IT is a 21st century alternative to traditional school trip destinations such as zoos, farms and museums that is increasingly in vogue with Scottish teachers.
Apple, one of the world’s leading technology firms, is being inundated with requests from schools for places at free workshops in its high-street stores.
The initiatives, known as Field Trips, have been quietly gaining traction among educationalists eager to supplement traditional learning in classrooms.
Such is their popularity, the latest six-week batch of sessions at Apple’s flagship store in Glasgow city centre, were fully booked up in the space of four hours, with some schools waiting for up to two-and-a-half years for a slot.
Teachers signed up with the enterprise have hailed it as a great way of “democratising” learning and bolstering the creativity and self-esteem of pupils outside a classroom environment.
Technology experts said although the initiative is a clever way for Apple to entice a new generation of customers to buy its products, its commitment to education was “consistently impressive.”
The scheme is designed to allow schools access to technology not always available in the class or at home. Open to both primary and secondary schools, it allows youngsters to expand on projects they are undertaking in class. Recent workshops have seen pupils create multimedia presentations on aspects of Scottish history, such as the Battle of Bannockburn.
The latest school to participate in a 90 minute workshop was Our Lady’s High, a Motherwell secondary. Last Wednesday morning, its book group - comprising pupils aged between 12 and 14 - created multimedia presentations explaining what Glasgow means to them. Comprising text, images from the web and video recordings and voiceovers of the pupils giving their views, the overall package formed a slideshow in iMovies, Apple’s dedicated film editing software.
Mary Tulley, the school’s principal teacher in support for learning, believes the collaborative experience offers a compelling companion to other modes of learning, pointing to the way it has bolstered the confidence of pupils with English as a second language.
“You see aspects of the children’s personality come through that are not always clear when you are teaching in a traditional classroom group,” she explained. “There’s some real creativity you didn’t realise was there until you place them in a new environment with new technology, it’s a real eye opener.
“In many ways, it allows children to see things they might have been intimidated by are not intimidating at all. Some pupils may not have the language to describe their feelings or views, but working in this way is huge for their self-esteem.”
Dr Andrew Manches from the University of Edinburgh, an expert in early learning and new forms of technology, said the use of tablets was a boon for teachers as well as pupils.
“If you’re not confident as a teacher using technology, it will impact on your work. If you know how to handle these devices and apply them, you will be more creative in their use.”
He added: “I look on initiatives like these as a deal. We’re willing to train our children up in using a particular brand because there are particular benefits from it.”
Patrick Goss, editor-in-chief of TechRadar UK, the country’s largest consumer technology news website, said: “Although it gets far less interest than the latest iPhone 6 rumour or the latest alarmist nonsense about how much someone’s child spent in the App Store through in-app purchases, Apple’s work in education has been consistently impressive for years.“
“Of course there are big wins for a company in making sure that the youth are au fait with its products, but when you talk to people within Apple you do genuinely get the impression that it goes well beyond that.”
As well as its field trip sessions, the Californian company is also preparing to hold its latest summer camp initiative. A less structured series of workshops, it is promoted as a way of encouraging parents and their children to learn together over the holiday period.
Apple’s influence is also being seen school settings as well, with Cedars School of Excellence, an independent establishment in Greenock, Inverclyde, believed to the first school in the world to conduct all its lessons using iPads. A University of the West of Scotland study showed the approach has resulted in a spike in cognitive, emotional and general engagement levels.
Fraser Speirs, the head of computing and IT at the school, who also advises local authorities on the use of technology in learning, said although use of tablets was increasingly popular in schools, there remains “a long way to go.“
He explained: “At the moment, there are a lot of iPads in schools, but they’re not concentrated enough. A large secondary may have around 100 iPads, for example, but it’s not fully one to one yet.
“The question is not only the cost to get to that level, but sustaining it over the long-term. Schools are able to buy Apple and Android products at a pretty good price, but it’s a challenge technically, politically and organisationally.”