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Communicating with new media in the iPad classroom

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It’s imperative that we prioritise effective media creation in schools and incorporate it as an integral part of day to day student learning, writes Sam Gliksman.

The evolution of media had an enormous impact on worldwide culture in the 20th century. The development of media technologies and distribution channels revolutionized communication, news, information access, entertainment and more. This new media world was largely controlled by large corporations until the last decade or so when we’ve started to see the dramatic convergence of two game-changing trends. Social networking has transformed the internet from a place to access information to an unparalleled vehicle for communicating and sharing. Secondly, the tremendous rise in mobile computing has placed cameras and microphones in the hands of large percentages of people around the globe. We have evolved from consumers of media to prodigious producers of media and the age group leading the charge is predominantly teens.

It’s imperative that we prioritise effective media creation in schools and incorporate it as an integral part of day to day student learning. Mobile devices such as iPads offer increasingly more powerful and accessible tools for creating media. Here’s an overview of some of the more innovative new media tools and how they can be used to enhance learning.


The art of animation – a series of related images that depict movement – is arguably several thousand years old. The use of equipment that could display animated images in rapid succession to create the illusion of motion is a more modern phenomenon that gained wide popularity with the development of motion pictures. Cartoons and animated movies from the studios of companies such as Disney, Warner Brothers, Nickelodeon and others have had a tremendous impact on modern culture. Production of an animated movie requires skilled artists, expensive equipment and an investment of countless hours of labor. No longer. Mobile devices with built-in cameras such as the iPad enable budding animators to use a variety of easy to use animation apps to capture and stitch together photos of characters and objects into seamless, fluent animated movies. Further, the process of designing, scripting and staging animations has tremendous educational potential. Animation can be a wonderful mix of art, science, collaboration and problem solving.

At a recent professional development workshop I challenged teachers to create short animated sequences that would illustrate and teach a concept. They had the equivalent time of an average school lesson to devise a concept, build their props and record a sequence of photos in an animation app on an iPad. We used Animate It, a simple and relatively inexpensive animation app. Here’s an example of one group’s animated movie. See if you can grasp the concept before I explain it to you:

They did such an outstanding job that it’s fairly obviously about the life cycle of salmon. The animation was the result of collaborative discussion, collective imagination and creativity, problem solving, critical analysis and a lot of very obvious teamwork. If some of those terms sound familiar, it’s because they intersect with a lot of the learning skills we’re trying to develop in our students.

The group quickly came up with a scheme to divide up the work. Some group members shaped the figures and set up the background stage, some worked on setting up the iPad and testing the lighting, and others researched the details of the salmon life cycle and salmon run. During the setup you could see and hear them interacting and asking questions of each other. Discussions were focused on the mechanics of the animation – “what settings and objects do we need?”, “how do we break up the process to illustrate our concept?”, “how can we create a boat with a fisherman?”, “how do we set up the iPad to maximise the lighting and minimize shadow?” Other discussions related to the analysis and presentation of the educational content – “what are the important stages in the life cycle of salmon?”, “when exactly do salmon swim upstream?”, “what percentage swim out to sea and what happens to the others?” They even managed to touch on the issue of salmon fishing as a potential introduction to discussions about the impact of fishing on the dwindling number of wild salmon.

If Art is at least partly about developing creative visualization and representation then it’s a process we use throughout all academic disciplines at school. Animations can be used just as effectively in Science, History or Art. It requires breaking down a concept into essential stages and parts, then representing the development of a process visually. Some of the many, many ways in which animation can be used effectively include:

  • History – journeys of an explorer, animating key elements of a famous speech
  • Science – life cycles, water cycles, photosynthesis, principles in physics
  • Maths – visual presentation of the concept of fractions
  • English – telling a story with visuals
  • Foreign language – developing a story around key vocabulary words

Augmented reality

You’re browsing the exhibits at your local art museum. If you’re anything like me, you’d probably appreciate the art a lot more if you could bring someone along that could explain the history and nuances of the pieces on display. Now imagine pointing a device at the painting and seeing it morph into a dynamic video giving you all the information you wanted about the art. Welcome to augmented reality.

An augmented reality app uses your device’s camera to view the immediate environment and displays information or media when it sees a “trigger” object it recognises. It’s been utilised as a marketing and informational tool by many industries. Point your device at an advertisement in a magazine and get detailed product demonstrations. Aim it at a sign outside a house for sale and get a virtual walk-through the property. There are also many ways augmented reality can be used in education.

The virtual museum

I’ve worked with teachers at several schools to created virtual museums – student created exhibits that use augmented reality to display student videos when a device is pointed at an exhibit. In one such project, students researched elements of their community’s culture and created exhibits for a museum display. At the same time, they created videos detailing the relevance of each exhibit and the process that went into creating it. The museum was set up in a large hall and several hundred members of the school community attended.

We used a popular augmented reality app called Aurasma. Visitors were sent an email asking them to download the free Aurasma app and bring their device. A small supply of iPads was also available at the museum entrance. Visitors opened the Aurasma app, pointed their device at a tagged object and watched it morph into a video as shown in one example below:

Augmented reality offers many ways for students to create media and delve deeper into their learning. Here are some simple ways that augmented reality can be used in education:

  • Create a live timeline that displays video documentaries when devices are pointed at images along the timeline.
  • Hear or watch students review books when you point a device at printed images of book covers hanging on a wall.
  • School visitors point a device at an image outside a classroom to watch student video explaining what they’ve been learning.
  • Create a “wall of heroes”. Print and hang images of famous people and have the students create short videographies of each person.
  • Create live student portfolios for open house. Students display their work on a wall and each piece triggers a video they’ve created that goes into additional depth about the process and learning that took place.

Green screen videos

One of the first places I visited in the United States was Universal Studios. Of course, being a relatively young and willing tourist, my hand automatically shot up when they asked for a volunteer to put on a cape and “fly” like Superman in front of a green screen. Needless to say it didn’t springboard me into an acting career but it did spark my interest in how movie magic could be used for education. What once required tens of thousands of dollars in equipment and training can now be accomplished with an iPad and some inexpensive props. Move over Superman… here’s a few ways that green screen technology can be integrated into some engaging educational projects.

Setting up your classroom studio

You won’t need to break the bank in order to set up your studio. Here’s what you need:

  • An iPad or other mobile device for taking and editing the video.
  • An iPad stand that holds the iPad steady for taking video. The average cost is between $40 and $100.
  • A green screen kit – search Amazon for “green screen kit” and you’ll find reasonably inexpensive kits that even include lighting. If you’re looking for an even cheaper alternative, clip a large sheet of green butcher paper to a wall. I’ve even worked with teachers that have painted a small section of a wall for green screen video shoots.
  • A green screen video editing app. I’d recommend Green Screen by DoInk. It only costs $2.99 and it’s extremely easy to use.
  • (optional) An external microphone. If you purchase a USB mic then purchase a camera connection kit to use it with your iPad.

Take the video and import it into your green screen app. The app detects and removes the green so that you can layer any image or video in the background. Students can put themselves in any location. Create “on the scene” weather or news reports, interview famous historical figures at the scene of an accomplishment, walk on the moon… imagine and create any scene. Ever thought of cloning yourself? Take two videos on a green background and layer one over the other while you talk to yourself!

Here’s a green screen poetry project I did with one class. The end result is a wonderful poetry performance that extends the traditional writing project to include visual and presentation elements.


Sam Gliksman
Twitter: @samgliksman

Author of iPads in Education for Dummies

Contact Sam for workshops and professional development at



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