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Abdul Chohan Keynote: Changing belief: Apple technology in the classroom

A little about Abdul Chohan…Blog post by James Hopkins


Known as a pioneer for his work in learning through mobile devices, Abdul enabled student learning and empowered students at Essa Academy, Bolton. He has developed and worked with a number of international education organisations as well as continuing his work in strategy development for mobile devices to enhance and support student learning. As a the Director of Development for the Olive Tree Education Trust, UK, Abdul has continued his successful work in leveraging mobile technology to support student learning. He also co-founded ‘Olive Tree Free School’ in Bolton, UK.



With a background in Chemistry teaching and foray into senior leadership, Abdul undertook his first ever challenge as a leader… The laptop trolley. For many of us who have used trolley based devices, so many times have we encountered the challenges associated with the technology, even before it has been turned on! Whether it’s damaged devices or simply not being charged, it was a system that simply didn’t work. Roll forward after some serious costing comparison, and Essa academy purchased 900 iPod touch devices to be used with students.


In the early days, much of the challenge lay within simply defining the difference between portability and mobility. The former was still very corporate. Students came in and unloaded the laptop, the sat at a desk and began work. Mobility on the other hand, with an always on device, meant there was no longer the opportunity to make a coffee in the time it took to boot up. Hurdle one stepped over. Teachers and students were more open to supporting their learning with mobile technology simply because they turned it on and it worked! So what about the plumbing? Using the metaphor of a tap, the water comes out when it’s turned on, but it isn’t the tap that’s enabling the flow. It’s the huge amount of plumbing and network of elements that sit behind the tap that make the water come out. Essa Academy was no different, the plumbing was the infrastructure and the infrastructure needed to be strong to support seamless transition into a new pedagogy.


After some exploration, it became very clear that it wasn’t about the app store or making something happen through an application designed for mass syndication. It was about the pedagogy! At Olive Tree Free School, the school Abdul founded, it’s as simple as Believe You Can. Students know that self belief drives so much of what they do and have a genuine belief that their hopes and dreams CAN be their reality. So, whether it’s a school in a busy, urban, first-world city or a school in the middle of a third world country… Start with the plumbing!


“Just because we study coding it doesn’t mean we’re all going to be coders writing apps. It’s important to expose students to multiple opportunities and widen their understanding…”


Sharing the data that supports Abdul’s drive to make a difference, he lives within a community that faces daily struggles, with a life expectancy some eight years less than their peers from the other side of town. Compounded by unemployment and the challenges around the simplest of elements e.g. food, power, these children needed change. And Abdul comes alive at the notion of change. Everyday the students are given the opportunity to explore change, get to grips with new technology or design. Marking, Professional learning and development, nothing has been left to continue in an ineffective way. If change was needed, if something could be challenged, it happened!


Changing beliefs?



Change is challenging for many to undertake. It’s not about accepting the change or developing the skill set to cope with it, it’s about changing the very underpinning belief that perhaps sits in direct resistance to the change. Change the belief and the behaviour will change. In his example, Abdul shared the teacher belief around the old laptop trolley. The teachers would print a class set of worksheets ‘just in case’ because they simply didn’t believe that the trolley would work. None of those same teachers would put out a table of magazines in case their television wasn’t working. Why? Because they BELIEVED it would work. So it quickly became about shifting focus onto Simplicity and Reliability. In creating an environment that has great ‘plumbing’ and simple, reliable devices. What have you done? You’ve overcome hurdles before they’ve even come into view!

Are these the six words the most expensive in education? Expensive because the intellectual development of some people isn’t happening and yet the world has continued to move on. Change continues to happen outside of those with the ‘we’ve always done it that way’ mentality. It will continue in spite of them. It is no longer good enough to demarcate change in digital technology as something happening to our learners and youth. WE need to change. And at the heart of that, we need to change our beliefs.


imageWith the access to knowledge we have now, and being less reliant on searching for information in books and libraries, it’s no longer about answering the question- it’s about asking the RIGHT question. Information creation and online services have never been freer. The largest taxi firm in the world (Uber) doesn’t own any taxis. The biggest encyclopedia in history (Wikipedia) has no books. The world that we live in is very different to the world that many of us grew up in. We have a responsibility to look beyond the curriculum and into the wider world to inform WHAT we teach our learners. What does this mean for education as a whole? From the taxi driver who won’t change jobs because he cannot take his online reviews with him, to the children who have a digital footprint from the time of the womb, the world has clearly changed.

We’re going to get it wrong. What’s important is that we get it LESS wrong! We’ve become really good at doing the wrong things really well. We are translating what we’ve always known not transforming for the possibilities that lie ahead. It begs the question, what does technology allow us to do that we couldn’t do before? How can we leverage it to the maximise the effect of mobile devices on teaching and learning? And finally, just what does good teaching and learning look like?


At Olive Tree Free School, they have moved beyond an activity based approach. They focus on striving for student investment and self motivation to share their learning. Once again we’re faced with the challenge of moving teachers forward and their understanding of sharing. Yes, sharing something publicly means it is open to criticism and being challenged by peers, but it’s also open to praise and celebration. It becomes a simple matter of which we allow to be our focus.


Teachers at Olive Tree Free School have begun asking different questions. How can they design learning that challenges students? How can they amplify the design thinking through use of technology and develop consistent approaches to pedagogy? And it’s this consistency that impacts learning the most. No longer are teachers asking what the best app for maths is, because they know that the best app is the maths teacher! The teacher constructs the relationships and develops the learning. The students explore, grow, create and are intrinsically motivated to share. Put simply, the technology enables visibility.


“Relationships are great when things are transparent. Technology is great at making things transparent!”



How can we measure impact? How can we know belief has been changed? Working alongside the University of Hull, there is a formal study into the impact of voice. The study looks at the impact of students receiving feedback through audio comments, analysing the effect of hearing the intonation. Within 12 months the school achieved Outstanding during their Ofsted review, despite 68% of students arriving at school approximately two years behind the national norm for 5yr olds. Leveraging technology to establish a more personalised approach to feedback and relationships had clearly worked.



It’s not about fancy apps. It’s about the ‘bread and butter’ of teaching and learning. How we access services, order our clothes  and interact with others has significantly shifted, technology is embedded within it all. As educators, it is truly important for us to understand that technology allows us to do things that we’ve simply never been able to do.




What messages spoke to you most in Abdul's keynote presentation? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

Tessa Gray

Tessa Gray

Ko Tessa Gray toku ingoa, edSpace online facilitator. Passionate about growing thriving online communities. Based in the sunny Bay of Plenty.
    • Erana Manumoe Haerewa
      Erana Manumoe Haerewa

      Wow this so describes me in my journey with technology and the mindset and beliefs i have with technology. I built little fences inhibiting myself for reaching out and exploring the tools on my new apple macbook air. This is due to unfamilarity with the digital world  and being stuck in a comfortable isolated world. Everyday I make a new discovery and feel more empowered and less frustrated, every day I meet a new challenge. I have clicked that its to my advantage to explore more, make more mistakes, but the more i do the better equipped i will be to advance into the future with knowledge and opportunities a touch away. Thank you youve made my journey more enlightening!!

      • Tessa Gray
        Tessa Gray

        Thanks for that reflection Erana Manumoe Haerewa, a great takeaway for us all and something to remember for our students in terms of our students learning from mistakes and failures enabling them to break through to new learning - some of which hurts a bit! EDtalks has released this video, Changing beliefs, Apple technology in the classroom of Abdul's keynote presentation now too if you want to share the good news!

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