Data Collection, Observation, and Reflection (Pt. 4 of 5)

Posted by on Mar 15, 2014 in Instructional Technology

Field and clinical experience data collection and observation serve as one means for which the use of iPads has enhanced and altered the dynamics of the supervision experience. The documentation of pre-service teaching performance data has become more sophisticated, and the analysis of these data sets is expected more quickly. The nexus of sophistication and speed requires a tool that can allow for multiple forms of data entry, easy integration with data analysis systems, portability, and ubiquitous connection to computing networks.  This is a tall order regardless of device – but one tablets are able to fill.

To these requirements we would add that the ability for a data collection tool to be unobtrusive and quiet while in the field is a genuine concern.  Again, tablets have an advantage in this regard.  The size of the device and the elimination of the fold-up laptop screen removes the barrier between the observer and classroom.  Field supervisors talked about how much more connection they felt with the classes they observed because they were not “behind” anything.  The absence of a keyboard continued to decrease the obtrusiveness of observation.  On a traditional laptop, everyone knows when one is typing because of the tapping of the keys.  Even supposed “soft-touch” keyboards are quite noticeable.  With the iPad, and most tablets available, the option to type on the screen to enter data is nearly silent.  While the same amount of content is collected, there is no sound to alert those in the room.  This is not to say that a learning curve does exist.  Many who learned touch-typing techniques will be at a loss to start on the completely flat, featureless display.  But with a bit of practice, this too becomes second nature.  This issue may also become less pronounced as digital natives, who have grown-up on touchscreen devices, move into the classroom.

Tablets provide a direct response to all of these requests and comes in at a price-point that is affordable.  More importantly, the tablet becomes an interactive tool that allows the teaching candidate and the clinical supervisor to easily communicate, share documents, and access additional teaching tools almost instantaneously. In short, quick and easy access to efficient, user-friendly, mobile technology is changing the nature of the onsite field/clinical supervision experience.

Applications.  The data collection and observation practices are mediated by the desired observable outcomes of the program and the tablet-specific applications chosen by the end user.  While there are dozens of useful applications for use in field/clinical supervision settings, the following applications have proven to be critical to this process and have elevated practice.  Each of these application sets represents a genre of application that is specific to the data collection and observation process:



Note taking.  Inkflow (by Grayon) and Notability (by Ginger Labs) represent excellent options for note taking on a tablet, i.e. adding content via typed or “handwritten” means. Notability provides an additional advantage with its ability to also record the ambient noise while taking notes in any forms.  These sounds are be aligned with the content that is being added to the “page” as one observes.  In other words, your notes will line-up with the action happening in the room.  Livescribe has been very successful in their development of the Livescribe Pen that accomplishes a similar function, but in the traditional paper-pen realm.  These advanced apps bring that same functionality to tablets.

These programs are ideal for those who are looking to input text, hand-drawn images, photos (taken as the teaching happens), and web-clippings as a part of the data collection and observation process.  The additional audio features allow candidates, supervisors, and mentors to go back through the observational notes and re-hear the elements identified in the observations.  This mix of sound and annotation is a powerful learning tool for the candidates.  The notes are also easily shared via email or other file sharing service (discussed later).

Document creation.  Pages (by Apple) and Quickoffice (by Google, Inc.) represent the best of the productivity end of the data collection and observation app spectrum.  If you are going to compile notes, review lesson plans or other field-associated documents, a good word processing program is essential.  These programs also need to provide for easy transfer of content from the tablet environment to the desktop environment for further editing or storage.  Both Pages and Quickoffice are successful on these fronts.

Pages is a tablet version of Apple’s iWork Pages desktop program.  While you do lose some functionality, i.e. extensive font selection, advanced formatting, etc., it is still a very well appointed program – and it gets better with each version upgrade.  Pages gives the author the option of exporting documents in PDF, MS Word, or Pages format for use in the desktop environment.  Pages will also open and edit MS Word documents making it a handy cross-platform tool. Quickoffice, on the other hand, is Google Drive paired app that allows for editing and viewing of Microsoft Office document.  It allows the author to create and read a wide range of documents (Excel, PowerPoint, etc.) including MS Word.  While the elegance of design found in Pages is lacking, the suite of tools offered in this utilitarian package makes it a very useful app.

File sharing.  Dropbox, or other cloud-based storage programs, represent the dissemination category of programs.  Providing timely feedback based on observations is critical in the development of teacher candidates.  Having an integrated system on the tablet for storing and sharing observational data makes this process much easier.   Dropbox allows the supervisor to remotely store data, while at the same time, providing the candidate with a link to the data so they can get immediate feedback and access to guiding materials.  Thankfully, many apps have integrated Dropbox access into their functionality, but there are still some that do not.  Dropbox has developed a standalone app for these situations.  Candidates and faculty alike noted the benefit of ubiquitous access to content from any device, anywhere.

Multimedia data.  While tablets cannot provide the kind of video coverage options a device like Teachscape can (a video camera that captures 360° of footage simultaneously), the built-in still and video cameras on tablets have significant potential to capture moments for further analysis and development of best practices.  The Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Project and the National Board Certification Process continue to reinforce the importance of video analysis of teaching episodes.  For pre-service teachers, up-and-coming state and national teacher assessments, like the Teacher Performance Assessment (TPA), will assess their ability to record and analyze their work as educators.

While there is a wide range of apps that accomplish these tasks, it has proven to be that the simpler is better.  Supervisors and candidates can import photos and videos into more sophisticated apps for more creative effects, but when simply trying to capture a moment the built-in “Camera” app has been the go-to choice.

Supervisors are in a great position to collect and use multimedia artifacts as a way to encourage reflection, or to be more precise in describing details and incidents to teacher candidates.  Supervisors saw great value in sending images with their written descriptions, or using a short video clip as a focal point for a reflective exercise.  These data sets carry more meaning for the candidates because it is real – they were a part of it.

Reflection. As alluded to above, the collection of multimedia data can inspire a whole new genre of reflective work.  When candidates are provided with rich, authentic, and contextualized data, their level of reflection grows deeper and more connected to daily practice.  Multimedia data also provides new options for how reflections can be constructed.  Apple has worked hard to promote the iPad not as a consumption-only device, but a creative tool for authoring all kinds of content.  Supervisors and faculty that provide their students with rich and authentic multimedia data set the stage for engaging and creative reflective exercises.  iMovie (by Apple), Puppet Pals (by Polished Play, LLC), and Strip Designer (by Vivid Apps) are three apps that changed the way candidates constructed and distributed reflective content.  Of particular note for all three of the apps was the level of engagement the candidates had in using them, but also the excitement these apps created among the candidates as they discussed how they would use these apps with their own students in the future.



iMovie is a simplified version of Apple’s iLife OSX application.  While many of the advanced editing options are missing, what you are left with is a concise palette of tools that allow for truly creative work.  iMovie allows students to combine photo, video, reflective text, and sound to create a multidimensional artifact.  Students found value in being able to represent ideas in ways beyond words – all on the tablet.

Puppet Pals and Strip Designer are two additional creative/reflective apps that had a lot of merit, but also appeal from students and supervisors alike.  Puppet Pals allows students to create “puppet shows” using real photos for the characters and backdrops.  Students provided reflective narratives, and metacognitive insights to what they are thinking during different moments displayed on the screen.

Strip Designer is the least interactive of these tools, but it provides a very intuitive interface for students to create graphic novels/stories based on the events they have experienced.  While not as linear as a pure written reflection, and not a multidimensional as an iMovie or Puppet Pals creation, Strip Designer forces students to use graphical elements in the reflective processes.

It is important to remember that no application is perfect and one may need to weave together a few applications to achieve the desired data collection and observational environment.  But the emergence of the tablet market and explosion of tablet applications give pre-service teacher educators and their professors a nearly endless palette from which to create.

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