This case study describes the work undertaken by Jim Hildyard who teaches English and Media at Winterhill Comprehensive School. It highlights the educational potential of quick response (QR) codes and examines issues involved in student-produced OERs. Students from Years 8, 9 and 10 English and Art classes created OERs to accompany educational displays at the Magna Science Adventure Centre. The resources comprise digital artwork as well as writings and music inspired by visits to Magna. The resources will be hosted online and visitors to Magna will be able to access them by scanning QR codes located next to the exhibits.
5.1.4 Case Study 4. QR codes and OERs across Educational Settings
Winterhill Comprehensive School in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, has almost 1,300 pupils on roll aged 11 to 16. It is a technology college ‘committed to the use of new technologies to enhance learning and teaching throughout the curriculum’ and its city learning centre IT facilities have recently been extended to include studios for film and sound recording. The school was rated satisfactory in the most recent Ofsted Report (2010), although since then results indicate strong improvement and it expects to be rated highly in the next inspection. In terms of intake, 16.3 per cent of pupils are eligible for and claiming free school meals, and for 85.5 per cent of pupils the first language is English (DfE data School and Local statistics).
Jim Hildyard has taught at Winterhill for ten years. He was recruited originally as head of English, but three years ago took a creative media course, which introduced him to Mac technology. This technology, in which he is largely self-taught, has transformed his teaching. Jim’s aim in this project was to explore the use of QR codes in an educational setting. It involved a partnership with the nearby Magna Science Adventure Centre; Jim and the school have established a working relationship with Magna in recent years. The idea was that Jim would work with interested teachers from different curriculum areas who would involve their students in producing resources related to educational exhibits available at Magna.
Magna is a science discovery centre containing interactive exhibits relating to the four elements. Housed in the former Templeborough Steelworks in Rotherham, the centre also contains extensive interpretation relating to the steel industry.
The use of QR codes to enhance the visitor experience in a heritage context has recently been piloted in a number of locations [See ‘QRpedia: how small museums can reach a larger audience’]. To date, interest has mainly been in QRpedia through which visitors can access Wikipedia entries in their native language relating to exhibits. Stuart Ballard, the education manager at Magna, who worked with Jim as part of the project, was interested in exploring the potential of QR codes in the specific environment of Magna, where some of the site is quite dark and noisy, making it difficult to engage with conventional printed text.
220.127.116.11 Digital Literacy Practice
A group of Year 8 students from Winterhill were taken on a visit to Magna. Following this, they produced creative writing in response to The Big Melt, a dramatic audiovisual display which recreates the steelmaking process at Templeborough. John Heaps, a former steelworker at Templeborough, was invited to speak to the students about his work and to answer their questions. He also read one of the poems they had written about The Big Melt. The students filmed the session. If technical issues relating to the size of the file can be addressed, it is intended to make a clip available of John reading the poem via a QR code next to The Big Melt exhibit.
A group of Year 10 art students also visited Magna. They made sketches and took photographs using a tripod and produced a pool of approximately 400 images and 20 movie files.
Year 9 students were asked to respond visually to these images to create artwork for the project. They were shown various techniques in Photoshop such as the use of filters and combining layers. This produced a bank of digital artwork to add to the resources for Magna.
Some Year 9 students edited their pictures together to make short films. Several went on to combine their films with compositions they had produced using GarageBand. These drew on sounds recorded at Magna and industrial-like sounds downloaded from Freesound a collaborative database of audio clips released under Creative Commons licences.
Meanwhile, Year 10 Art students also worked with the photographs and sketches they had created on their trip to Magna as part of their level 2 BTEC Art and Design. Their work was informed by research they carried out on Futurist artists.
Some students used Photoshop to work up highly individual works of art developing the themes of earth, air, fire and water, Futurism and art.
The students had already used Photoshop in Years 8 and 9, so this gave them the opportunity to build on their skills. One student explained that Photoshop gave her ideas that she then developed in her own way.
Chris Davies, the art teacher, has a background in fine art and has gradually taught himself to use computers in his teaching. He insists:
I’m not a techy. It’s the fine art background. I just use whatever is to hand. It’s all about the ideas and creativity to me … My ethos is pencil, paint, Photoshop. It’s part of the same creative process. It’s not digital and [non-digital].
Digital artwork is now widespread, so these skills are essential for students. In general, Chris feels that they have enjoyed the project but cautions, ‘You can’t assume that all students are going to enjoy film editing or producing digital artwork.’ Chris is planning further work with his next group of Year 10 students in which they will create three-dimensional outcomes such as sculptures out of paper, card and clay.
The QR codes were implemented at Magna in October 2012, allowing students to gain a real sense of the public’s engagement with their work and the way in which it is accessed through QR codes. Jim points out that it will be interesting to see how this impacts on the students and more widely in the school context. At present, policy at Winterhill, in common with many other schools, is that mobile phones cannot be used in lessons. Yet there is potential for QR codes to be used as part of the curriculum and accessed by students on their mobile devices.
Outcomes of this project have included a better understanding of the use of QR codes for marketing and educational purposes, exploring issues related to student-produced OERs and the intersections of digital literacy and creativity and helping pupils gain writing skills for specific audiences. The school has gained increased collaboration with Magna.
18.104.22.168 Reflections on Teaching
As part of the case study, Jim contributed this reflection:
These are fast moving times in the digital world. Digital technology is rapidly developing on a daily basis, both in terms of hardware, where competing manufacturers race to outperform each other, and in terms of software, where the development of new apps, instantly delivered to mobile devices, is a part of everyday life. Educators need to respond.
Jim thought that the project tied together a number of recent technological developments in order to enhance pupils’ educational experience and connect their experiences at home with the learning environment.
Jim reflected on the pride that the project had created:
We are using QR tags, the web, student-created digital content, and mobile devices to provide a rich experience for visitors to Magna. Over 80 students from Winterhill School in Rotherham are working on creating wonderful digital exhibits accessible using QR tag technology. These range from poetry to musical compositions to digital artworks to oral histories of the steelworks, and more.
He summarises the aims of the project in terms of the following digital literacy skills, knowledge and understanding:
QR technologies and their potential for educators
Educational apps, not just conventional ones but those such as GarageBand, which is providing a tremendous hit
Awareness of target audience and web design issues, particularly on mobile devices
Learning to write for a real audience rather than for an invented one
The knowledge and understanding required for students to share these ideas in the future, in a dissemination event.
At the end of the project Jim commented:
When a creative idea is first formed, no one is quite sure how it will develop. The general direction and journey is often sketched out, but the exact details of the destination are often unclear. Such is the case with the QR Magna project. We sought to create a blend of digital and traditional art, creative writing and musical composition and film. Students were the creators, but some innovative teachers were the facilitators who guided them through the various stages.
I think that the QR tags are an incredible modern technology, which will allow visitors to Magna to see how others have interpreted the forms that Magna provides. Added to this, I think, by using this technology to show artwork, that other people will be inspired by what they see to try something similar themselves, in which case I believe the QR tags to be a very beneficial feature. Even though having my work on a QR tag won’t directly impact me in such a big way, I like the idea behind the technology as it is a simple and easy way to exhibit artwork and information to an audience and also makes the project brief an actual situation, which gives it a more solid aim.
Comments from Stuart Ballard, education manager at Magna:
From Magna’s point of view the project has added a different dimension to learning and the potential for visitors to explore the building using modern technology.
Current research suggests about 11 per cent of smartphone users use them to scan QR tags in any month, so I’m interested to see if the project can encourage people to view their smartphone technology as a wider learning tool in a museum environment. Jury out on this and I would expect it will be a gradual accretion of smart learning tools in museum-type environments before it becomes commonplace, whether it’s QR tags or some other interface that users initiate contact through. Certainly we’re considering an extension which might allow the following of a simple trail around the building, ability to interact via question and answer ‘test yourself type’ material, quizzes etc.
The quality of the material produced by the students at Winterhill has been outstanding and has resulted in a range of output media.
22.214.171.124 Reflections on Learning
Jade Harper’s thoughts about the project:
The idea of starting our new project with a trip to Magna sounded like a brilliant idea to me as it meant that we could actually look at something first hand for inspiration, instead of looking at photos or 2D sketches done by someone else.
Learning for students became meaningful; the visit gave them a real incentive to produce high quality work based on first-hand experience. ‘Providing students with high quality learning activities in relevant situations beyond the walls of the classroom’ [ Unesco 2010 online] is so important in helping students look at ‘different perspectives. Such experiences ‘enhances learning’; as was demonstrated from the work produced following the visit to Magna,
Our work is going to be available for the general public to view using QR tags. Personally the fact that my work is going to be ‘on display’ doesn’t really affect me because I’m concentrating on meeting the marking specification and doing what I need to do to get a merit or distinction on the project. However, it does make you take more pride in your work and makes you want to do better as it will be on show to someone, not just evaluated by a teacher then stuck into a textbook. Therefore, the QR tags are a good way to help students exceed themselves and aim high so, in my opinion, they are a good idea.
Self esteem is an issue for many teenagers and although Jade seems very happy to work towards the marking specification in terms of the quality of work she produces, she has commented that public displays of work do make students take ‘more pride’ in their work and ‘want to do it better’; a great boost for self esteem when work is displayed in this way.
Over the past couple of months since our trip to Magna my work has developed significantly. We started off with the 2D project where we produced experiments and researched more deeply into Futuristic characters and artists and we are close to finishing that project. I would say that my final piece is taking shape well, achieving what I wanted to achieve, and I have got the Futuristic look that I was aiming for. If I was to do the project again I would have probably changed my media and not use paint, but overall I am very proud of what I have produced and will gladly let it be put into the QR tags system for the general public to see.
Another student, Bethany Harcourt, also commented:
To start this project, we went on a trip to Magna. This trip provided us with surroundings and structures that fit in with the art period we had just researched: Futurism. We collected visual research for the foundations of our project, by taking photos within the different elemental pavilions, and also of the metallic architecture.
As we took our own photos, we could make them specific to our own project and ideas, instead of using other people’s photos and having aspects of our work that were the similar or the same.
Adding on from this, the photos we took were an accurate account of our visit to Magna, as they were the correct dimension and scale. However, even though the photos could be taken at different angles and could have different effects applied to them afterwards, the actual primary object would still be the main focus of the artwork. This is where field sketching came in. As we went through Magna, we took sketches of various objects, forms and techniques. Whilst we were sketching, we were interpreting our surroundings in our own different ways, which automatically gave us primary research that was both fundamental and unique. We were continuously thinking and noting ideas for our project and paths it could lead down; field sketching emphasised which aspects of Futurism or the elements that stood out to us personally. Together, the photographs and field sketches provided a high quality range of primary research.
Hague and Paynton (2010: 2) suggests that developing digital in subject teaching supports young people to be effective, critical students of that subject in the digital age. This digital literacy can dissolve the boundaries between subjects and enable learners to participate in activities in which learning is not tied to specific curriculum subjects as was the case with this project. Pupils moved across curriculum boundaries – English, art, music – in a fluid manner, the approach challenging traditional restrictions regarding subject teaching, which separates them in terms of curriculum structure, timetabling and examination. Digital approaches facilitate the dissolving of these boundaries and promote integrated learning.
126.96.36.199 Reflections on Digital Literacy
The teacher’s vision of the digital world and his own history as an English teacher who moved into media work is seen as a kind of blueprint for the project. It is clear that the teachers had to invest a great deal of time in acquiring the skills to use a range of new software and in acquiring adequate resources for students to use. Access to excellent resources and support was certainly key, as was willingness to invest time in partnership with the local centre. Seeing literacy as involving all modes – still images, video and sound, the written and spoken word – and requiring a range of media – Photoshop, GarageBand and so on – has opened out communication possibilities for the students. Moving beyond the textbook of the English classroom, but nevertheless incorporating spoken poetry in ‘read alouds’ from written work, has meant that students have witnessed and participated in the production of complex digital texts.
In this project, we see how important traditional aspects of schooling, writing, music, art and poetry have been enriched with digital technologies. The sense of audience was very clear for the students throughout the project and they were able to distribute their voices to the local community in exciting and dynamic ways.
The success of this project can be evidenced not just in the very positive learner reflections and in the work they produced but also in the photographic evidence of their engagement with the work. The education manager from Magna was clearly impressed with the professional level of artefacts produced but also with the attitude of the students. The sophistication of the technology and the amount of agency given to the students over their learning seems to have brought their learning to a new level. They were able to enrich ongoing curriculum work and make it their own, seeing the relevance of their learning in the community and contributing to the local museum in a way which others could benefit from.
This project shows how a range of environments can be brought together through the use of digital technologies, where the boundaries of the Magna centre, the school and the community become difficult to separate when seen through the lens of the project. In using QR codes, the centre opens out to virtual spaces that have been produced in the school but can be accessed from anywhere.
The ‘school trip’ has long been seen as valuable but here we see how the one-off experience can be extended. Through visits to the centre, visitors can access texts produced in school and share in the students’ learning. Students can view their own work from multiple locations and see the link between what they do in school and life beyond the gates. The partnership between the school and the centre has been key to the success of the project, and at the heart of this is curriculum and experiential learning. We see how the boundaries of authorship can become merged – with the children’s texts combining with those of the centre, and the children as both consumers and producers in the Magna experience. This positions children as agents in charge of their own learning, as well as empowering them to educate others and to distribute their voices in all kinds of ways – through the spoken and written word, through images and sound. Lankshear and Knobel (2006) characterise new literacies as being more than simply using digital technologies to produce texts. They describe new literacies as having an ethos where texts are less individuated, more collaborative, more distributed and participatory. These texts seem to exemplify these characteristics.
We see how the traditional activities of the English classroom – poetry writing for example – are enriched through the use of still and moving images; and the ability of the children to share this work with what the teacher describes as an authentic audience has helped engage the students with their learning.
The teacher’s prior investment in his own learning has also been key to the success of the project. He has confidently been able to provide guidance, not only in relation to student’s poetry work and writing about the museum but also in producing artefacts to an almost professional standard. Furthermore, the technology he has acquired via a range of sources has enabled the students to make choices about their final texts.
Alongside considerations of which words to use in their poetry, students have been made aware of how different software, different colours, layers and so on in Photoshop convey different meanings. Furthermore, transitions between images and audio choices have all been part of the repertoire that students have had to think about. Far from being simple, this has given the students a great deal to consider. Worries and concerns about technology making life easier for young people in their composition work (e.g. spell checkers) seem redundant when viewing the complexity of the texts the young people have come up with.
188.8.131.52 References/Links to Further Information
Hague, C. and Paynton, S. (2010). Digital literacy across the curriculum: A Futurelab handbook. Accessed at 3/11/12: http://www2.futurelab.org.uk/resources/documents/handbooks/digital_literacy.pdf
Lankshear and Knobel (2006) New Literacies: Everyday Practices and Classroom Learning. Maidenhead UK: Open University Press, pp.195-199.
Unesco (2010) Learning outside the classroom. Accessed 31/10/12 at: http://www.unesco.org/education/tlsf/mods/theme_d/mod26.html
Links to Further resources
Canadian Network Heritage Information Network (2012) QRpedia: how small museums can reach a larger audience
Flickr: Online photo management and sharing application.
Kharbach, M. (2012). Teachers guide on the use of QR codes in the classroom Educational Technology and Mobile Learning.
Osborne, C. (2012). 50 QR code resources for the classroom