to go to was on geotagging of photographs in iPhoto and how this can be used in Geography classes. However by joining two teachers who had decided to do a project that involved geotagging I picked up a lot from working with them. The stuff I had learned in iMovie sessions helped put the project together. At the end of day three we all gathered together to see everyone elses project and the diversity, originality and talent was striking.

For me, one of the best things about the course was that it allowed us to become students and go through the learning process, playing with the software and the ideas, working in groups, getting to know, help and work with other educators with very different backgrounds and experiences, while having a lot of fun along the way and with no real pressure about the learning outcome - no exams to pass.

My groups humble effort involved, geotagging photographs of various locations round the town of Cheltenham, editing them in iPhoto, adding them to a film in iMovie, adding music from iTunes to the film, using Google Earth to help create the opening sequence which involved recording screen activity, using screen captures to show some geotagging features in iPhoto, using a microphone to record a voiceover to run during the film/presentation and finally playing round with the timing of everything to fit it into 3 minutes and exporting it out as a video file. The end product isn't intended to be particularly educational for the viewers but was more an opportunity for the creators to have some fun with the things we had learned, to produce something that might raise a giggle among the other groups. We were all encouraged to load up our creations to Eurocreator but the end of ours probably made it perhaps, possibly, maybe a tad unsuitable so I stuck it on youtube instead.

Something I haven't talked about here is the pretty exclusively Apple nature of the event. Being someone who often promotes the use of open source in education it might seem a bit odd I would speak so glowingly of what is essentially an Apple experience but more on that tomorrow.