Update: I indicated during my presentation that I would add more information based on the questions I was asked at the end of the session. See the headings at the end of this post for more information regarding accessibility issues. Thanks to all who asked interesting questions at the event!
A quick search on the Internet for information about technology in education will give you a myriad of links to information published by educators, theorists, technologists and others who identify the many potential benefits technology could bring to all levels of education. A lot of it focuses on the personalisation of learning, greater access to knowledge (both in and outside of school), and increased interactions with others that helps to make learning more relevant and real to our students. There has also been extensive study done that highlights the importance of quality teaching in harnessing the benefits of technology – the notion that no matter how impressive the technology is, without a good teacher utilising it effectively the realisation of those benefits is hit-and-miss. With so much work going on in this area, it’s no surprise that there has been extensive debate surrounding the iPad and its suitability for use in the classroom.
I’ve been asked to present a brief session at the ACT All Colleges conference on the 1st of February to explore what technology has to offer educators, with a particular focus on the iPad. As an advocate of more personalised approaches to learning, with less reliance on centralised infrastructure and a mandated set of applications/tools that students must use, I was more than happy to provide some insight form my experience and knowledge around the topic. This blog post supports the workshop session I delivered, but in a nutshell the content of the presentation was around:
- The pervasiveness of technology in our lives and the lives of our students – the world we live in is one where just about everything we do is influenced in some way by technology;
- The increasing emphasis on mobile technology as a means of accessing information and communicating with others;
- The lack of a significant investment in high-quality, reliable infrastructure in schools to support the lifestyle and habits many of our students are used to in their everyday lives (which becomes even more important when there are access issues at home);
- The potential that personal devices that are not managed by the school could have on improving the learning opportunities for students; and
- The power of the iPad as a mobile, personal device (as demonstrated through a series of useful apps and a brief overview of its technical capabilities).
I don’t intend to go into extensive detail about any of the above here, suffice to say that there is plenty of information about each of the topics I’ve state above scattered all over the Internet and published by reputable educational research organisations. What I will do, however, is provide a brief example of why the arguments made by many that the iPad is not useful in education because it is primarily a consumption device are misplaced.
1. The library of applications available is extensive (over 60,000 and counting). Not all of the Apps are designed to allow you to “create” things, but may do, and what you can create includes music, video, 3d models of houses, diagrams and graphs… just about anything you can think of.
2. The way many of the apps are designed encourages you to consume information in new ways – FlipBoard is one example of how presenting RSS feeds, your tweet streams and your facebook feed in a different format allows you to get more details from each snippet/post being made by your friends. Aweditorium is another example (this time around music) that encourages you to investigate/browse content you otherwise may not. The more you consume – particularly if that information is different to what you would normally interact with – provides you with more information from which you can construct your own knowledge and understanding of the world.
3. iPads are personal – they are not meant to be deployed as a “class set” or in place of a laptop trolley, and I don’t think there is any real benefit in managing them at the school level (such an approach de-personalises the device). That doesn’t mean they don’t fit in education, it just means that the model of schools providing the hardware for learning isn’t relevant when considering the power of mobile technologies. What is the point of a mobile device that you can’t use the way you want to?
The whole point of this post is to get you thinking about the approach you take towards technology in the classroom – to perhaps reconsider the outlook you might have on mobile phones and/or student-owned laptops/tablets in your classes. With so many powerful and interesting applications available, it seems a shame to be telling students what they can and can’t use to learn. Technology gives us, as educators, a real means to empower students to discover the best way they learn; to encourage experimentation and risk as acceptable techniques when learning something new.
For further information:
Managing iPads in the Classroom – Issues and potential solutions
Mobile Learning (Ulearning) – Blog posts from a strong advocate of mobile learning in Qld
The Open Book Scenarios – Exploring possible futures for teaching
The list of Apps I demonstrated, referred to or had installed on the iPads during my presentation:
- Underscore Notify
- Things for iPad
- Shakespeare in Bits
- The Elements
- Solar Walk
- Star Walk
- Geo Walk HD
- Beautiful Planet HD
- Louvre Museum
- 3D Cell Simulation and Stain Tool
- Nature: The Human Genome at 10
- Melbourne Museum Please Touch
- Magic Piano
- SketchBook Pro
- Home 3D
- Or, in IT classes, you could have students write their own!
- Google Docs (use in Safari – no App required)
- Whiteboard HD
- Skype (and other IM tools)
Accessibility and the iPad
The iPad has a number of accessibility features built into iOS, making it reasonably friendly to users with special learning needs out of the box. That said, the accessibility of some apps will be dependent on the features included in the app by the developer, so I’d recommend exploring those apps that you’re considering to investigate the accessibility features and whether or not they suit your needs before shelling out for a paid version of the app.
Treetops.org.au has plenty of resources surrounding Apple products and their accessibility features.