This article will explore the benefits and limitations of using iPad technology in lessons, through the lens of a historical example that could easily be transferred to examples in other subjects. It focuses specifically on the use of a presentation application called Prezi; although there are many ways in which iPad technology can be used in the classroom, the Prezi app was best for my focus of teaching historical source analysis. It was trialled with several different classes, with students of a variety of different abilities and needs, in order to assess its value in the classroom. This article focuses specifically on the use of Prezi on iPads, as this was the technology that was available to me; however, it would still work well on desktop computers, with students being able to access the differentiated presentations and follow them.

The main difficulties with source analysis are that students struggle to know what to look at within the source, and how to interrogate it. Analysis is a complex skill (in any subject), comprising many components and considerations. I therefore decided that I wanted a tool that would allow me to model this skill for a historical source, taking students through it step-by-step, but also stretch their thinking.

I therefore created a Prezi document for the source shown in Figure 1. Prezi is great because, unlike PowerPoint, it is not linear. The presentation can be set on a ‘path’, zooming in and out, back and forth with each click of the mouse. I could therefore direct students’ attention to the exact details of the picture that I wanted them to look at, and guide them with the questions that they should be considering, providing different levels of scaffolding according to student need. As you can see from Figure 1, version (‘A’) featured just the questions, which were linked to source analysis skills required by many GCSE history exam boards. The amount of detail varied across the three versions of the Prezi, with the most scaffolded version (‘C’) clearly indicating exactly what to think about and where on the picture to look. This can be seen as a good training tool for students who are just starting to develop their skills in source analysis; while they will not have this support in exams, by then they will hopefully have been trained enough to know how to answer these questions.

Figure 1: Different levels of scaffolding in source analysisFigure 1 shows three different versions of a set of questions regarding a political poster from Germany of the 1930s. The first version is titled "Version 'A' of the activity". Is shows a picture of the poster with arrows leading to three further copies of that picture. Each of these three pictures has one question attached. These are: "What are the key features of this poster?", "What is the message of the poster? What is it trying to tell you?" and "What emotion does the poster want you to feel?". The second version is titled "Version 'B' of the activity. This shows the same as version 'A' but has additional instructions and questions under each of the three main questions. Examples are: "Describe his face.", "What is this symbol?" and "Describe his body language.". The third version is titled "Version 'C' of the activity (the most heavily scaffolded)". This shows the same version as version 'B' but has additional markings to indicate which part of the poster each of the additional instructions and questions of version 'B' refer to.

The classes in this study had been taught source analysis previously, without the use of iPads, with answers ranging from ‘I can see Hitler’ to ‘he looks strong’. Few students went beyond such surface-level observations to those which are required for sophisticated understanding and evaluation of the source. However, when using the Prezi, students were looking more closely at his uniform (and noticing the swastika) and his facial expressions and considering why he would have had this poster made. This led to far more detailed answers, which they were then able to couple with their historical knowledge to thoroughly analyse the source. Students were now commenting on his body language, and how this would have been deliberate in order to encourage a cult-like support of Hitler following his appointment as Chancellor. It seemed to be the zoom feature of both iPads and Prezi that allowed students to develop their answers, as it was easier for them to look more closely at key parts of the image. This can absolutely be achieved through the use of printed pictures where iPad technology is not available; however, iPads and Prezi were beneficial for the approach and self-guided presentations for each student.

The benefits of this technology in the classroom were clear. The Prezis could act as an additional ‘teacher’, guiding each student individually through a task, and leaving the real teacher to assist with more complex enquiries. It acts as a great prompt, keeping students on task and giving them questions to consider at each stage of the task. It is also great for students who require their tasks to be ‘chunked’. Prezi fundamentally allows students to be more independent learners, not having to ask their teacher for every slight query that arises. I was easily able to create levels of difficulty for the task, levels that students were easily able to move between, making the resources reactive to students’ needs and progress.

There are some limitations to the use of technology in the classroom. The first is cost; at a time when education is struggling with funding, iPads understandably might not be priority on the shopping list, despite their clear benefits. Source analysis can still be taught in the same way, using Prezi on an interactive whiteboard, but the iPads allow for individual progress of students, using different, differentiated Prezis. The resource can also take some time to make, and although this was time well spent, it may take you a while if you are new to Prezi. Since the resources are made ahead of time, you can only predict what the students might struggle with; while technology is supportive, nothing can truly replace the role of the teacher as problem-solver in the classroom.

Ultimately, through the use of Prezi and iPad technology, students were able to understand a skill that they previously found difficult, and were able to make progress. This can, of course, be done well through printed paper pictures, but these resources can be less effective. Being able to zoom into the poster, and being taken through the exact steps required make the learning experience easier and more realistic for the students; indeed, engagement was high this lesson, as students wanted to find out more about the poster. As Harris states in Teaching History (2005), engagement is powerful as it leaves students wanting to find out more, regardless of ability. The iPads certainly achieved this engagement, and subsequently enhanced the students’ source analysis skills.


Card J (2004) Seeing double: How one period visualises another. Teaching History 117: 6

(2008) History Pictures: Using Visual Sources to Build Better History Lessons (History in Practice series, ed C Counsell). London: Hodder Murray.

Harris R (2005) Does differentiation have to mean different? Teaching History 118: 5–12.

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